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—by Rashad D. Grove
2018 is shaping up to be quite an extraordinary year in music. There has been an abundance of albums released throughout the year from all genres. From new, groundbreaking artists emerging to insert their identity on the musical landscape for the first time, to established veterans who are building upon their expansive discographies, 2018 will go down as a banner year for music.
Riding this wave of momentum, R&B music -- with all its sub-genres and variations -- is experiencing a resurgence of sorts. As hip hop music has become the most prominent expression in popular culture, R&B has struggled to find its footing and has taken a backseat in recent years. The ascent of rap music in the mainstream has had wide-reaching implications for R&B as a genre. With rappers injecting dance-pop productions and melodic elements into their song structures, the distinction and viability of the R&B singer has lost some of its luster over the years. But, with the recent rise and renewed interest in the genre over the past year, contemporary R&B is now getting the attention that it always deserved. The timing could not have been better for the return of singer/songwriter Amerie after a long hiatus away from the game.
Amerie burst on to the scene in summer of 2002 with her gold-selling debut All I Have, which produced one of her signature songs: The classic "Why Don't We Fall in Love." Her sophomore album, another gold-selling LP titled Touch, featured her biggest commercial hit "1 Thing." This track shot up to number 8 on the pop charts, as well as number 1 on the R&B charts. Not only that, Touch was Grammy nominated for Best Contemporary R&B Album in 2006. "1 Thing" also copped a nomination for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance. Amerie's vocals and sound helped to define the shift in contemporary R&B in the early to mid-2000s that incorporated lush, upbeat productions merged with sultry vocals.
While Amerie has released music sporadically and even dropped her first independent EP titled Drive in 2016, it's been nine years since Amerie released her last full-length album, which was In Love & War -- her first and last Def Jam release. In the extremely accelerated pace of music today, going without releasing projects for long periods of time is unheard of. But, during this nine-year span, Amerie has undergone a metamorphosis in virtually every phase of her life.
Throughout the duration that Amerie was on sabbatical from recording and releasing music, her creative impulses have been channeled into different ventures. She's been content, living her best life by writing fantasy novels, launching a lifestyle channel on YouTube, editing a New York Times best-selling anthology of young-adult stories called Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy, marrying her long-time manager Lenny Nicholson, and gave birth to her son River (Much of her newest project was recorded during her pregnancy).
These life experiences proved to be inspirational in drawing Amerie back to her first love of creating music. With the independent release of her double album, 4AM Mulholland and After 4AM, Amerie reintroduces herself to the music scene as a unique voice of the contemporary R&B.
4AM Mulholland and After 4AM consist of 13 tracks. It's a soulful, sonically seductive project that clearly departs from the former R&B/pop sensibilities that influenced Amerie's past albums. Amerie delves deep into a more laid-back, subdued aural landscape that curates a darker, melancholic, trap soul vibe. The minimalist production of Animal meshes well with Amerie's songwriting prowess. Their undeniable chemistry is evident on each track of the double album. The project explores the universal themes of love and heartbreak with striking vulnerability. Amerie hits a cord with her newest release. While 4AM Mulholland and After 4AM dropped simultaneously, each is a sonically cohesive project in their own right.
Borrowing its name from Mulholland Drive, the famous stretch of road in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains of Southern California, Amerie is in the driver's seat for the entirety of 4AM Mulholland. With no guest features, produced entirely by Animal and composed with her husband; Amerie also handled much of the recording, engineering, and mixing herself. 4AM Mulholland sets the stage for the revealing of another dimension of Amerie. She seamlessly creates a tapestry of sounds throughout Mulholland that lends itself to an introspective, reflective musical ambiance that Amerie consistently delivers upon with her passionate vocals. Mulholland opens with "Curious" and sets the mood with a furtive, but expressive tone, detailing the yearning of long-lost lovers. With tracks such as the inconspicuous "Amnesia" and the unadulterated, snapping trap sound of "A Heart for the Breaking," Amerie convincingly delves into complexity of relationships gone awry and navigates through the murky waters of reconciliation.
After 4AM is the more upbeat of the two albums. It's a collection of songs -- still with a hint of sonic darkness as on 4AM Mulholland -- but the tone is lighter. Animal's production on After 4AM presents a similar minimalist approach as his work on 4AM Mulholland, but with more up-tempo tracks that pairs smoothly with Amerie's subtle soprano. Tracks like "4TheLovers" and "I Remember Us" deliver glimpses of nostalgia. They're speckled with traces of the hip hop soul and pop that are reminiscent of Amerie's earlier work that captivated her fans. On the rhythmic, conga and piano-driven banger "Give It All Up," she describes the difficulties of turning from and then, running back to love. The closing track, "Just Sayin'," is another standout song featuring the Animal's precise keyboard work and Amerie gliding over the track with her provocative, but laid-back vocal arrangements. 4AM Mulholland and After 4AM are testaments to how well Amerie and Animal complement one other.
As 2018 draws to a close, the return of Amerie with 4AM Mulholland and After 4AM is a welcomed addition from the already exceptional musical cannon. A deeply personal project, Amerie bares her soul over the course of it with raw honesty. Her embrace of trap soul and autotune may be upsetting to some of her core fans who may have desired a nostalgic project similar to "1 Thing." But, it speaks to how Amerie has kept her finger on the pulse of the culture even in absentia. Amerie has reached the stage of her career where she can create music solely for the purpose of achieving her artistic vision and her own self-satisfaction. 4AM Mulholland and After 4AM is a showcase of Amerie's growth as an artist and as a woman, bucking against the conventional trends and norms that often hinder artistic creativity. 4AM Mulholland and After 4AM is a definitive statement that Amerie is still on the cutting edge of contemporary R&B.
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