Justin Bieber featuring Chance the Rapper—“Confident”
Saving the best for last, Bieber finally reaches the end of his string of Journals singles. “Confident” is uptempo reggae with dub touches, a surprise after the moodiness of the previous records. Bieber’s voice is still an issue (he’s much better when he isn’t trying to be soulful), but the music is good, and Chance the Rapper adds a level of humor and brains that’s sorely needed.
Rebecca Black and Dave Days—“Saturday”
Black has put her voice lessons (and maybe some autotune) to good use. Whatever the ultimate value of “Saturday”—and it isn’t much —there’s no doubting she’s a hundred times better singer than she was (wherever this guy Days came from, though, somebody should send him back immediately). She’s more confident, too. Black is well aware that most people see her as a joke, and she’s willing to turn that to her advantage. This isn’t a great record by any definition, but except for Days, it isn’t an embarrassment, either.
Tessanne Chin—“Bridge Over Troubled Water”
A striking intro leads into an ordinary uplift song based on a misguided metaphor: cannonballs don’t “fly”, they describe a simple arc and fall, solid chunks of lead that blindly knock down everything in their path. Is that what Michelle wants to be? Well. We’d all better stand back, then.
Aloe Blacc—“The Man”
Partly because such determined self-exaltation is rare, and partly because it opens with an Elton John rip, I thought at first that “The Man” might be a joke—a stylish satire of bragging and sexual posturing. But something about the way Blacc sings—and his voice is striking, like a mix of Lou Rawls and Bill Withers—makes me think he’s serious. This is the guy who wrote “Wake Me Up”, after all, a song that suggests wisdom comes, like a “Participant” ribbon, from just showing up and hanging around long enough. If he’s going to convince me he’s the Messiah, though, he’s gotta come up with some miracles first. This isn’t one.
R. Kelly featuring 2 Chainz—“My Story”
Surely Kelly, of all people, knows that when you start a tale with “This is my story” and end it with “and I’m sticking to it” everyone assumes you’re lying—or at least leaving certain things unsaid. Is this Kelly’s way of clueing us in on something? Or is he that brazen? Whatever the case, the rest of the song tells us nothing and shows us nothing new. At least, that is, until 2 Chainz steps up to the mic and rhymes “12 plays” with “12th grade”. Brazen it is.
The chorus imitates Drake, the verses cop from Kendrick Lamar, and there’s the occasional Eminem flow for spice. With these models to work from, the fictional rapper pledges his 1001 years of devotion. Anybody who believes it deserves him.