ALBUM REVIEW: Strange Dreams by Charles Robinson

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Charles Robinson is a recording artist, composer, pianist and alto saxophone player based in Texas. He was exposed to a wide array of musical styles and genres in his youth and this eclectic range of influences is reflected in his music. Just some of his artistic inspirations include John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Prince, Chick Corea, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix, amongst many others.

After attending Alcorn State University where he studied piano/saxophone and marched with the world renowned Sounds of Dynamite marching band, he went on to serve in the military as well as serve as musical director for several religious organizations. He released his debut album , The Golden Ratio, in 2018.

This album, Strange Dreams, consists of thirteen instrumental tracks. It starts out with the intense Bel, which is driven by a brooding, circular bassline that draws you in and underpins the whole track. The drums start out as very jazzy before breaking out into an insistent full beat, over which Charles runs riot with his virtuosic, smoky Rhodes playing. Aside from this is a subtle use of synths, which adds to the atmosphere and subtle mystical vibe. The style is certainly heavily jazz-influenced but Charles explores various kinds of jazz fusion across the course of the album, and this is a great opener.

The second track Supermoon is more traditionally jazz with another recurring bass figure, this one on double bass. The atmospheric synths linger in the background and  there are no drums, allowing Charles to weave an intoxicating spell with some superb piano playing that covers the length of the keyboard. His mellifluous flair is not to be underestimated, with not only his skill but the way he always structures his playing in a melodious fashion, never just virtuosity for its own sake.

The following In Your Face! is a return to the electric piano-led sound of the first track and again features a moody, repeating bass motif, though only in certain sections as it gets more expansive in others. The most surprising aspect of the track is the crisp, funky breakbeat that Charles might find hip hop artists want to sample. Aside from some more wonderful echo-drenched Rhodes, there are brief passages of flute (or at least a convincing flute-sounding synth!) which adds to the instrumental texture. One of the album highlights for me.

Soul Dance takes us somewhere else, this one built upon a bed of infectious, exotic world music percussion which cooks up a tasty groove, full of nuance and intricacies. Again, Charles mesmerizes you with some blissed out electric piano work. The surprises keep on coming with Elysian Fields, which is essentially a drum and bass track set at a rapid tempo. The busy drums and bass, along with pulsing EDM style synths, is contrasted with the mellow jazz piano playing and the dichotomy creates an effective tension. The bassline is particularly good on this one.

Turbulence is one the album’s epics at nearly six minutes long, this one based around a simple but effective beat and driven by low-end Stevie Wonder-style synth that is allowed time to grow and breathe, musically. Heaven’s Gate is even more laid back, built on a hypnotic, tranquil groove. As you can tell from the titles and alluded to earlier, there’s a strong mystical, spiritual vibe to his music which is something he shares with one of his musical heroes, John Coltrane. The music throughout has a transcendent quality that takes the listener to some far out places, and this aptly named track is no exception.

Soul Moon Trap is one of the album’s finest moments with a gorgeous piano melody that Herbie Hancock would have been proud of. A pulsing, ostinato bassline holds it together over a slinky bossa nova beat. Robinson’s piano playing here is exceptional. Mercury Retrograde stands out for its complex, angular electronic rhythm full of triplets and syncopations and some more fine piano work.

Parachute is wild, a frenetic rollercoaster ride of a track featuring a hugely infectious beat and bassline which provides the bedrock for some extraordinary piano and synth combinations. This is a remarkable fusion of jazz, soul and hip hop like nothing else you’ll have heard.

The Journey is one of the most unusual tracks and finds Robinson at his most mystical sounding. It’s one of the epics at a shade under six minutes and as the title suggests, takes the listener on an expansive sonic journey. Some sections sound relatively conventional but there’s some strikingly unexpected chord changes that make you feel you’re floating in the ether.

Next comes the title track and again the title is apposite. Robinson conjures up a mesmerising soundscape with a cavernous, powerful beat allied to a loping, understated bassline. A swirl of synths weave in and out, along with some more stellar passages on the piano.

