Music

Jagged Edge: Baby Makin Project

You’ve gotta think that after making the same record six times in a row, a lot of folks have to have stopped listening.


Jagged Edge

Baby Makin' Project

Label: Island Def Jam
US Release Date: 2007-09-25
UK Release Date: Available as import
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It was rough reading an interview with producer Jermaine Dupri in Vibe magazine recently and seeing him call his proteges Jagged Edge “the last R&B group standing”. It’s not really a false statement; the landscape for black groups (let’s forget about black bands, who disappeared nearly a decade and a half ago) has emptied out considerably since the glory days of the '90s. The majority of the groups that were popular have split up, and the handful that are left (Silk, Boyz II Men, graddaddies like The Temptations, Isleys and New Edition) are in a radically faded state. It’s gotten so bad that this year’s American Music Awards neglected to include a category for Favorite R&B Band, Duo or Group for the first time ever.

Jagged Edge’s ascension to the top of the R&B heap is completely by default. Not to say they’re not talented. They’ve got a rich harmonic blend with a churchy kick. However, it’s probably safe to say that the group hasn’t expanded much creatively in the decade since their first album was released. Matter of fact, it would be pretty difficult to tell any of Jagged Edge’s six studio albums apart from one another if you removed the hit singles. Hell, as the hit medley that serves as the intro to their new Baby Makin’ Project reveals, you can hardly tell their hit singles apart! It’s a curse of sorts, which continues to manifest itself on this latest effort.

All of the songs on Baby Makin’ Project follow the same general outline. They file along unobtrusively at the same medium pace. There’s not a club banger on this album-which would offer a bit of stylistic variety, although (as is typical of the R&B group) their forte is definitely not the up tempo track. They’ve also maybe learned a lesson or two from the debacle that was their self-titled 2006 CD, a CD whose lack of success hastened the end of their Sony Music deal (this album is their first release on Def Jam, which boasts mentor Dupri as president). There are no guest rappers, and the crassness that marked songs like “Ass Hypnotic” on their last album has been left at the side of the road here in favor of love songs that still wallow in thug cliché, although without going completely overboard.

So what you wind up with is a typical boilerplate R&B album. One of Jagged Edge’s other faults is that they lack a powerhouse lead vocalist. No Beyonce, no Sisqo, no K-Ci. Without a superstar in their midst, or the clean-cut pop appeal of a Boyz II Men, their music lacks personality. Of course, the absence of a real “lead” figure just might be why they’ve stayed together so long. At any rate, it’s certainly not a painful listen (like much of their last album), but it’s not particularly exciting, either. There are little tidbits that pop up every now and then to jolt you into paying attention, like the equally boring Ashanti’s guest verse on “Put a Little Umph in It”, or the fact that “I’ll Be Damned” completely recycles the melody from their first ballad hit, “Gotta Be”.

There’s the obligatory “girl, you made me look like a fool” song (“Whole Town’s Laughing”, actually one of the album’s better tracks), the slightly racy sex song (“Get This”, where they ask their girl to “do that thing with your lips”), and let’s not forget the album’s last track, “Turn U On”, which manages to be the album’s designated Internet-sex song and then ups the ante by borrowing liberally from the group’s own “Promise”, Usher’s “Nice & Slow” (which was co-written by members of the group) and Zapp’s '80 classic “Computer Love”. As the cherry on top, they employ that annoying vocoder trick that T-Pain has brought back into style of late.

In a way, Jagged Edge are like the R&B version of the Backstreet Boys. They found huge success with a particular sound, and they’re going to continue exploiting that sound long after it’s stopped paying commercial dividends. While there’s a lot to be said about not compromising or following trends, you’ve gotta think that after making the same record six times in a row, a lot of folks have to have stopped listening. And after this album, you can probably place me onto that pile as well.

4

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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