In an artist’s quest to craft music for the masses, it does not always take a village to help one shape their dreams. That is how independent singer/songwriter John Michael’s journey was specifically designed. In essence, he makes no bones that his hard work ethic and musical abilities were made possible without any mentors, though he looked up to his inspirations like Stevie Wonder and Dru Hill. Michael was first drawn to music as a hobby, eventually engaging audiences throughout high school with his DJ mixing and writing songs on the side. His early professional ventures were focused on songwriting gigs with producers who worked with Lloyd and Rick Ross.
For all the fruits of his labor as a performer, Michael released a 22-track mix tape, In Da Streetz Vol. 1 in 2012 that demonstrated more of his hip-hop freestyle flair. But it was the urban adult-contemporary track “Sophisticated Lady” and the remix featuring Talib Kweli that put this Washington D.C. native on the national radar.
Michael’s ultimate determination on his self-titled debut EP is establishing himself as the next R&B/pop stylist a la Trey Songz and Ne-Yo. The heartfelt ballad, “Just a Man,” about striving to be a hard-working man while balancing romance, is decorated with sharp beats, dancing keys and dripping guitars. Though Michael possesses an appealing voice, this track is where he stretches past the suave factor dominating his other three selections. “Where I Belong” holds steady with its thumping beats, strings and acoustic piano. The steppers would appreciate the original mix of “Sophisticated Lady,” Michael’s most popular track to-date. “She Played With My Mind” from In Da Streetz Vol. 1 rides on a futuristic soundtrack that stumbles into over-modulated production, but Michael’s forthright lyrics regarding extremely manipulative women, keep this from sinking into mediocrity: “So now she got you all alone/she would take it all/Long as you gave her what she wanted/she would do it all.”
With his debut EP from Top Notch Music, it is apparent Michael has the skills and savvy to secure a solid career in urban music. The major concern is that Michael’s well-intended ‘one-man’ mentality can carry him only so far if he wants to contend with his rivals, the Songz and Ne-Yo of the game, in the fiercely competitive R&B mainstream.
Vocals: 3.0 stars
Lyrics: 3.0 stars
Music: 2.5 stars
Production: 2.5 stars
SoulTracks Call: Recommended
By Peggy Oliver