Darrin Lee Jr. – Push – EP Review
No pressure quite like the pressure of the CEO of a label stepping up to drop new music out there – gotta lead the way by example, right?
At least that’s what you’d assume – but they don’t call him Mr. R&B for nothin’ y’all – Darrin knows his way around the studio, how to write a hook that connects, and he’s got a genuinely unique vibe of his own that’ll certainly appeal to a great many of ya listening out there. For those of you out there that don’t know – we’ll catch you up – he’s the CEO of Carter’s Music Group, aka CMG, and also the man responsible for introducing us to artist Era’Nay earlier this year, who incidentally put out one of my favorite songs of 2021 so far with her cut called “Farewell” from the Elevate EP, that I reviewed back in June. Clearly, the man not only has talent himself, but he’s surrounded by it as well – from the sounds of things in this year alone as CMG breaks ground in the industry, Mr. R&B’s label is off to a great start.
Clearly Darrin is not playin’ around & ready to make the most of this moment, not just for himself, but as I’ve been alluding to – he’s settin’ up the table for the whole fam to be eatin’ with what he’s accomplishing at CMG. Case in-point on all fronts – he’s stepping outta the gate on this EP with the lead-single “About Us” featuring T Real, adding material he’s tested with the people out there to entice us in, and introducing us to more talent above & beyond his own. Darrin makes a solid impression – but I don’t need to tell him that – “About Us” has already been generating plenty of buzz out there before I came along to comment on it, and along with T Real, these two give this cut everything it needs. There’s personality & charisma on the mic, there’s an excellent mix of tangible imagery in the lyricism and a relatable theme at its core – “About Us” is ultimately a lot about keeping a relationship between the two people that are actually IN it, rather than worry about what the rest of the world thinks about it all. Novel concept in this world we’re livin’ in right? Imagine that for a second – real privacy? In today’s world? Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly appealing…as to whether or not that’s even possible anymore, that might be another story – there’s always someone out there with something to say, valid or not. Spoiler alert – most of the time it’s not – so be like Darrin and just go out there and do YOU. People are always gonna wanna poke their nose where it doesn’t belong, and everyone’s got an opinion on just about everything these days…you might just need to go “all gas no brakes” if you really want to escape the madness of the modern day world. It’s on-point though…Darrin’s got a couple of really stellar gears with his vocals that he’ll reveal to ya, handling the verse & chorus in different modes; it’s stylistic stuff for sure in the sense that the way he’s singing the verses might have more niche appeal tone-wise, but what he’s got goin’ on in the chorus should be pretty much universal as far as my ears can tell. T Real holds her own with confidence & solid bars…all-in-all, it’s a vibrant & dynamic start to Darrin’s debut EP.
Obviously Darrin is a lover, not a fighter, as the old sayin’ goes. I mean, I’m sure he’s a fighter when it comes to his label and those on his roster making sure they get theirs, but in terms of content, you can hear that Mr. R&B is most comfortable in this world with the lights down low, you feel me? “How You Feel” is probably a bit more of an extreme case in between how you might feel about the verse & chorus than you’d have experienced on “About Us” just prior. Don’t get it twisted, it’s merely a stylistic choice in terms of how Darrin chooses to sing “How You Feel” once again – I think he’s right in the pocket when he slides so smoothly through the verses, and with the chorus, I think he’s perhaps taking a few risks that may or may-not pay off for him in terms of tone. He’s on-point in that regard, it’s just that it’s real sharp in terms of how much it cuts through the music…he’s stopping just short of a whine, which might not always be the intended result, you follow me? Verse-wise, I have absolutely zero complaints and nothing but praise – Darrin in his natural rhythm & flow is more than enticing without having to push those octaves too much at all…ultimately, that speaks volumes on behalf of his organic charisma. The other side of the coin of course, is that the chorus of a track like “How You Feel” is so defined by the unique way its sung and the tone that comes with it, that a hook like that is still just as verifiable as it is quantifiable – and it’s moments exactly like this, that are THAT different from so much of what else is out there, that stand a significant chance of catching on with the people and shifting the public’s taste altogether. I’m not necessarily saying that’s what IS going to happen – I’m simply stating the fact that Darrin’s got the potential to catch on in that regard, and provide something of his own to the scene that listeners wouldn’t really find anywhere else. Make no mistake, that’s always an asset and an advantage.
Far be it from me to advise a CEO on anything – I’m just some guy that listens to music, that’s it, that’s all – but I’d be taking a good long look at “Change My Ways” for a couple of major reasons. One being, Darrin’s rockin’ with supreme single-worthy sound here, and a sentiment with genuine sincerity that connect with fresh, uplifting energy. There’s a ton of sparkle & shine running through this tune from the performance to the production – which brings me to that second reason as to why I’d be looking at this track as the blueprint for the pathway forward – the vocals. As many impressive moments as you’ve heard from Mr. R&B so far – there’s not a doubt in my mind that the majority of people out there listening are going to feel like they’ve found a serious highlight from Darrin on the mic on “Change My Ways.” He’s not quite in his lowest gear, he’s not reaching for the high-notes too much either – he’s right in the sweet-spot in between, and when you hear it – believe me, he’s got that addictive quality that no one out there could resist. The downside to that of course, is that he sets a new standard at this point in the record for what he’s capable of, and we kinda end up wanting that from him a bit more on those subsequent spins through the Push EP. Anyhow, I suppose the point is, the magic is in the middle homie – that’s where the sound of Darrin Lee Jr. becomes ravenously universal, and has the melodic pull & power it takes to bring a whole legion of fans onboard without hesitation. Like – listen to the man will ya? He’s crushin’ it here on this beautifully expressive love-song. For fifty-seven seconds straight, he’s giving you every reason to keep listening to the sweetness in this groove & its bouncy bass-lines roll along – and on second fifty-eight, Darrin unleashes an extraordinary hook in his vocals as he takes the sunshine sound of this melody up a notch even further. Exploring the idea that we could love someone enough to want to change who we are just to be with them…in the right ways, respectfully…I felt like Lee Jr. pretty much does nothing else but WIN with the high degree of appealing sound on “Change My Ways.” Definitely single-worthy sound, that much I can tell ya for sure – this would be an excellent gateway in for the masses, feels like it could find itself a great video to pair along with it, the sentiment, sweetness, & whole vibe connects with ease – people are gonna love this cut, you can quote me on that. With the big notes being less of a dominant factor in the design of “Change My Ways,” the vocals stand out much stronger from start to finish overall, giving us a better opportunity to appreciate his versatility.
