Lyfe Jennings: I Still Believe

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Posted September 30, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

Slated to be final album, the gritty R&B singer pulls off his best balanced project; even with its heavy load of inspirational life lessons

It’s been a hard-knock life for Lyfe Jennings. Beginning prison life at 19, losing his father a tender age and surviving the hardcore life of the streets – all of that drama – seems to overshadow the singer’s background. His latest heartache of bleeding headlines, three years and a half of imprisonment after a Cobb County, Ga. run-in with the law, leaves a sticky postponement from the civilian world. Still, as a performer he’s been able to muster up some horsepower on R&B radio using his biographical ballads; giving him a substantial number of Top 40s with “Must Be Nice,” “S.E.X.” and “Never Never Land.” All of his albums have given his listeners a dose of a turn-around from his real-life episodes and his latter, the recently-released and self-proclaimed final project, I Still Believe, continues in that path towards resuscitation and restoration.

If the album title wasn’t an indicator, the songs on board are predominately upbeat, eye-opening and encouraging. The alarming “Statistics,” using its slick Isley Bros. R&B beats, exposes the lack of gentlemen in a pluralistic, morally-challenged society; pointing a careful proverb to the ladies: “Be the person you wanna find/Don’t be a nickle out here looking for a dime.” Without getting too preachy, “It Coulda Been Worse” sheds light on God’s mercy and opens up the book of small, important blessings in life. “Hero” and the title track continues Jennings’ voyage into the album’s main intent for hope. Anthony Hamilton joins with Jennings on the gospel-torched “Mama.” Its ironic to hear two husky voices rubbing against each other on this Southern-fried duet.

Jennings does kick up the tempo and breaks in some of the predicableness of the album with the futuristic synths of “If I Knew Then What I Know Now” and the Ne-Yo-styled “Learn From This.” It’s not the best outfits for Jennings, but it’s a welcoming mood shifters for the set.

Even when Jennings turns up the volume of freaky behavior, it feels like a good fit on the crooner. Jennings, known for his whisperingly, gravely vocal tone, oozes sexuality on “Spotlight.” While the stripper-inspired lyrics feel as if they’re designed only for a fast club thumper, the slow tempo with the consistent warm synths creates one of the album’s favorable pastimes.

Eventually the banners of hope and inspiration, along with the burden of having too many midtempo, slow tracks, tends to keep Jennings in the slow lane. Let it be said out loud that this is what one comes to expect from him. Still, Jennings escapes most criticism since the songs on I Still Believe are crafted with such rhythmic sensibilities and strong rhymes that the lack of upbeat tracks seem to be a minute issue here.

It’s unfortunate to hear Lyfe Jennings calling it quits after serving only six years and four albums in the recording world. With the bulk of modern R&B sounding like plastic clones of ‘90’s leftovers, Jennings has proven on I Still Believe, his first with Warner Bros., to be a necessary, influential commodity towards R&B’s evolution. Certainly he needs to take a break and handle the hectic events in his personal life. Hopefully he’ll take a few notes from Anita Baker: take a break, get a grip on his world, rise out of retirement when ready and continue where he’s left off.

J MATTHEW COBB

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HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: August 31, 2010
  • Label: Warner Bros./Asylum
  • Producers: Lyfe Jennings, Troy Taylor, T-Minus
  • Track Favs: Statistics, Spotlight, Mama

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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