[2 September 2009]
Popular music moves so fast that it can be easy to forget the impact that artists make on the industry, or the genre in which they work.
I say that because I’m going to say that Ginuwine’s debut album, Ginuwine…The Bachelor, helped to revolutionize black popular music when it was released in 1996. And it’s going to sound like hyperbole, because, in pop music terms, 13 years is a long time, and music critics haven’t done an adequate job of situating Ginuwine in his rightful place within black music history.
In 1996, black popular music was in a state of transition. New Jack Swing’s dominance was waning, and the sample-heavy sound of Sean “Puffy” Combs and the bass-heavy, funk-inspired sounds of Atlanta were on the rise, while the music that would be called “neo-soul” was just starting to emerge.
Ginuwine came in and did something different from all three. He (and Missy, and the late, great Static/Major of Playa) wrote deceptively simple melodies and then arranged them in such a way that they that fit right in the pocket of Timbaland’s electronic-inspired production, creating a unique concoction that basically sounded like the future.
Remembering the unique magic that was the “Super Friends” (as they called themselves at the time), it’s hard to listen to any of them now that they’ve split (excluding the two surviving members of Playa, Smoke E. Digglera and Digital Black, who are doing brilliant work with their own independent record labels). Missy has been creatively MIA since about 2003, while Timbaland has been handing Justin Timberlake some Prince and Michael Jackson-inspired insipid production that is stripped of all the qualities that made him a great producer in the late ‘90s.
That leaves Ginuwine, who with A Man’s Thoughts continues the uneven work he’s been doing since 2001’s brilliant The Life album.
Ginuwine falls into the trap that many pop stars at his level fall into—replacing themselves with the latest trendy producers. Ginuwine co-wrote only six songs, leaving the bulk of the writing to men who give him serviceable material designed to cater to a fickle public that (supposedly) wants to hear the same song over again, but sung by eight or nine different artists.
As a result, very few songs on the album stand out. Lead single “Last Chance”, “Lying to Each Other”, “Show Off”, “Show Me the Way”, and the Brandy collabo “Bridge to Love” rise above the fray because they have some meat to them. “Show Me the Way” is beautiful, it’s the album standout—but it’s the very last song, so listeners may not even get to it. “Bridge to Love” is downright thrilling as Brandy and Ginuwine’s voices blend beautifully, and the song has form and genuine emotion. One wishes that they had collaborated over a Tim beat.
Speaking of, Timbaland’s sole producing credit, “Get Involved”, is disappointing beyond belief. The thought of a reunited Timbaland, Ginuwine, and Missy is probably enough to get old G fans to buy the album, but it’s a waste. Tim saddles his former partners with a Justin Timberlake castoff that is so busy it buries the vocals. This approach works for a vocalist like Justin, who needs production wizardry to create a personality, but G and Missy are completely lost.
Ultimately, A Man’s Thoughts fails to introduce Ginuwine as a major force to a public too young to remember that this was the guy that started many of the trends that are now choking the life out of black pop. It also fails to recapture the spirit and genius that made Ginuwine so compelling 13 years ago. It’s a serviceable album, but for an artist like Ginuwine, who created three near perfect albums, this is a cynical attempt to stay relevant. He should have realized his relevance was never in question. Just the quality of the work.