Where the high-end of Darrin’s vocals really pay off for him, is on “Just Wanna Dance” – he sounds 100% spectacular here, and he’s giving you all angles of the spectrum of his tone throughout this song in what would be a pretty challenging & demanding cut for anyone out there to sing when it comes right down to it. Darrin handles this moment like a complete champion and the authentic professional he is – this is smoother-than-smooth, but also Lee Jr. in full boss-mode too y’all, make no mistake. Think of music just like a palette of colors…sometimes it’s a matter of mixing & matching & trying out different things to find that perfect shade you’re looking for – sound works very much the same way; so while there are certainly a ton of moments here that will remind you of how Darrin sang the opening cuts, you’ll find that as this lineup has progressed, he’s really finding out what works along the way in the process. You get to a cut like “Just Wanna Dance,” and while it might not quite have the degree of universal appeal a song like “Change My Ways” does in the hooks department – it really ain’t that far off. Ultimately, it’s more towards the mid-tempo, which can sometimes hinder that single-worthy potential when it comes to the masses out there, but the effect of that pace matters much less to fans of real R&B – in fact, the mid-tempo is often more welcomed than not. So even though I’d still argue “Change My Ways” is the real single to be found in this lineup, Darrin deserves a ton of credit for the way he sings “Just Wanna Dance” & brings this mid-tempo tune up to a point where it merits real consideration for that top spot. Great job on the layers of vocals, smart use of effects, and the hooks of the chorus are certain to connect once again – like I’ve been tellin’ ya from the get-go, Darrin Lee Jr. knows his way around a song and no one out there could conclude otherwise…he’s got tons of passion in the way he sings, every time.
I mean…Darrin…let’s be real here my man – are ya really that “Broken Hearted” my friend? Don’t get me wrong, I can imagine what life would be like for the single…I remember it, way back when before I was married for the past nearly seventeen years…and sure, sometimes, no doubt, it could get real lonely. That being said…in the ol’ lyrical imagery here, Lee Jr.’s detailed some pretty wild times and moments that definitely sound like they’re a mighty fine time too. Look. “Broken Hearted” is more about the impact of knowing that ‘the one’ for you is out there, as opposed to ‘the one’ for tonight, you dig? That’s where the melancholy comes in…the longing for something else that a mere moment can’t provide, no matter how good or great that moment may be. If you end up alone at the end of it all, it’s hard to justify sometimes, or reconcile what could have potentially been if you continued down that path for longer than just the one night…maybe that was love and you let it walk right out of the hotel doors, leaving you “Broken Hearted” and contemplating all the possible futures you might have just missed out on. “Life’s not over – I can start again” – that’s important wisdom that Darrin is droppin’ on ya right there…he may be “Broken Hearted” for a minute, but he’s gonna bounce back and continue on that search for Mrs. R&B. “So many girls, I don’t wanna choose one” – he might have to go through a few healthy auditions before she reveals herself, but the important part of what you can take out of “Broken Hearted” is that Darrin hasn’t given up on his interest, despite this momentary setback of sorts. Great music to be found on this tune too…love the final deconstruction of the way it ends, and all the way through it, the sound has suited the strengths of Darrin’s vocals and harmonies extremely well too.
Probably would have chopped it off there if I’m being truthful. “Please Don’t Go” is still a good track with solid ideas…but it might need more of a polish than it currently has to stand out as much as it could. Couple of spots in the backing vocals, couple in the lead as well…just a few rougher notes that aren’t as melodically refined or as on-point as we know Darrin is capable of being, and the feeling like this track might have been rushed a bit in comparison to the other five you’ll find in the set-list. Darrin’s got plenty of moments of redemption to be found along the way through the EP’s longest track, but if we’re examining this one up closely, it’s generally more uneven performance-wise than he’s gotten us accustomed to over the course of the lineup of songs on the Push EP. Hooks-wise…there is potential here…I think they’re probably most noticeable around the 1:40-ish mark than anywhere else, and arguably not the main feature of this particular track so much as a moment in time along the way. Are they as strong as the hooks you’ve found in the rest of the set beforehand? I’d imagine that’s also probably up for debate here as well. “Please Don’t Go” needed to cook just another thirty seconds, or have another couple shots in the studio to round out the corners to shine it all up to the same standard as the rest of the set, and I think Darrin might be passing over the biggest hooks he’s got in this cut a bit too quickly. Once you show us what you’re capable of, as listeners, we gotta hold ya to that standard…I felt like “Please Don’t Go” fell just a bit short of the intended mark, but it still puts forth strong ideas & emotions with the passion of Mr. R&B as prevalent as ever. Give the man some time…he’s got a ton on the go right now, and it’s easy to imagine that a thing or two could potentially be overlooked in that regard. It’s time to be objective, be ruthless, and settle for nothing less than the best of what you’re capable of Darrin – you do that, and you’ve got this in the bag bro. I’d bank on this guy to make massive strides in between what we hear in him now in the beginning stages of CMG, & where he’ll take us next.
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