Truthfully Speaking is appropriate listening for a energetic Saturday afternoon, it’s fit for a spin in the car stereo and ripe for contemporary feminist musing. Much of what defines St. Louis native Shari Watson, better known as Truth Hurts, as an artist, stems from her forceful vocal styling. While The Dr. Dre-produced femme fatale evidently has the goods to be brutally honest between the thick beats and catchy hooks on this 14-track debut, what exactly she’s telling the truth about remains elusive. Certainly, some of her personal mores are made clear—she won’t take your, um, nonsense and she’s just looking to have a good time, but sometimes she just wants to be held.
That’s her truth, and there’s not much more to her than that.
“Next to Me” is an elegant song about love beyond the lure of sex. The music, produced by Focus . . ., is tender where Truth Hurts isn’t. So, the sticky-sweet track evokes intimacy, but Truth still sounds annoyed. One of her strengths is that her vocal presence is always at the forefront of her material. But her weakness is that she lacks musical nuance. She has a powerhouse of a voice and surely her classical music training helped her hone the crisp tones of it, but each of her songs carries the weight of her attitude. There is really no variation in her voice when she is singing about tenderness versus tragedy, which might be one of the drawbacks of the sub-genre she’s landed in.
Truth Hurts is the newest exponent of hip-hop tinged R&B, a musical purgatory that has no boundaries and reaches as far back as Mary J. Blige’s 1992 debut, but has yet to be duplicated with the cohesive sassiness and sincerity of What’s The 411?. “Grown” evokes some gritty authenticity: “I’m grown / I want to feel free to release if that’s the way I’m feeling . . . / I wanna believe I can be who I am to me / If I feel disrespected, then that should be respected above restrictions or opinions,” she asserts. She is a vulnerable version of the sex kitten and one-hit wonder Adina Howard with a much better voice but similar one-dimensional lyrics.
“I’m Not Really Lookin’” is the prerequisite party jam and it smacks of a girls-night-out-please-don’t-ask-me-for-my-number sensibility. DJ Quik’s production here, like on “Addictive”, is radio-friendly and, by default, a quick aural fix. Both songs are among the highlights on the album, but then, the truth takes a bitter turn. “Queen of the Ghetto” is an embarrassing anthem featuring Cita (an animated character from Black Entertainment Television) glorifying all manner of raw feminine hustling. “Real” is a bit more respectable in that regard, but “Do Me”—one of two ballads on the album, falls short. (Being a hardcore and ruthless chick doesn’t tend to go over well in slow songs.)
The same is true for “The Truth” which sounds like something Beyonce of Destiny’s Child would sing if she allowed herself to get pissed off enough to curse her man off on record. It’s atypical of the my-man-did-me-wrong catalog in the sense that she’s calling out men for being dishonest in relationships with a take no prisoners attitude. Somewhere between the sentiment and the weak contribution of R.Kelly—who is, unfortunately, responsible for penning this tepid musical catastrophe and even adds a verse—not much is believable about the song. Maybe the remix will be better.
The problem for Truth Hurts is that her no-nonsense, ghetto bitch persona has already been done and re-done several times. Her voice, while beautiful and capable of far more than the material on Truthfully Speaking can support, is smothered by trite concepts and weak lyrics. The sentiment is there, which is usually the part missing for other bland hip-hop R&B singers- - but what could make her distinctive is mired in a marketing package fit for a heifer and mundane topic matters.
When anyone offers you a painful dose of reality, either you can reasonably expect to glimpse a side of someone’s personal truth which either lead to some sort of personal epiphany or it will make you shrug your shoulders and say “Hey, everyone has their version of the truth”. Truthfully Speaking does the latter: it’s a simple album filled with plenty of vocal potential but misses the mark with it’s overall simplicity.