The closing Morning Light (For Hendrix) is a lovely way to finish. As the title obviously suggests, it’s dedicated to the genius of Jimi Hendrix. Set to a lilting, low key groove Robinson takes a back seat and provides supporting Rhodes, allowing his guest guitarist to let rip with some versatile and inventive electric jazz guitar. Listen out for the passage where the guitar and bass play a complicated line in tandem, simply stunning musicianship and it ends things on a high note, literally.

Overall, this is a fascinating jazz fusion odyssey by a versatile, highly imaginative musician and composer. Taking jazz and fusing it successfully with soul, hip hop and rock is no mean feat and Charles Robinson performs this balancing act with some style. Completely at ease on his primary instruments, he also balances his considerable virtuosity with melodic craft so that it never descends into jazz noodling. There’s not a dud track on the whole album and Strange Dreams deserves to be recognised as jazz fusion of the highest quality.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Ten Percent by Blue Soul Ten

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Blue Soul Ten is the artistic moniker and musical brainchild of musician, composer and producer Clay Greene. He’s been part of the music industry for 20 years, starting out as a radio DJ as well as studying composition and production at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. His music incorporates jazz, funk, soul, electronica, reggae and hip hop with his tracks often featuring guest artists. He’s released four albums previously, The Unspoken Warrior, The Fearless Warrior, The Beautiful Warrior and 2018’s Blue Notes.

This album, Ten Percent, consists of eleven tracks and starts out with the title track. It’s a jazz/soul instrumental that acts as a good introduction to the exquisitely performed and produced Blue Soul Ten signature sound. Opening with warm sax over subtle piano chords, an intricate percussive pattern breaks into a toe-tapping beat with a pulsing guitar lick driving the musical momentum forward. As it progresses with layers of synths and hints of female vocals, it sets the mellow yet sophisticated vibe for the whole album.

The second track Give In To Me flows seamlessly from the first. It’s a soul/RnB track with a slinky groove and some fine funk-style guitar work. The smooth male vocals fit the track perfectly, a succinct verse leading to an understated but subtly infectious chorus. The simple but effective bassline adds to the sensual vibe, along with the sax break towards the end. A good choice as a single release.

Make It Hot maintains a similar tempo but this one is a hip hop track featuring a performance from rap artist Surron The Seventh. Based around smoky Rhodes and a catchy vibraphone melody, Surron lays down his rhymes over a punchy hip hop beat. He has a natural flow on the mic with some great lines: “Listen, we learned the hard way…always running fast money like a Maserati car chase…”. This is interspersed by a female sung refrain which acts as the perfect contrast. Great track.

Life is another fine song, a laid back jazzy soul track with a summery vibe and featuring some exquisite vocal harmonies on the title hook. The guitar work once again is stellar and the catchiness of the chorus along with its radio friendly sound makes this another potential choice as a single.

Next up is my personal favourite on the album, the reggae/dancehall track Satisfied, featuring the vocals of Zahira. Set to a chugging reggae groove and syncopated, funky guitar Satisfied is a superbly crafted song building to an instantly memorable chorus. The vocal performance is first rate and the bursts of brass add to the colour before a searing electric guitar solo takes the music into the stratosphere. It’s a potent blend of genres fused seamlessly and sounds like one hell of a party.

Another fine instrumental, 10% Interlude, breaks things up nicely between the sung tracks and leads perfectly into Real Love which is based on a Police-style tight guitar lick. It features the same male vocalist as Give In To Me and it’s another sensuous song about the allure of a woman: “Every time you look at me, lost in the synergy…you are a firework in my headspace.” The hook works with the guitar line to great effect and it’s another track suited to radio. Listen out for the backwards wah-drenched guitar at the end.

Purpose (featuring IV) returns to the soulful hip hop sound with another strong rapping performance. The chord progression underneath shows the jazz influence with a meaty bassline going to melodic places you wouldn’t expect, but it works. There’s a more spiritual vibe to the rhymes than you find in most hip hop (“I don’t do this for the profit, I do this cos I’m God-sent…”) and the whole track has a deep message about finding your purpose in life.

