Written By: Andrew Sedo
R&B revivalist JMSN’s fifth studio album opens with the aptly titled “Drinkin”. For an artist who’s name is pronounced like a certain Irish Whiskey, it seems like a logical or perhaps cliched choice. “Don’t let no one tell you what to do / might sound corny, but just do you” he advises at the close of the introduction. This lyric takes on near profound importance as the album progresses. As a producer and contributor, JMSN had a hand in the rapid ascension of Kendrick Lamar’s TDE Collective by rooting 2012’s seminal good kid m.A.A.d city in true rhythm and blues conventions. In many ways, on Whatever Makes U Happy, JMSN is a victim of his own success (or moreso that of his cohorts).
To be fair, not a single track on this album is poorly produced, badly performed, or generally displeasing in any facet. For evidence, look no further than the groovy bassline and perfect self-backup on “Love Ain’t Enough”. Other than his slight affinity for lyrics relating to “the grind”, I challenge any critic to find a single note out of place. With JMSN’s silken voice and driving production fans of the genre will be forced to compare it to D’Angelo’s neo-soul classic Voodoo. Using that lofty measuring stick leaves many in the dust.
However, JMSN’s entry comes through with some unique qualities. The next track, the arguably stronger, “Slide”, allows JMSN to show off his pipes without resorting to genre specific falsetto. That’s no small feat, and throughout the album he seems content to stay within his considerable range. The following song, the beautiful (if a bit sugary) “Slowly” has JMSN shining on the keys in the traditional “baby-making music” arena. “Slowly” is the beginning of a trend as the decidedly funky close to “Angel” gives way to the obviously downtempo “Patiently.”
In many ways, Whatever Makes U Happy follows R&B tropes to a fault. The track structure, and lyrics give credence to an easy dismissal as another drop into an already perfected bucket. However, this is a style JMSN himself helped bring back into mainstream consciousness, and he has a myriad of unique talents to separate himself from the field. So the existential question remains: is Whatever Makes U Happy a logical creation or a tired cliche? The answer is most certainly the former. JMSN has crafted a sturdy, but predictable album for his neo-soul canon. It’s almost as if JMSN is such a good student of the past, he has too reliably recreated it in an era that is looking for a new visionary. Either way, JMSN has undeniable talent, and is capable of creating something transcendent. For now, listeners will have to settle for truly pleasant.