KeAnthony - A Hustlaz Story (2008)

KeAnthony
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R&B must seem pretty glossy these days. With Lloyd giving breathless 'lessons in love' and Ne-Yo rocking suits and declaring 08' to be the 'year of the gentleman,' those who crave the rougher side of soul music will probably find a kindred spirit in Nashville's KeAnthony.  Groomed for gospel since joining his family's singing group at the age of five, his life took a 180-degree turn when a long-time friend that he ran the streets with turned him in for an aggravated burglary rap, leading to nearly a decade behind bars. Instead of festering in bitterness or exacting revenge, KeAnthony poured his emotions into song, and A Hustlaz' Story (as well as the accompanying film short of the same name) was born.
R&B must seem pretty glossy these days. With Lloyd giving breathless 'lessons in love' and Ne-Yo rocking suits and declaring 08' to be the 'year of the gentleman,' those who crave the rougher side of soul music will probably find a kindred spirit in Nashville's KeAnthony.  Groomed for gospel since joining his family's singing group at the age of five, his life took a 180-degree turn when a long-time friend that he ran the streets with turned him in for an aggravated burglary rap, leading to nearly a decade behind bars. Instead of festering in bitterness or exacting revenge, KeAnthony poured his emotions into song, and A Hustlaz' Story (as well as the accompanying film short of the same name) was born.

Coupling his lyrical skills with the prowess of Tank and The Underdogs was a smart move; the tracks, although crisp, retain the murky feel that his vivid lyrics require, and never once do they compete with his vocals, which may remind listeners of a grainier version of R.Kelly's. ...Story succeeds at being both sweet and street, thanks to devotional yet urban-edged ballads like "That's What I'll Be," "This Feelin'" and "I Ain't Tryna," where he's filled with new-found resolve to keep his relationship tight after slipping one too many times: "I ain't tryna' be all out in the street or up in the club, sippin' on Patron with my flirt on....and I ain't tryna' be scared of my own cell phone  no more, I don't wanna piss you off."

Fortunately for the less enamored listeners, KeAnthony pours an equal amount of conviction into the grimier cuts, such as the true-to-life "Forever My Homie," a song finding him puzzled and in pain after his literal partner-in-crime "done traded the streets for a desk job with the police" and turned state witness against him.  "I never even saw it comin'," he croons, "now I'm sittin' in this jail cell wonderin' why, oh why, I'm the only one doin' time."  He also struggles with guilt after a family member catches a case while doing dirt with him, looking in from outside the bars and musing "Thought we was gon' roll, now I'm not so sure. They talkin' about death row, won't see you no more, I don't know, I don't know."

Sometimes the "thug mentality" works against KeAnthony by perpetuating trifling stereotypes; telling a woman to chill and be patient as he continues doing dirt to make ends meet does not a healthy definition of love make, nor does eschewing arguments just so he can keep his buzz going, as he pleads for in "Everytime I'm High" ("Sometimes I wanna take my second hit up on the roof, so I ain't gotta deal with all this foolishness from you.").  But this Hustlaz' Story is too compelling to forsake altogether. If you're tired of the preening pretty boys out there and want the R to stand for "raw" in R&B, KeAnthony's debut comes highly recommended.

Melody Charles

 
Album of the Month - Juewett Bostick - Shades of Blu
Choice Cut - Kea Michaels - "Not My Friend"
Song of the Month - Bryan Andrew Wilson - "Only You'

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