Shawn McFarland and Jill Campbell
LEGEND QUIETLY SHINES WITH DARKNESS AND LIGHT
In an age where every artist is competing for headlines, retweets, shares and online notoriety, John Legend is a social enigma. He’s a silent giant on the social media sphere – despite being married to social media superstar Chrissy Teigen. His Instagram is mostly populated with album covers, photos of his wife or various cuts from his music video. He’s a casual promoter of himself – but the quality of his work doesn’t show that.
In his latest album, “Darkness and Light,” released on Dec. 2, listeners are transported into a world of vintage John Legend. From “Overload” to “Love Me Now,” the patented R&B hits Legend has expertly crafted over the years come through once again. Themes of love, relationship and a wide range of emotions populate the 12-song collection.
In “Penthouse Floor,” Legend captures the pulse of the state of hip hop and rap by giving breakout star Chance the Rapper a verse. Chance’s steady cadence contrasts with Legend’s fluidic rhythm – and a good beat and catchy hook only help the song’s cause.
While “Love Me Now” seems to be the radio hit, and the song that the average listener will be taking away from this project, “Overload” has the potential to be the fan favorite. If pairing up with Chance is the “opposites attract,” then teaming up with Miguel on “Overload” created the Steph Curry/Kevin Durant combo of R&B.
For Legend, however, the sheer overflow of music in the past calendar year may be hurting the potential popularity of “Darkness and Light.” While most music fans are anticipating the latest drops from the likes of J. Cole, Kid Cudi and Drake, others are still salivating over new music from The Weeknd, A Tribe Called Quest and many others. Legend may be caught in the mix, but it’s not a reflection on the quality of the album, rather a product of his under-the-radar nature, despite being a musical superstar.
The bottom line: the album is an absolute hit . The nature of music fans is to disagree and argue, but there isn’t a lot to hate on “Darkness and Light.” Across the 12 songs, there are no prototypical flops. Some pieces stand out more than others, but each song can pull on heart strings and get you singing. Although 2016 has been one of the best years for music in recent memory, “Darkness and Light” has the potential to be not just the best song of the final quarter, but one of the top albums of the year.
CHILDISH GAMBINO CHANGES THE FLOW ON US
There comes a time in every artist’s career where they grow tired of the same old beats and styles. Appealing to the common denominator and reaching the top of the charts becomes less of a priority and thus, an experimental phase begins. The Beatles did it with “The White Album,” Kanye West did it with “Yeezus,” and now Childish Gambino has done it with “Awaken, My Love!”
These albums have all gotten minimal reviews in the grey area – people even love them or hate them. Some applaud the artist’s venturing into the unknown and appreciate the off-the-beaten-path type of sound. Some think it goes too far.
Gambino’s eclectic style spans across various genres, including R&B, funk, with more nods to rock and jazz. The stacked background vocals throughout give a nod to Earth, Wind, and Fire. The soulful screeches mimic those of Stevie Wonder. The psychedelic rock tones are reminiscent of Pink Floyd.
The lead-off of the album, “Me and Your Mama,” hits every end of the musical spectrum within its lengthy six minute time frame. It starts off slowly with a gentle lullaby sound, as beats are added and background vocals enter. This builds for the first two minutes, until the mood suddenly shifts to a more aggressive rock style where Gambino unleashes passionate notes and screams.
The funk continues throughout and into the middle of the album, especially in “Baby Boy,” which was most likely inspired by the birth of the artist’s son. The soft vocals give way to lyrics about what seems to be a custody battle between a mother and father, pleading “Don’t take my baby boy/ Don’t take my pride and joy.” In this raw track, listeners are given a window into Gambino’s heart as he reveals his innermost thoughts and feelings.
And perhaps one of the all-stars on the list, the seventh song on the album titled “Redbone,” features Gambino’s pipes with an elevated pitch and a heavy baseline. This may also turn out to be one of the most popular songs in the bunch, with its accessible and catchy beat.
All of these elements make for an album that is supremely diverse, with its strums on the electric guitar to notes pinged out on the xylophone. These factors make it a stand-out in popular music today, and while many of the melodies are pleasant enough for the average listener, it takes more of a niche audience to truly appreciate the ever-present nods to 1970’s funk.
So, while “Awaken, My Love!” is a hit for some and a miss for others, it is no-doubt strong enough to hang with all of the other musical masterpieces released this year.