It’s called the “Cash-In” album. It’s when an artist, for whatever reason, releases a stopgap LP to help fulfill a record contract or just make some extra cash on the side. This is why Britney Spears remix albums have an unfortunate existence. This is why Guns N’ Roses released their Greatest Hits LP (or, more correctly, why their label did). And, unfortunately, this is why Jill Scott’s Collaborations is being reviewed right now.
However, the prospect of rounding up a slew of various one-off collaborations in one place isn’t always a bad idea. Just look at Sinead O’Connor: she released the exact same type of record in 2005 (with the same name, even), showing off her many diverse and sometimes spectacular collaborations with the likes of U2, Peter Gabriel, Moby, and many more. Yet, the realm of the “rock collaboration” and the “soul collaboration” are quite different. The “rock” collaboration is two artists uniting to merge sounds, be it in a spectacular fashion (the Strokes and Regina Spektor) or a disastrous one (Mick Jagger & David Bowie). Yet in the hyper-commercialized world of rap and R&B, you see budding MC’s and female soul belters guest on songs almost interchangeably—and it’s rare to see any rap album these days devoid of such guest lists.
Now, Jill Scott is a unique talent: the original frontrunner in the post-millennial “neo-soul” movement that has launched the likes of India.Arie and Corrine Bailey Rae into stardom in the national spotlight, Scott has maintained a very strong, classic-R&B sound that merges beat poetry with synth strings to sexy and—at times—undeniably stirring effect (her 11-minute song “Thickness” from her live Experience: 826+ LP proves how passionate she can get). Her albums are focused yet exciting. Her first two albums showcase her versatility, managing sexy coo and impossible note-hitting with equal aplomb. Yet, when brought in for collaboration, she rarely makes her presence truly stand out, simply working as pretty vocal tinsel for whatever tree the artist in question is making. It’s a sad thing to hear from such an original artist, and, ultimately, Jill Scott’s Collaborations never rises above the sounds of its own cash-drawer opening up wide.
To begin airing of grievances, three of the 14 tracks are already readily available on Jill Scott releases (the two “Love Rain” remixes with Mos Def already appeared on her debut, “One Time” with Eric Roberson appeared on her Experience: 826+ album). Even more agitating is how though “One Time” is a fine slow-burner off of Experience, that same EP boasted “High Post Brotha”, a duet with Common that was dirty, gritty, and just plain exhilarating. Yet, that cut is not featured here, and instead we get two cuts featuring Common (“8 Minutes to Sunrise” and the Like Water for Chocolate highlight “Funky For You”) where Scott plays nothing but hook-girl. Though there are some fantastic verses on here (even Will Smith steps up his game for “The Rain”), it’s a bit frustrating for any fan picking up this LP and expecting more than Jill Scott repeating the same 15 or so words over and over on half the tracks. No more is this more apparent than the god-awful Sergio Mendes’ collaboration “Let Me”, in which we get the added bonus of will.i.am dropping the most pointless verse of his entire career (“Let me love you girl / Let me into your world / ‘cos I’ve never felt love like this before”). The feel-good Latin rhythm is just mindless repetitive and nothing short of ridiculous.
So it comes as little surprise that the best songs off of Collaborations are the ones where we actually feel like Jill is genuinely collaborating with the guest artist. The undeniable highlight is the Chris Botti number “Good Morning Heartache”, in which Scott expounds a sultry and sad story over Botti’s feather-light trumpet, sounding like the two were made for each other—the effect undeniably smooth. Even though she plays hook girl again on the Lupe Fiasco cut “Daydreamin’”, not only does it work against a climatic string production, but at the end she gets to unleash her rafter-shaking pipes to awesome results. And nowhere does she feel as in her zone as during the Al Jarreau/George Benson collaboration “God Bless This Child”, her voice flowing like a sweet molasses over the slithering guitar picking. It’s relaxing, sexy, and undeniably soulful.
It’s quite unfortunate that such an album has had to have been rush-released, rehashing tracks fans already have as well as not even bothering to put even one new song on there. Admittedly, some of these numbers are harder to find than others, but a large majority of them are sadly forgettable (like her labored duet from Darius Rucker’s [aka Hootie of Blowfish fame] ill-fated R&B effort), and ultimately not a good glimpse into Scott’s talent. In many ways, it feels that she had nothing to do with the project. Yet if this reminder of her commercial respectability happens to get her collaborations with artists that truly want to collaborate, then not only can we look forward to a new Jill Scott LP—and not one that’s simply a Cash-In.