Though start-up label Hidden Beach and its manufacturer/distributor Sony may have been hoping for another Lauryn Hill in this eloquent young African-American from a Middle Atlantic state, Jill Scott turns out to be something of a hip-hop Patti Smith, a street poet who, on her first album, hasn't quite made the transition from spoken word ...
Though start-up label Hidden Beach and its manufacturer/distributor Sony may have been hoping for another Lauryn Hill in this eloquent young African-American from a Middle Atlantic state, Jill Scott turns out to be something of a hip-hop Patti Smith, a street poet who, on her first album, hasn't quite made the transition from spoken word performances to music, despite an excellent singing voice. With any luck, she will retain her sense of the power of words, since the best parts of this album are the ones when she lets fly, drunk on her verbal virtuosity. Producer Jeff Townes (of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince fame) and his team of associates from the A Touch of Jazz production company set up sympathetic musical backgrounds for Scott that support her without requiring her to fit her spoken and sung excursions into strict meter. That gives her range to pursue her interests, which include a strong sense of her north Philadelphia neighborhood and such idiosyncratic concerns as food, with many meals listed in detail. But the album has a story to tell, and for the most part it is a love story. Scott describes a relationship from many different angles, including an encounter with her boyfriend's ex in a super market ("Exclusively") and her warnings to that girl (or some other) to stay away ("Gettin' in the Way"). She also breaks painfully from an old boyfriend in favor of the new one ("I Think It's Better"), but mostly she celebrates the relationship ("A Long Walk," "He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat)," "It's Love," "The Way"). But with "Honey Molasses," things turn sour, and on "Love Rain" and "Slowly Surely," she frees herself, concluding that "One Is the Magic #" and toward the end of the album moving on to social concerns with "Watching Me" and "Brotha." This narrative structure gives Scott ample room to express a variety of emotions and to display her "verbal elation." Like many poets, she sometimes delights in a torrent of words for their own sake, but it's hard to fault her when the result is such a fully articulated world view. There is no existing slot in R&B/hip-hop into which this album fits, which only means a new one will have to be created. (The CD marks a new complexity in the use of bonus and hidden tracks. After the 17th track, "Show Me," there are 26 four-second blank tracks, followed by a 44th track, the bonus song, "Try." One minute after this song ends, there is a hidden selection, an alternate version of "Love Rain" that features Mos Def.) ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi