Jaheim - Struggle Love (2016)

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Jaheim – Struggle Love

There are some serious artistic struggles in the seventh full album release by the man who helped usher in a now rather routine thug love soul persona, beginning with his every man 2001 single, “Could It Be.” He exchanged the low-hanging jeans and corn rolls in 2007 with what was the beginning of a three album run of superior material and mature performances to his more uneven early albums. Unfortunately, the contents of Struggle Love return Jaheim to those early days of good intentions, compelling ideas, and lackluster execution. Even the beauty of Jaheim’s baritone can’t rescue the trite lyrics, underwhelming production, and clumsy arrangements tanking Struggle Love.

Jaheim – Struggle Love

There are some serious artistic struggles in the seventh full album release by the man who helped usher in a now rather routine thug love soul persona, beginning with his every man 2001 single, “Could It Be.” He exchanged the low-hanging jeans and corn rolls in 2007 with what was the beginning of a three album run of superior material and mature performances to his more uneven early albums. Unfortunately, the contents of Struggle Love return Jaheim to those early days of good intentions, compelling ideas, and lackluster execution. Even the beauty of Jaheim’s baritone can’t rescue the trite lyrics, underwhelming production, and clumsy arrangements tanking Struggle Love.

Historically, sincerity, a nostalgic vocal lineage to Teddy Pendergrass and Luther Vandross, and an unapologetic devotion to the tenets of old school R&B has saved Jaheim from being rightly racked over the coals for such lyrical offenses as “Beauty and the Thug,” “Me and My Bitch,” and “Lil Nigga Ain’t Mine,” among others. When he suited up and cleaned up his act with The Makings of A Man and began delivering the kind of grown material that his talent hinted at through his early hits like “Could It Be,” “Fabulous,” and “Just In Case,” there was a collective sigh of relief in circles that were fans of the voice but struggled mightily with material that sometimes was as misogynistic, coarse, and stereotype ridden as what one could hear from the rappers of the day.

Since those early 2000 corner boy lothario days, artists like Lyfe Jennings, Chris Brown, and August Alsina have long since picked up that street life mantle, ushering Jaheim into manhood and material like “Her,” “Finding My Way Back,” “Til It Happens To You, “Ain’t Leavin’ Without You,” and  “Age Ain’t A Factor.” While there were flashes of the old, naughty Jaheim through songs like “Pussy Appreciation Day” on 2013’s Appreciation Day, for the most part Jaheim has been on a steady course of delivering reliable material that was well arranged, produced, and sung for an older, devoted R&B audience…until now.

Struggle Love has elements of the prior good present of the older Jaheim, but ultimately never seems to come together here. Despite the old school soul vibe on several songs, live instrumentation, and trademark mahogany pipes, far too much of this album sounds undercooked. Songs like “Aholic” and “If Someone Asks” suggest a series of demos that never congeals into masterful material. Though it isn’t, at times Struggle Love feels likes a collection of B-sides left on the cutting room floor from previous projects. Too often Jaheim’s frequent rap sung approach feels dated, the instrumentation not well considered, and the backgrounds uninspired. Some motivating ideas like “Always Come Back,” a hominy about being able to return home to family, are undercut by weak melody lines or, as with “Keep,” a cluttered, awkward arrangement. It’s depressing to experience a talent as immense as Jaheim’s so spectacularly fail to hit the mark on so many songs on a single collection based on anemic arrangements and productions. And with Jaheim serving as one of the main writers on head scratchers like “Craziest Place” (as in where’s the craziest place you had sex), as with every project, some of the fault is as much his as his producers.

Of course, it’s not all bad. The well-written ballad, “Back in My Arms,” harkens back to slow jams like “Finding My Way Back,” and deserved to be the single. The heartwarming insight Jaheim is capable of at his best appears again through the title track, another heart-tugging winner. Surprisingly, “Songs to Have Sex To” is more sensual than profane and ends up working as a welcome intimacy cut, brightening the darkness. The clichés of “If I Were You” are rescued by Jaheim’s earnest hat-in-hand performance. Plenty come close, “If Someone Asks” for instance, but need more work. Unfortunately, far too much here needs more work.

When there’s a defensive song about “haters,” as we’ve learned from R. Kelly, the rest of the material is almost guaranteed to be welcome fodder for critics. Jaheim’s comes in “My Shoes,” which adds nothing to Jaheim’s catalog and subconsciously may have been a preemptive strike in anticipation of this album’s doomed critical reception. Lyrically, the cut also does something that Jaheim had ingeniously managed to avoid right from his first video for “Could It Be,” with its classic surprise ending: to brand himself as that rare soul man who was not in competition with other men. Consistently, Jaheim instead managed to come across as a mouthpiece for these brothers' perspective on love, intimacy, and relationships, rather than be these men's replacement for women's affections. Now it appears, with ill-advised songs like "My Shoes," even Jaheim’s previously bulletproof branding is struggling on this Struggle LoveNot Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 

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