Imani Wj Wright – Envious Affection

 Imani Wj Wright – Envious Affection

Imani Wj Wright – Envious Affection – EP Review

After checking out a handful of singles earlier on this year from soulful singer/songwriter Imani Wj Wright, the results of the review were a little mixed, but the main positive/take-away from that entire experience was that I indeed, felt like there was every reason to believe in this guy.  After checking out his new record Envious Affection over this past week or so since its official release on November 22nd, I still feel like there’s every reason to believe in him…he really puts himself into his music and connects to his material in a genuine way that you can hear, and quite often, you can feel it too.  My ears very much appreciate the amount of artistic effort he puts into his music…Imani Wj Wright is doing something different than the rest out there are – I think that’s something ALL ears can appreciate, not just my own.

So there you have it…for the record, I’m rooting for this guy…it’s always my hope that creativity, art & music combined will always find its way…that the amount of effort an artist like Imani takes will not go unnoticed by the people out there.  Artists with a different perspective & approach should always be worth your time; uniqueness & sincerity are always to be encouraged, in my opinion.

After several spins through the record, I’d have to say the man in charge has definitely stayed true to his vision for his style, saving a ton of highlights for the second half of the EP.  There are still a couple quirks in the production on a couple tracks, noticeable on the opening cut “Envy,” pushing just enough beyond the red-line in the low-end beat to be heard.  It happens…low-end can be a tough beast to wrestle with – as always, what’s important is that the idea is intact, and it is here.  Featuring Shiloh Dynasty, together they open the record with a wandering smoothness that invites you in to chill & listen; it plays a bit like an ‘intro’ would in the sense that it’s a real short song upfront on the EP and sticks to its main ideas throughout its length, but I liked the sounds of the background just as much as I liked the vocals in the front.  Smooth singing from Imani welcomes you to listen on “Envy” and the bars from Shiloh are tight; they don’t last too long inside this short beginning to the EP, but he makes a solid contribution.  The pace is engaging, beat is tight, just needs to come back under that red-line on the boards & it’s ready to go.  Definitely an overall vibe that people can slide right into though…he’s got the rhythm & groove.

“Started” was the only track that made it from the singles I’d reviewed in the past to the album now.  And good for you Imani!  I had a few observations on this track from before…you can read those here…but rest assured, like a real artist true to his vision, anything I pointed out that might need a slight change was left exactly as it was – and I support that.  I can make recommendations all day long…but those that can’t do, teach right?  I hear things the way I hear them…but truthfully the last thing I’d ever want to do is write anything so powerful that it steer someone off the course they’re intending to be on.  Stay true to your art & your vision is more or less what I’m saying, regardless of what I or anyone else ever says – and I think that you can give Imani credit for doing that.  You can see from the hit-counts on the tracks from Envious Affection that “Started” is the same version we’d heard in the past with its total-plays already nearing the 20K mark, or that it’s being promoted as the single now; either way, you can tell this is a tune that Imani certainly stands by…and I respect that.  Plus when you add-in the context of the songs that surround “Started,” and how it thematically fits-in with the rest of his material on this EP; sometimes that can do wonders for a song and how we hear it – and I think that’s a case that could be argued here…”Started” seems to make more sense to my ears on this particular record than it did with the handful of singles reviewed from before.  Like we journalists always say – context matters.

The early highlight in the set for me personally, came through “Like Them.”  Now…understand me people, I don’t want anyone to get me wrong here…I like Imani’s singing voice just fine, but can we all just admit that when the man spits rhymes instead that he’s definitely GOT BARS?  Totally impressed by his flow & roll throughout the entire cut…it’s got style, it’s got swag & it’s got a decisive amount of character & flair that leads to a verbal charisma.  The jazzy beat he’s got on “Like Them” sets the perfect pace…it’s right on that threshold, but much closer to the right place than the opening track in terms of its production.  Sometimes a bit of extra atmosphere in a track like “Like Them” can become an advantage – this almost comes out sounding like it’s got a live-mic and was a track written with performance in mind.  Imani sounds absolutely fantastic as he raps through complex & thought-provoking, personal & socially-aware musings, he’s got a highly-stylistic approach to “Like Them” that completely captivates.  The beat on this cut deserves real credit – it really gives Imani all the right spots to pivot & shift from, which he does flawlessly in a performance that demands your attention.

