Familiar without the distasteful nostalgia, and heavy on infectious beats.
Natalie Shaw 2010
Donell Jones’s self-produced sixth album, Lyrics, has a lot to treasure. The signature silky vocals are consistently come-hither, and the subject is so elementarily sex-focused – but rather than a soulless recreation of what he’s been doing since late-90s hit U Know What’s Up, it’s an enticing and still-current LP.
Subject-wise, it doesn’t stray too far from blush-inducing, unadulterated filth. But that’s comforting rather than not, apart from when Jones’ mother introduces Your Place with the immortal words "Give them some of that Chicago-style RnB I brought you up on" – before the chorus strikes with its "Can we do it in your place baby" refrain. The spoken pre-ambles recur too, but less humorously – it’s entirely unnecessary to introduce the album with a "Yo, it's your boy D. Jones / The rebirth of hip hop and RnB" foreword.
Jones’ impressively suave soft touch, soulful backing and bedroom vocals don’t require these self-justificatory mixtape-style intros. What’s Next, for example, sounds like the trajectory Usher should’ve followed – and the production is warm and luxurious. More unfittingly, Jones selflessly gives away one of Lyrics’ 13 songs to Breeze – he isn’t even present on You Can Burn ("I usually don’t do this but I got to introduce y’all to Breeze). The song’s incisive Timbaland-style verses are brilliant, a tease for what can be achieved with a more liberal mind on production; but he’s gone too far on being benevolent.
When the Chicago-born singer does take centre-stage, he juxtaposes overconfidence with shyness to great effect – each through the microscope he’s created. His ‘type’ swings the pendulum between heinous chauvinist (see Blackmail’s flat-lined sneaking-out-the-mistress bragging) and changed man (on Love Like This). But to criticise Lyrics for being unsubtle would be to miss the point – this is an album styled on caricatures, with strong tunes.
Whether it’s touches like the soaring harmonies on Just a Little’s chorus, the decided lack of big-name guests or the idea of a lothario being occasionally crushed, Jones is clever and sleek enough to pull this album off. Through slamming slap bass, masterful slow-grind and clear-cut self-obsession, Lyrics is a unified hip hop-tinged RnB mainstay, familiar without the distasteful nostalgia, and heavy on infectious beats.