After making a remarkable recovery following a life-threatening jet ski accident in 2011, it’s no surprise that Sean Kingston’s third album is entitled Back 2 Life. Also unsurprising is that the Jamaican-American pop-rapper/singer is in celebratory mode given his fortunes. The main rub with this album is’‘t the concept itself, but rather that Kingston overindulges in celebration and seems more concerned about the production as opposed to strong lyrics. Because of this, the material on Back 2 Life comes off simple-minded and forgettable. Even when a cut impresses you with its studio craftsmanship, it fails to stick.
“Back 2 Life (Live It Up)” opens the album featuring the assist from T.I. While the production is incredibly slick, it is overwrought ultimately. Subtlety carried by the strength of Kingston and T.I.‘s performances, not to mention deeper songwriting would’ve made for better execution ultimately. All in all, “Back 2 Life” brings nothing new to the table ultimately. “Beat It” follows up with more heavy-handed anchoring drums and guest spots from Chris Brown and Wiz Khalifa. The gimmicky hook plays up urban music clichés, not only in it’s repetitive approach, but also its suggestive lyrics (“And you’re wanting me to get, get, get it / Beat, beat, beat it, beat, beat, beat it…”) As for Wiz Khalifa’s rap verse, the expected, uninspired weed reference rears its ugly head (“Roll something and get high…”) as does confirmation of Kingston and Breezy’s innuendo (“I’ll take you up in the sky, we’ll be floating / Get you wet, like the ocean”). “Beat It” is so-so at best.
On the brief “Hold That”, Kingston continues to “flex”, asking the girl he’s digging on “can I hold that?” (Use your imagination about what SK is thinking). It lacks depth, as does Yo Gotti’s rap verse. Kingston seems to opt more for swag’d up club anthems than truly meaningful songs. “Bomba” doesn’t help that cause, even if the tropically-driven, modern pop production works out decently. Still, “Bomba” is no “Beautiful Girls” and comes off annoying. “Smoke Signals” continues on the modern pop trek, filled with agile, pop-rap styled vocals from Kingston. The chorus is pleasant, characterized by it’s sunny and overall enthusiastic sound. “Smoke Signals” isn’t the second coming or perhaps even sufficient enough redemption for a clumsy start, but it is a brighter spot.
The rhythmic strings on “Ordinary Girl” are a welcome touch in regards to the track’s production. Still, the emphasis on the sound of the record itself takes away from Kingston himself and the song itself. The sound is pleasant, but by no means the second coming or memorable. Wale enters the picture on “Seasonal Love”, inciting some corny “bedroom action”: “Look, couple feelings, she caught ‘em / Summer feelings, not autumn / I’m cold baby, I’m a winter / Spring out of your garments…” Even one of today’s more intelligent and fascinating rappers can’t save the sup-par track. Kingston certainly offers little personality here, aside from sounding similar to other contemporary R&B/pop hybrid artists. Throw in copycat-ish lyric “bands maker her dance”, and “Seasonal Love” is uninspired to the max.
“How We Survive” is one of the effort’s more manic cuts. Fittingly, to always idiosyncratic Busta Rhymes guests, accentuating the madness. Although it is a bit overproduced, there is respect to given with an ambitious blend of pop, electronic, and reggae genres. As a song though, the thumbs go down as Kingston’s party seems second rate. 2 Chainz certainly never intellectualizes anything, and his guest spot on “Shotta Luv” is no different with ludicrously tasteless rhymes like “Put her in the Audi for my Honda, now she want the anaconda…” or “Let me park in your garage / When I crank that thing up, you got my back like a massage”. As for Kingston, vocally, he sounds solid, though lyrical sensualness takes away ultimately from vocal refinement.
None of the closing cuts pack an incredible punch either. “Ayo (16th Floor)” finds Kingston continuing to play up his Jamaican inflection (a pro), and is good, not great. “Save One For Me” provides something of a change of pace in regards of production, which is a welcome contrast. Still at just two and a half minutes, there’s little innovation. “Love Ecstasy” compares love and ecstasy, but downplays “molly” culture compared to others, thankfully.
Ultimately,Back 2 Life relies too heavily on sex and partying for its inspiration. Sure, Kingston’s celebration is completely understandable, but the lack of substance beyond drinks, smoking, and hooking up truly hurts this album. Even if rationalized as a “guilty pleasure” upon an initial listen, the “pleasure” part of the description is most definitely arguable.
// Notes from the Road
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