These Words starts out like a soul/RnB ballad on the verse before developing into a fine EDM track with a swinging beat on the chorus. Again, it’s a fusion of styles that sounds completely natural and the lush female harmonies complete the sonic picture. Listen out for some unexpected chord changes on the middle eight that shows the jazz roots of the music. The memorable vocal hook makes it another apposite choice as a single.

The jazz influence comes to the fore on the slow-paced Grateful with some gorgeous arpeggio piano and Rhodes forming the bedrock for an intimate and sensual vocal performance that brought to mind Corinne Bailey Rae. Halfway through we hear some lovely Spanish-style classical acoustic guitar which adds to the sophisticated flavour and classy feel.

The album closes out with a final instrumental, Blue Theme V, starting with a didgeridoo (yes, you read that right!) then developing into the Blue Soul Ten signature sound once again, full of rich saxophone and super tight guitars. There’s a wealth of instrumental detail in the mix, from swirling synths to soaring strings and brief bursts of biting brass. It’s a nice way to come down from an album of consistent highs and wraps things up perfectly.

Overall, this fifth album from Blue Soul Ten is of the highest quality from start to finish. The standard of musicianship and composition is first rate and the way eclectic genres, from jazz to hip hop. are brought together is highly impressive. With a plethora of potential singles and stellar performances from featured artists, Ten Percent covers every base in terms of commercial appeal and artistic endeavour. Clay Greene has surely made his masterpiece.

 

 

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

For updates on the album’s release visit the Blue Soul Ten Instagram page HERE

 

 

 

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Summer In Jersey by Various NJ Artists

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Summer In Jersey is a compilation album consisting of artists based in the New Jersey region. It was curated by The Garden State Hip Hop Hour’s Richard Scott and consists of twenty three tracks. It features an array of NJ hip hop artists including exclusive tracks by Chad B, Trophy Hitta Sadge, Grooveboyput And Doms. It also includes a three part skit by The Infinite Nudist.

The compilation begins with the first part of this skit and sets the playful tone and upbeat vibe for the rest of the album. Chad B’s exclusive Valentino then gets the music rolling, a laid back hip hop/RnB track with a fine vocal from Chad. The following Bad Girls Only by Melo V is based around a descending synth riff and lyrically captures the hedonistic, sensual feel that much of the compilation has: “You gonna have fun tonight, you gonna get drunk tonight...”. A great track.

Another exclusive, No Way by Trophy Hitta Sadge is even more hedonistic in its content and a little X-rated in places. It’s a super catchy RnB track with a swinging rhythm and an infectious memorable chorus hook. The vocals are slick and smooth as honey on this one, and a radio friendly version would make a great single.

Invited by Bumppro is a little different, starting with a crisp 70’s style disco beat before breaking down to a pulsing four to the floor beat on the verses. The vocals are strong and distinctive, with a title hook that you soon find yourself humming. A fine pop/EDM track about gatecrashing a party with plenty of commercial potential.

Sixth track Act Up by Rich Smiles takes things back to a languid tempo, this one a chilled dancehall track about chasing after the ladies. The title hook is incredibly simple and effective with an addictive quality and you can imagine this going down a storm in the clubs.

This style continues with Intentions by Ganja Killz ft. Favo X Melo which features bilingual lyrics, alternating between Spanish and English which gives it an exotic, multinational vibe. The track is produced to perfection and epitomises the summery vibes of the whole compilation. Answer by Zara proceeds at a similar tempo and stands out for a superb lead vocal performance with a seductive melody that draws you back for repeated listens.

Mexsicko Bity by Killer Kherk Cobain is a distinct contrast with an upbeat calypso rhythm that is guaranteed to get people on the dance floor. The rapping is assured and entertaining with a gleefully hedonistic content to the lyrics. Things are broken up nicely by The Infinite Nudist’s second amusing skit.

Next comes Jersey Anthem, the second track by Grooveboyput with a coterie of guest artists coming to the party. It’s a potent piece of hip hop about New Jersey with the differing rapping styles giving the track a real vitality and variety. For The Low by Super Drugs ft. Threat Digga is harder hitting with an aggressive beat and delivered with great conviction. The title hook is immediately infectious and the ‘bad boy’ vibe to the lyrics gives the track a real edge.

