The New Jersey native known simply as Jaheim (b. Jaheim Hoagland) is a true throwback to old school R&B. He’s a living, breathing tribute to the golden age of urban music, but it’s not for the reasons one might expect.
No, son doesn’t have the distinctive baritone of a Barry White and he doesn’t have the silky, smooth voice of a Teddy Pendergrass. Nor does he possess the lyrical prowess of a Marvin Gaye or the overt sensuality of an Al Green.
So what exactly is it that makes him a throwback to days gone by? He’s butt-ass ugly, folks. It’s as simple as that. The man’s face is so damn flat it looks like the Coyote (as in chasin’ a freakin’ Roadrunner . . . ) after he strapped his ass to an Acme rocket and slammed into the side of a mountain at 8,000 miles an hour.
And that’s the beauty of this “beast”, people. It’s all about the music with him, ‘cause as anybody can see for themselves, he ain’t got no looks to get by on . . . just like back tha day, long before MTV and image crazy label execs killed music in general.
In 2001, when he released his double-platinum Ghetto Love, my man won both critical acclaim and commercial success in one fell swoop, due in large part, to the album’s seemingly endless succession of hits, most notably “Could It Be” (and its various remixes), the haunting club joint “Just in Case”, and the soaring ballad “Anything”. But with that much success right out the box came the expectation of greater things to come, something that is often hard to achieve.
Even more daunting a task was maintaining that authentic, gritty street feel that drove the debut disc to unexpected heights. After all, how can one expect a man that has a few million bones dropped in his lap to still capture the torrid emotions that come with living in the hood? Don’t worry Jaheim fans, you can always take the man out the ghetto, but you ain’t never gonna take the ghetto out the man. Grit, grime, and all the complexities of life in the streets can be found all over the album’s 16 tracks.
From the disc’s lead single “Fabulous”, which is driven by a minor-key arrangement that’s complimented by a children’s chorus and a high-end percussive treatment, to the closing title track featuring Jah’s li’l brother Taquane, Still Ghetto is for the most part a musical clone of its predecessor Ghetto Love. The album has much of the Ghetto Love team in place behind the scenes, namely with Kay Gee (Naughty by Nature, Next, 3rd Storee, Koffee Brown) serving as executive producer, as well as Eddie F. (Angie Stone, Heavy D.), Eddie Berkeley (Next, Luther Vandross), and Eric Williams (BLACKstreet) loggin’ time behind the mixing board.
This, of course, can either be a good thing or a bad thing. If you were lovin’ on Ghetto Love, you will undoubtedly be all over this album like a fat kid on the last jelly donut, but if you weren’t exactly feelin’ that disc you’ll probably be less inclined to wanna give this baby a go. Knowing that, let’s get into the meat of the album.
“Diamond In Da Ruff”, which finds the singer dropping lines like “We started out like Bobby and Whitney / Justin and Britney, then it got all ugly” lets the listener know two things. One, son has to find some new role models for his relationships and two, he ain’t afraid to discuss his jacked up romantic past with anyone that’ll listen.
“A diamond in the rough is something that you don’t get to see twice,” he explains. “It’s something that you had in the past and you wish you had now, something you regret losing. Now you are left to deal with the frustration.” While I don’t know exactly what frustration the golden-voiced crooner is referring to, I can attest to my own personal frustration at trying to figure out what all of this has to do with a diamond in the rough. Other than that, the track is a’ight.
His angst continues on “Backtight”, where he belts out “Looking back at all I put you through / Too much of a thug nigga to tell you I love you / Thought I had my game tight / I had it locked down, knowing my shit ain’t tight”. The song is an ode to a mistake that many a man (and woman) has made thru the years. It’s brazen. It’s honest. It’s real. A track that’s gonna get some panties in a bunch is the thugged-out “Me & My Bitch”. Rollin’ up with “Cash in the dash / Heat up in the seat in case of beef”, Jah’s got his bad-ass boo ridin’ shotgun on this jam. He defends the tracks coarse terminology, saying that they are “ghetto words for a man of the ghetto.”
Further espousing this state-of-mind is “the queen of hip-hop soul” herself Mary J. Blige, who appears on the aptly titled “Beauty and Thug”. Mary sings “His style is rough / He wears his hair in cornrows, pants low” right before Jah comes in to tell us about a woman that he compares to a rose that grew from the concrete, all while a melodic chorus of “He’s so thugged out / She’s so beautiful / They’re so different, but they’re in love” weaves itself around the track.
The album takes a more personal turn on “Everywhere I Am”, a song that finds Jaheim singing both to and about his deceased mother. “I dedicated this album to my mother,” he explains. “I can feel her presence all around me when I sing and I know that she’s watching everything I do. That gives me the confidence and the faith to keep giving it my best every time out.”
And frankly what more can we ask of the man? While I don’t know if that’s going to be enough to allow him to reach the lofty goals he’s set for himself, namely selling 10 million copies of this release, I do know this: That work ethic has enabled him to put together one of the best R&B/soul albums to hit the streets in quite some time.
// Notes from the Road
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