If the way he turned a sex-tape scandal into a form of self-promotion wasn’t indicative, a quick glance at the cover art and liner notes of Ray J’s new album—on which he is either shirtless or wearing a stripper-esque studded leather jacket—makes it seem that this dude holds no reservation when it comes to whoring himself out. As far as the music on All I Feel goes, well, let’s just say that nothing really presents itself that could serve as a rebuttal to that contention.
All I Feel kicks off with a short intro titled “I Don’t Wanna Be Right” on which Ray J addresses his struggles—being primarily recognized as Brandy’s little brother, never seeing his family growing up, being accused of putting out his own sex tape for publicity. It gives the listener the idea that, on this album, Ray J might actually provide more insight into the person he actually is, aside from the sibling of a once-huge pop star.
Any optimism is gone once the next track starts. “I Like to Trick”, like most of the songs on the album, is a third-rate R. Kelly rip off replete with lyrics about “hittin’ it from the front, then back,” “trickin’ on dem hoes,” and “making it rain.” Ray J even tries to capitalize on the success of an artist like T-Pain by singing through a vocoder. The next song, lead single “Sexy Can I”, features a slightly more catchy hook, with virtually the exact same lyrics from Ray J and Yung Berg, giving his best impression of a number of popular emcees from the past couple of years. When Ray J sings about wanting to bring out his camera, his pandering for sex-tape sympathy on the album’s intro loses all legitimacy.
“Gifts” essentially follows the same formula as the previous two tracks. “Girl from the Bronx” begins a string of four relationship-centered songs. First, he cheats on his Brooklyn girlfriend with a girl from the Bronx. On “Jump Off” he faces the ever-so-hard decision of mistress over wife. “Boyfriend” reverses roles as Ray J assumes the role of the guy who makes love to a wife better than her husband does. Finally, the title track is a simple break-up leading to heartbreak song. Though formulaic, it is the moment on All I Feel on which Ray J lays most of his pretensions to the side and shows some real emotion.
The last third of the album begins with “It’s Up to You”, a more respectable approach to a sex jam; this time he leaves everything up to the girl. Next are the two requisite gangster-posturing attempts at street credibility: “Where You At” and “Real Niggas”, featuring The Game and Styles P respectively. For a kid basically raised in show business, it’s just too hard to buy any of Ray J’s boasts about how “gangsta” he is. Each track ends up being saved by pretty good production and the guest stars, both of which hardly ever sound bad.
Though “Good Girl Gone Bad” attempts to base an entire song off a line from Jay-Z’s “Song Cry”, the soulful Fizzy Womack track allows Ray J to get old-school with his singing style; the track ends up with a feel that is somewhere in between early Motown and New Edition. Take out the unnecessary promotional guest verse from rapper Shorty Mack (signed to Ray J’s Knockout Entertainment) and you have a unique and well-executed throwback R&B track and probably the best song on the album.
Ray J’s lyrics on the album’s outro, titled “I Can Feel It”, imply that, throughout the course of All I Feel, he has undergone some sort of profound transformation. Well, if this is true, it’s not apparent in the music. The album isn’t terrible—the production throughout is generally quite catchy, and Ray J has a sufficient voice with a good sense of melody. The problem with All I Feel is that nearly every single song utilizes some kind of tired formula, and the artist either comes off sounding like a parody of R. Kelly or a wannabe Prince. It seems that Ray J’s main goal is to leave behind his image as Brandy’s brother. In attempting to do so, he makes explicitly sexual music to offset the squeaky-clean image his sister built in her days of fame. The trouble with the type of music he makes is that it has been done so many times, there’s no longer any room for originality. So Ray J, while trying to shed one label, has pigeonholed himself right into another.