All Summer by Dollar Sign Malc is more innocent fare, a chilled out RnB track with a lilting, toe-tapping beat and an understated but effective title hook: “We outside all summer, top down when we ride all summer, we getting fly all summer, the sun won’t  be the only thing that shines all summer…”.

Fourteenth track, Najir’s Can I Call You, is a masterclass in dexterous, super fluent rapping set to a gorgeous acoustic guitar motif that recurs through the track, providing a real highlight. There’s some more fine guitar work on Maria by Smooch, about a desirable Spanish girl. The classical style Spanish guitar gives this slinky track a decidedly exotic vibe.

This continues with Te Fallo, a track in partly in Spanish by Lilskrt4k ft. Chris Cruz. It’s another sensual and seductive reggae-tinged dancehall track that is currently all the rage. We Jus by Bulletproof Belv is another high quality RnB track with a dirty dub bassline that will sound great in the clubs. Again, it’s lyrically x-rated but that adds to the spice.

Sorry Not Sorry is the third exclusive track from Grooveboyput (ft. Smooth The Rapper) and it maintains the same high standard with an instantly memorable chorus that you soon find yourself humming along to. See This by Dom’s is one of the more understated tracks here with a laid back, almost drowsy feel and a deep dub bassline that grooves the whole thing along.

To The 6IX by A-Money$ features one of the best rapping performances on the compilation with some tongue tripping rhymes delivered with panache and style, the content typically about having a good time with various substances! Can’t Be by Honey is one of the only female sung tracks and it’s a good one; Honey has a fine Rihanna style voice, though the lyrics are rather more graphic than you’ll hear on the radio. Her distinctive and strong voice points to a future with big commercial potential.

Black Pool Party by Clicquot Geno is a super mellow hip hop track with some slick production effects including vocoder vocals and a smart filter sweep towards the end, depicting going underwater. An understated gem. The compilation finishes with the final skit by The Infinite Nudist, completing this highly entertaining compilation in the same lighthearted way it began.

Overall, this is a superb collection of hip hop and dancehall tracks curated by Richard Scott. Featuring several exclusive tracks and a slew of potential hits, this is the most summery and sexy album you’re likely to hear during this year. Highly recommended.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: The Weekend by IAmOaks

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http://www.iamoaks.com

IAmOaks is a hip hop/RnB artist hailing from New York City. His previous releases include the singles Boom, Undaunted, Kickin It and Trap Goals (feat. Kridakal). His music is essentially a laid back form of hip hop with RnB elements, vocally delivered with his own unique style that lies halfway between rapping and singing.

This track, The Weekend, is a chilled hip hop track featuring the vocals of Tamara Nekola. It starts out with a brief spoken word intro before a languid but infectious hip hop beat kicks in. IAmOaks delivers the verse in an assured and relaxed style, with a natural talent for eloquent and free flowing rhymes.

His strong self belief shines through in the lyrics: “Confident…took my ego and polished it”. However he cleverly undercuts this with the instantly memorable sung chorus: “These times that I feel so good, only on the weekend, only for the weekend….”.

It’s a sentiment that most people will be able to relate to and will connect with quickly. The second verse maintains the high lyrical quality of the first, with some entertaining lines: “I’m like a diamond in the rough or you can call me Nemo…”. Besides the slinky beat, the track is nicely grooves along by the subtle but effective bassline and given a nice sonic shimmer by the synths in the background.

Overall, this is a fine hip hop/RnB track by a charismatic artist with his own natural style. The Weekend has that killer combination of a great hook with a relatable message and the summery vibe to the sound means it’s the perfect time of year to release it. I expect this track to exponentially expand the fan base for IAmOaks and bring him to a deservedly wider audience.

 

VERDICT = 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Imperfect Art(ist) by Showtime Shegz

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Showtime Shegz is a hip hop/rap artist originally from Lagos, Nigeria but who grew up in South East London. He has released two albums prior to this, Caution! Before the Show there was Rage! in 2012 and last year’s seven track album Apologies For The Delay. He is a product of London’s strong urban scene though incorporates some elements of world music into his art, which helps to give him a unique sound.