I’d be interested to know what the people think about a track like “fALTER” – this track’s a bit harder to judge on what the perception might be out there.  This is definitely on the minimalist-side of sound when it comes to the music, which always makes it tougher for the masses in general…but it’s also a highly artistic pursuit and one of the more personally-vulnerable, emotional tunes you’ll find on the record, and I’d think there’d be a lot of people that would appreciate that.  I’m not entirely sure about the placement on the EP…that’s probably what I would say might hinder this track being accepted as quickly as the rest.  Coming after “Like Them” and the energy you find in that song already gives whatever would follow a tougher time for sure, but “fALTER” also really has that stripped-down sound that ears are more accustomed to finding at the end of a record and there’s still more than halfway to go on Envious Affection.  It doesn’t change what I like about this tune, which more or less comes down to the fact that it IS so minimal, and that the majority of its success in finding ears out there rides almost completely on Imani’s own vocals, because there really is hardly any music to go with him here.  I felt like he did a great job when you consider how ‘alone’ he is on this track…and credit to the focus in the writing & execution as well, I think lyrically this song almost plays on an idea similar to a person’s own individual prayers or thoughts-aside to themselves…like talking out the issues aloud for therapeutic purposes, which music of course, is often used for.  Like I said…interesting cut…it’ll appeal to the artistic crowd for sure & the singers out there…tougher to say if the rest will latch onto it as quickly with “fALTER” being so close to the beginning of the record, right after the burst of energy in “Like Them.”

Right in the middle of the record, I felt like Imani shifted his gears in all the right directions.  Back-to-back, “Why Should I?” and “No Point In Tears” were the highlights of this EP and experience, without question.  The humble sound of “Why Should I?” and Imani’s sincere approach to the vocals is a perfect match; the beat & rhythm is supplied only by guitars and bass here, creating a really stunning atmosphere and magic in the air…and I think you can hear that the moment has really grabbed the song’s main star – he delivers a really inspired performance on the mic on this tender tune.  This song is still largely on Imani to make work, it’s still quite minimalist in the music-department but perfectly-so, and I think he found a way to make this tune find that missing element on “fALTER,” that extra something that’s nearly indescribable…but I’d assume it really comes down to performance, Imani undoubtedly takes it all up a level here.  I loved the chord progressions from the bass and the bright tones of the guitars overtop of the melody, loved the amount of expression in Imani’s vocals & performance even more.  “Why Should I?” establishes a completely solid impact in the most subtle of ways; it’s so tender & mild that you might not even realize just how much you love it until the next time you hear it…but this is definitely a memorable cut from the Envious Affection experience.

As the album trips past its middle-point, the biggest highlight & gem of the set is revealed through a brilliant track called “No Point In Tears.”  It’s one of those bittersweet moments for me as a fan of what Imani does and the music he makes; what he’s written is of course, devastating at times, hence the title…but I couldn’t help but smile through this melancholy atmosphere he’s created because he’s getting absolutely everything RIGHT here.  His vocals simply couldn’t be any more perfect than they’ve come out here…he mirrors the pensive energy in the music with a thoughtful & careful delivery of the words, echoing the weight they carry on him and conveying his emotions with stunning accuracy.  “No Point In Tears” is one of those rare songs that you can tell comes from such an entirely real and vivid place inside Imani that it translates perfectly into the recording.  Continuing on in a minimalist style, he’s refined the sound along each step of the way and evolved the approach from where it starts with “fAlter,” to “Why Should I?,” to the ultimate achievement of “No Point In Tears.”  A seriously exceptional tune from beginning to end, executed flawlessly both in performance and in production…the tiny audio-scratches you hear on this cut completely serve a purpose and help establish that…late-night, thoughts-runnin’ through your head while you’re up too late and trying to find your way to sleep feeling.  It’s like we’ve got personal access and a front row seat to Imani’s thoughts on “No Point In Tears,” and though many of them are sad at times…you’ll also hear by the end of the song, he still hasn’t given up hope that it can all turn around at any time & lead him to better days.  Absolutely loved the music that he’s got on “No Point In Tears” and credit the man for finding the balance here; nothing is going to quite outshine his own performance on the mic, but he’s giving the music enough room to still make its impact on us.

