What you need to know about India.Arie’s new album: the songs are catchy, the lyrics may beat you about the head with her message, and after the first five you’ll realize all the songs sound pretty much the same, with a few notable exceptions. The new single, “Little Things” isn’t as pop perfect as “Video” (but it’s smoother) and she’s replaced urban jazz beats with Ashanti-style drum programming.
If you like Stevie Wonder, think Ani Difranco is scary, or don’t have enough mom-style preaching in your life, you will love this album. “Talk to Her” has a memorable refrain and provides sound advice to any disrespecting youngster on how to treat their girlfriends. “Slow Down” may be just what you need to put your foot on the gas and smell the roses.
Why you should care: Last year’s heavily nominated debut album “Acoustic Soul” went 0 for 7 at the Grammy’s, but much is still expected from this fresh talent. Arie is a part of a genre that has developed out of the gangsta-rap backlash, the fusion of hip-hop, soul music, and various economic and social factors that affect urban women (usually black women specifically). There’s not even a real word for it yet; critics must accurately describe urbansmoothcountryR&Bjazzhiphopsoul without being too vague or wordy. Deep breath.
Believe me, it’s hard. Thankfully, the soundtrack to a reviewer’s process is sonically pleasant. India.Arie and her peers, female artists like Jill Scott, Angie Stone, Macy Gray and Lauryn Hill are a refreshing divergence from the Cash Money-Murder Inc. bling-bling. If you’ve never heard of some of these songwriters, you’re not watching enough MTV2 cause the videos are a big treat. Urban settings without guns! Women fully dressed! Performers without band-aids!
The genre is still evolving. I predict Alicia Keys’ numerous talents will encourage more focus on musicianship once the novelty of it wears off. While Arie’s guitar chops are elementary at best, and seriously, the “drums” promote suicidal ideation, she is writing her own music. This is kind of a big deal. It’s a genre shift that will last.
Arie’s verbose lyrics (think Alanis but without those silly metaphors) make it damn clear that respect is the key to male-female relationships. The respect thing is very clearly outlined for all potential playas out there, instructional even — a textbook, perhaps. This is not a subtle point she’s making. Treat your girlfriend like your cousin should treat your mom, that kind of thing. Though occasionally she reveals a church-like traditionalism, she bravely asserts that we all seek “the feminine energy” that will end the suffering of Mother Earth and bring peace to all. Excuse me for paraphrasing.
As a musician, it is difficult to praise India.Arie. Nearly all of her songs feature multiple co-writers and she rarely plays an instrument on the tracks. As an artist and a cultural figure she is important and great and cool and inspiring. Like I said, there isn’t any one word to describe her yet.