Few artists possess the power to make me excited for R&B these days. In the mainstream realm, acts these days are just too busy trying to transcend the nearly-dead genre and focus too heavily on being a singer who raps rather than a straightforward crooner. Perhaps that is why the Foreign Exchange’s Leave It All Behind left such a last impression on me and others. Phonte, who you know for his lyrical prowess and fantastic flow, flipped the script and decided to sing his heart out his latest with Nicolay, one of the best producers out there today. But, aside from that record, there was little in the way of inspirational and fun R&B. That all changed, though, once PPP, formerly known as the Platinum Pied Pipers and made up of a rotating roster backed by producer Waajeed and multi-instrumentalist Saadiq, sent out their press advance of Abundance.
On their debut, Triple P, PPP exposed the globe to brewing talents including the eccentric and now prolific Georgia Anne Muldrow and the smooth siren Tiombe Lockhart. And as their backbone, the duo brought in vets like renowned producer J Dilla (R.I.P.), who appears on several cuts, and the fire-spitting Invincible, who christened “Detroit Winter” with her incredible rhymes. In short, Triple P was essentially a hip-hop-by-way-of-R&B record that showcased a blend of PPP’s phenomenal, thumping beats and funky instrumentation. And it didn’t hurt that those aforementioned guests made sure to bring plenty of heat. Since that album’s release, PPP has toured the world while scouring for new artists to christen Abundance.
Oh and what an abundance of, well everything you would want and expect, it is. First, we have a new cast on our hands. Leading the pack is Coultrain, a man so full of soul it hurts. If you have not heard of him by now, let this be his warning to the world: he’s about to blow. As the main songwriter behind the record, he wrote nearly all of the lyrics and blesses the mic on more than half of the songs. The only track he doesn’t handle is Neco Redd’s “American Pimp”, a fine, but flawed, reggae-soaked piece. Balancing out Coultrain’s testosterone are Karma Stewart and Jamila Raegan, as well as the aforementioned Redd. Of the three ladies, Stewart possesses the strongest pipes, though Raegan certainly holds her own in complementing the instrumentation.
If it isn’t clear at this point, there is no rapping on here, which will come as a possibly unwelcome surprise to fans of PPP’s debut. But, to be fair, Triple P was not carried by the emcees but by the genius shared by Waajeed and Saadiq. And just like on that record, Abundance is a success because of the men behind the boards and instruments. As much as Stewart and Coultrain absolutely kill it on “Smoking Mirrors”, the track would not bounce and bump without that fantastic beat and ridiculously catchy rhythm. “Angel”, the stellar opening cut, is just as driven by the musical backdrop that features a perfect guitar riff and fantastic live drums. And when Coultrain croons “under the heavens, raising hell”, you will no doubt nod your head in agreement while your ass shakes itself out of your chair.
Although it doesn’t top those two tracks, “Luv Affair” comes damn close. With a wall of synths and finger-snapping drums behind her, Stewart sings a no-strings-attached love anthem that most, if not all, of us can relate to. And when the chorus hits? Forget about it. This is grown-folks dancing music at its finest. Just as solid is “Countless Excuses”, which is again powered by Raegan on the mic. She and PPP transport Motown to the future as synths jump in the background while a funky guitar, horns, strings, and handclaps steal the show. Similarly, Stewart croons about losing her inhibitions on “Dirty Secrets”, a track filled with more laser-synths and a marching-band beat.
Interestingly enough, the synths on here are what make this record more than just a solid R&B affair. But unlike their contemporaries, PPP uses synths as an accessory rather than as the propelling feature of the music. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, though, since Black Milk, a fellow Detroit producer, used synths aplenty on his amazing 2008 release Tronic. Take two of Abundance‘s dopest tracks, “Rocket Science” and “Goodbye”, for example. Both tracks essentially take the crew to the far reaches of space for science-fiction-laced R&B joints. In particular, “Goodbye” is the most progressive, mostly because of the touches of guest-producer Dabrye, who is well-known for his glitchy hip-hop. And before fading into the old school Motown title-track, “Goodbye” features two drumbeats that work off one another as synths build and crash all around them. It’s truly something to hear.
Perhaps serving as a testament to the work of PPP, Abundance only stumbles when the vocalists don’t match the heat of the production. But, this only happens twice and it hardly ruins the pace of the album. Aside from the previously mentioned “American Pimp”, the only other slight misstep is “Go, Go, Go”. While Raegan’s tale of a complicated relationship is easily relatable, she fails to impress on the hook and takes the tone of the track down a notch. But, as stated, those cuts are hardly deep enough to scar the beauty of Abundance. To say this will light a fire under R&B is an understatement. Hell, to equate it to a volcano wouldn’t be enough. Let’s just hope critics and listeners alike remember PPP when they make their coveted best of 2009 lists at the end of this year, because they have certainly cemented themselves on mine.