“Lady” is a decent cut…it flexes another dimension of Imani’s style and allows him to somehow add even more character into the mic during his parts.  Featuring Mile$, the guest-star of the track comes in to lay out some sweet bars, rhythmic & melodic, keeping it steady and on-course, slickening out the sound of the vocal-flow and calming it down in a sense from the frantic approach that Imani puts into the lead hooks.  The issues with the low-end fuzz come back into play here, but it’s the only place you’ll find that happening on what becomes essentially a flawless second half of the EP when it comes to production.  It’s noticeable here for sure…again, it’s a giant sound that’s attempted to be slain here…but the thing about the biggest sounds is that even when they’re not all the way up on the dial, they’ll still make the impact they need to and still be heard.  Taking it a couple notches down on the levels is only going to raise up the potential for the rest of the entire song in those situations…the work that Mile$ & Imani put into the transitional flow & movement of “Lady” makes it worth taking another look at this cut before it comes time to put this on a record and examine whether or not that one kick-beat might be throttling the threshold.  As an idea on this particular record, I felt like “Lady” was a bit more low-key even though there was more going on in this music, especially compared to the minimalism that occurred only moments earlier on the three tracks before.  “Lady” wasn’t a bad track by any stretch, but I could feel this track having to fight harder for my attention in comparison to the others on Envious Affection.

The slight issues in the mix of “Lady” get sorted out again as “High Stakes” begins and puts the album back on track production-wise.  When you consider the majority of this song deals with a heavy low-end groove & rhythm, it does make the slip in the mix beforehand on “Lady” more noticeable…everything comes out perfectly here and has in the songs that surrounded it…so it’s more of an isolated occurrence in the one song on the album’s second half.  “High Stakes” proves again that the low-end can be mastered, controlled and used to Imani’s advantage.  Versatile rhythm & flow on this cut that has Imani displaying a range of successful tones; he sounds great in the low-hush of the way he approaches the lead and sounds great in the higher-up backing-vocals as well.  Overall, “High Stakes” is another really well thought-out composition where the structure leads Imani in all the right directions & utilizes a lot of his strengths, giving this track that feeling of real focus and commitment to its idea & ambition.  I like spots like what you hear him doing in the chorus…I’m not going to say that the lyrics don’t matter, but they take a secondary role to the rhythm & flow here…that’s where the magic is on “High Stakes.”  Imani moves slickly & slyly through the words on “High Stakes” in his subtle signature-style…I found it impressive how much it felt like this track was moving without ever having to add in too much to make it all happen.  As a result, it’s all clean & clear & you get great definition in each & every part of the song.

Really satisfied with the finale of Envious Affection, “The Call” featuring Xavier Omar is definitely one of the real highlights of the whole record and a perfect way for this experience to conclude.  Vocally, things sound spectacular from the strength of the writing in the hooks to the execution; guest-star Xavier delivers a perfect smoothness into the mic that’s super-enticing to listen to.  Imani accents a large portion of the song’s first half in the backing vocals I’d assume, then he comes in to wrap up his record by taking over the lead with a seriously creative performance in the second half of “The Call.”  Hooks are really strong in the beginning of this tune and completely easy to accept into the ears…”The Call” slides right through the speakers like the ol’ hot knife through butter.  Smart pacing, excellent backing-layers and harmonies added in, vocals are entirely entertaining and pull you right in close to listen to the EP’s final cut.  Essentially, this final tune is really two-tracks combined in many ways…the last nearly two-minutes will take it all in a massively different direction, but one that allows the record’s main star to make his mark one last time with a stunning set of vocals to end Envious Affection with an excellent mix of confidence & sweetness.  Production-wise…”The Call” might even be the best you’ll find on the album as well; so right there alone, you’ve got one of the best guest performances, best ideas, best change-ups AND best production that you’ll find on the EP, all occurring right here at the end…which I usually like to think is a great place to put a song that nods towards what the future potential of a project, band or artist might be.

If there’s any truth to that assumption…Imani Wj Wright is already doing well, but you can tell that he’ll be doing even better as he continues to grow into his sound & style over the years to follow.  I think he’s put together a pretty solid record here.  It definitely is with its ideas and ambition…couple spots in production that can still develop & smooth-out over time…maybe a more critical examination of the layout…MAYBE…but both of those are minor observations if applicable at all.  This guy has great instincts as a writer, performer and entertainer…I have plenty of faith he’ll find his way to exactly where he wants to end up with his art & music…where he’s at right now already sounds great – but from the sounds of the content in the lyrics and the progression of the ideas on this record, it’s all leading him towards something even greater.  I’m probably just as excited as he is to hear what the future holds for the sounds, style & songs of Imani Wj Wright.

Find out more for yourself and check out Imani Wj Wright’s official page at Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/ImaniWjWright/

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Jer@SBS

http://sleepingbagstudios.ca

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