Since an 11 year old Little Stevie Wonder was signed to Motown Records and catapulted to national prominence with the slam dunk, Fingertips, labels have been on the lookout for the next Usher, New Edition, Shanice Wilson or-the gold standard-Michael Jackson. For every M.J. or N.E., however, there are just as many flashes in the pan: ABC, Sammie, The Boys, Quindon Tarver, Soul for Real, The Five Stairsteps, and countless others. Time will reveal on which side of the fence burgeoning gospel star 14-year old Dijon will land, but he certainly has the technical chops to sit comfortably among those who endure to veteran status. His debut, From a Kid's Point of View, a concept album about adolescent angst and divorce from a child's vantage point, is a solid Verity label debut. Dijon's project is heavy with easy-going contemporary beats but light on spiritual weight that nonetheless should appeal to Christian parents seeking fun and appropriate material for their kids -- one they'll actually enjoy.
Like Tevin Campbell before him (whose vocal inflections at times were dead ringers for classic Whitney Houston), Dijon appears to be a study of female singers like Coko, Karen Clark Sheard and her daughter Kierra "Kiki" Sheard. It's with the younger Ms. Sheard's debut in its late 90's hip-hop influenced tracks and vocal earnestness that "From a Kid's Point of View" has much in common. As a highly-controlled vocalist, Dijon's strength and curse lies in his youth. The talented lad approaches each song with a point to prove. Dijon is a strong multi-octave singer who has a penchant for being a bit hard on his notes and over-indulging the histrionic runs to demonstrate his technical prowess. Still, he is such a hard worker, charming presence and so eager to please on these tracks that one can't help but smile at his ethic and obvious talent.
One hopes as Dijon develops he will come to appreciate color and texture as much as vocal might. The beautifully restrained "My Potential," a moody atmospheric tune of very adult questions about purpose, and the spacious "I Wanna Be More Like Him" sport fleeting glimpses of the subtleties Dijon is capable producing under "a less is more" philosophy. Time may work out these minor and admittedly subjective "issues," as the young singer's voice appears to have changed in the middle of recording this project, as hinted at on the album bookends "How Great Is Our God" and the title track. Both tunes display a more mature tone from Dijon than heard anywhere else on this project.
Production team Troy Taylor of 1990's Characters production fame with new comers Larry Campbell and Todd Muhammad adeptly give Dijon a hip playground of contemporary r&b radio-ready tracks to play on, most notably, on the synth-loaded "Give Praise." Still, as is often the case, producing singers this young often forces musical compromises to be successful in the marketplace. If the lyric is too grown and production too contemporary the generation gap rears its ugly head and parents are repelled, if's it too milquetoast you couldn't even give the music away to discriminating youth. Only Michael Bivens (Boys II Men founder) and The Corporation, Michael Jackson's wunderkind West Coast production team in the 70's, seem to have discovered the elusive magic formula of multi-generational appeal. These reasons are probably why Muhammad's Kollosul Entertainment chose to develop Dijon for five years before shopping and releasing a debut product. The writers and producers here do make some compromises in lyric and production, but they're rarely groan-inducing. The good news here is that the lyrics are relevant and interesting. While the music won't win any awards for innovation, these popping tracks have an appeal. If you liked the sound and compositions that launched the careers of Monica and Brandy but prefer more inspirational lyrics then this album is perfect for you.
I hesitate on these closing remarks, but knowing A Kid's Point of View is marketed as a gospel album, there's a confession I must make. I wasn't emotionally moved to praise, worship or prayer by the spirit of this music. If my experience isn't unique, this could be a troublesome outcome for this gospel project. On tracks like "I Wanna Be More Like Him," perhaps as a pre-teen I might have been convicted and educated by Dijon's message. As a caring adult, I was certainly moved to empathy by the wonderfully sensitive lead single, "A Kid's Point of View." But, even here, the title track is free of higher power or even inspirational references of hope. The title track withstanding, the lyrics throughout the project speak repeatedly of God but there is so little in this project's presentation that is organic or connects to source, Omarion could have made this album, which is both a compliment and a critique. With the exception of the traditional "Worthy is the Lamb" and the seeking "My Potential," this has all the sound and energy of a good, solid kid's R&B album. Only thing is A Kid's Point of View isn't intended to be R&B.
Urban flair needn't be irreconcilable with Christian music that evokes worship. Kirk Franklin, Kiki Sheard and Deitrick Haddon's hard-core contemporary gospel has a street-wise, demonstrable heaven fire in their gutsy messages of praise and redemption. It is a spiritual depth Dijon's product is urgently in need of to gain the respect of a gospel audience who yearn to be fed more than an impressive voice by their artists. This isn't a slam on the young worshipper's faith or commitment; he has an anointed instrument. It's just after listening to A Kid's Point of View and hearing Dijon proudly sing on "He Is Lord" how "R&B isn't him"; one can't help skepticism. But, I guess that's just an adult's point of view. Mildly recommended.
--L. Michael Gipson