This album, Imperfect Art(ist), is somewhat of an epic and consists of nineteen tracks, written and produced by him (he also did the album artwork). It begins powerfully with Important Poem, a spoken word monologue that addresses the issues the youth face today growing up in the rough areas of London, which is becoming increasingly violent and blighted by crime.

Shegz immediately grabs you with an arresting, distinctive rapping style, delivering an inspiring poem that acknowledges the difficulty of the situation with realism but points towards a better way: “You have been fooled to think you’re wasting your time in school, you’ve been conned to think it’s cool to be a con….but the truth is there is no limit, not even the sky…..your journey might be tougher but that will make you stronger”. It’s a strong opening statement to the album and a vital message for today’s troubled youth.

Second track Furi! is more representative of Shegz’s signature style. Over a bed of sparse, pulsing percussion Shegz delivers a masterclass in rapping, packed with entertaining rhymes that contain no lack of pugilistic braggadocio and his own brand of unique humour: “I have a way with the words, young Mike Tyson…I have a way with the birds, I always stay strapped when I stick my stick in…”. This catchy track has been released as a single and understandably so.

Everything Good is also single material, another infectious track with some killer lines (“I’ve been fly since Marty McFly”) and perhaps the most instant chorus hook on the album. “Everything good, I look good, I feel good, I smell good, I taste good, everything good…”. The production is first rate, with intricate percussive touches over a slinky, toe-tapping hip hop beat.

Wham Wham is much more sparse with a clever, slow building arrangement while Matrix is an unexpected detour, a haunting ‘a capella’ track with a spiritual feel and quite powerful despite its brevity.

This is contrasted by the following KO which shows the more aggressive side to his artistic persona. Built on a blistering beat, Shegz gives an incendiary performance laying down rhymes thick and fast with customary flair (“When I explode, the Richter scale can’t measure”...). The addictive title hook grabs you on first listen and won’t let go: “Knock him out the ring, knock him out the box...”.

Ketchup is a little light relief, one of his more laid back playful tracks featuring some amusing lines (“I’ve got more sauce than the condiment aisle”). The title hook is again naggingly catchy and this could be a further future single. Stone is another minute long track that captures his Nigerian roots and leaves a strong impression with the line, “Home is where the heart is but I have no home….”.

Collect The Bag stands out due to the superb rhythmic complexity of the beat and how Shegz weaves an intricate rap over the top, perfectly in sync. Inventive and highly skilful. Night School is relatively much simpler with a reggae feel to the vocal melody and lyrically it is an entertaining, none too subtle metaphor for Shegz’s love of bedroom antics.

Catfish is another showcase for his rhythmic genius, angular syncopated rhythms creating a potent musical tension. Lyrically, it feels very current, with Shegz depicting the perils of online dating with characteristic humour, especially the spoken word monologue in the middle. A Drowning Man’s Warning (Ripples) couldn’t be more different, another a capella track with only sounds of lapping waves behind his haunting vocal performance. These constant contrasts are a real strength of the album.

I Luvem is a hilarious ode to Shegz’s love of the ladies, featuring some gloriously politically incorrect lines that might have him in trouble with radical feminists. 419 is a reggae-tinged track full of exotic rhythms and sounds and with a noticeably more romantic vibe than the previous track: “If I have you baby, I’m the richest….”.

Emotion Ocean is another soul searching song where Shegz wears his heart on his sleeve: “I’m drowning in the emotion ocean, I’m struggling not coping….”. The following God Flexn is devoted one particularly fine lady and the sung chorus hook soon latches in the memory: “God must have been flexin’ when he made you…”.

Pagan is one his arresting, hyper-aggressive tracks that packs a considerable punch into its two minutes. Built around a demonic descending riff, the urgent hook of “Put the pagan on the pavement” is highly effective. By now, the album’s sharp contrasts are expected but it’s still remarkable how he can veer from this to the tenderness and bleakness of Spiralling, again consisting of just his voice which depicts his emotional isolation and depression.

The album finishes with Dear Group Chat, an eight minute track that’s an epic in itself. It charts his life with a poetic poignancy: “Been partying with angels but inside I’ve been going through hell…”. It’s another strength of his artistry that behind the fighting talk, he reveals himself to be a sensitive soul who struggles with life’s problems as most of us do. The final verses express his need to make things better through his art. It’s an apposite way to end an album that feels like an emotional journey being completed.

Overall, this is a superb alternative hip hop album that takes the listener through almost every emotion in the human condition, Shegz portraying his problems with searing honesty and hard earned wisdom. The music is constantly inventive, full of eclectic twists and turns from track to track and his rapping is consistently electrifying. Showtime Shegz has made a major artistic statement with this album and deserves to be recognized for it.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Which Way To Go by Troy Remedy

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Troy Remedy is a hip hop artist and producer from Dallas, Texas. The latter part of his moniker was inspired by the healing effect of music itself and there is a strong spiritual vibe as well as the influence of soul in his hip hop. So far, he has performed in cities like Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin and Houston. He has previously released the singles Underdog, City Lights and Steal My Soul (which I reviewed very favourably, read here) from his upcoming debut album My Own Worst Enemy.

This track, Which Way To Go, starts out with an evocative intro consisting of spaced out guitar and synths then Troy interjects with an assured and direct rapping style. Bolstered by a laid back but punchy hip hop beat, his honest and soul searching lyrics take centre stage with this track depicting his struggle to find his path in life: “Gotta ask myself, what it is I’m pursuing….”.

The first verses are a marvel of rapid fire delivery and eloquent lyrical flow that describe the various problems he’s faced with, summed up succinctly by the title hook: “Even though I’m still not knowing…not knowing which way to go.”

After the first chorus we hear an unexpected but very refreshing bluesy guitar solo, and these guitar licks recur through the second verse.  The lyrics here are even more visceral: “Seen a massacre in broad day, watching as the crowd scatters through life’s maze…..most would say they have nothing to live for, no inner peace, nothing to strive for”. This sense of desperation is reiterated by the final refrains of the title hook.

Overall, this is another compelling and unrelentingly honest hip hop track from Troy. He has found his own artistic niche blending hard hitting lyrics with underlying spiritual themes of redemption and hope, which gives his music a real emotional depth and power.  Musically, this track effectively blends hip hop with a melancholy blues-rock guitar sound to great effect. For people looking for hip hop that is 100% “real” and from the heart, look no further than Troy Remedy.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Body Talk by JayQ

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JayQ is a singer, songwriter and rapper in the hip hop/RnB/dancehall genres and hails from New Orleans. He has been involved in music from an early age, honing his singing and performance skills while participating in his local church choir. Since then he has developed his own music and on his debut EP, JayQ 4U, he has collaborated with the Grammy award winning hit maker SOK07 (who wrote Drunk In Love by Beyoncé ft. Jay Z). He has also collaborated with the up and coming OBA.

This release, Body Talk, is his major release for the summer and it’s a slinky RnB/dancehall track with a decidedly sensual vibe. Starting out with a simple but effective synth melody, JayQ enters with sparse handclaps, which soon develops into a seductive beat that will lure people to the dance floor. Similarly, the arrangement is cleverly built up with subtle layers of synth and percussion brought in gradually.

JayQ has a naturally assured and relaxed style on the mic, with a distinctive style and artistic persona. The vocal melody is very influenced by dancehall and reggae and delivered with panache. The catchy “Talk to me, babe” hook quickly sticks in your mind.

Lyrically, it depicts a situation that many will relate to, about chasing after a woman who is playing hard to get but has a strong physical allure. This game of cat and mouse is captured in edgy, entertaining lines like, “You give me the cold shoulder when I try to get intimate…I’m like the Pentagon baby, I don’t negotiate with terrorists….”.

Overall, this is a perfect RnB/dancehall track for the summer by a naturally gifted up and coming artist. Designed for the dance floor but equally radio friendly (except for some suggestive lyrics, perhaps), this should help to put JayQ on the musical map and garner a wave of fans in the process. With further strong material in the future, he may find himself being hailed as the new Drake.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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