R&B must be forever. At least as represented by Donell Jone’s consistency while keeping it real for the genre. Apart from countable R&B albums from Boyz II Men, Mint Condition, Monica and Joe; I can’t point you towards a truer and more exclusive R&B album released in the past decade than Donell’s seventh studio album Forever (July 2013). Seeing as it’s been released/produced via his label imprint CandyMan Music, anyone would say that Donell has come of age. But then, they wouldn’t know that all this independence was always part of him and the grand plan. While interviewing him in 2011, Donell talked very passionately about his home “studio sessions” and soon returning to songwriting (He’s in the past penned songs for singers like Usher and Silk).
The flow and coherence of this album (in terms of musical styles/instrumentation, mostly sweet-sounding or edgy guitar riffs) from start to finish is superb. With only one outside singer featured in the entire album; this is Donell’s playground where he choses to host an orgy of odes: to his mother, wife and his inspiration, Michael Jackson—all outstanding and well-done. “Beautiful” questions love that doesn’t run skin deep, with the soulful “Sorry I Hurt You” acting as an ideal ‘Please forgive me’ song if you’re having relationship trouble. The 12-tracked album is ultimately an ode to die-hard R&B/old-school-music-ethic lovers.
1. New Beginning 1.23
There could never be a more perfect intro for an R&B album than a sexy song (complete with lazy beats) about making love. [Remember: “I wanna sex you up”; “Your body is calling for me”; “I wanna freak you” and “I just wanna take it nice & slow”? Rawness has always been at the core of R&B.] The short a capella into the intro is nothing short of a Jodeci/Shai harmonies reincarnated.
2. Forever 3.45
What a wonderful ballad befitting the album’s title. Here, the smooth crooner is at the peak of maturity (lyrically speaking). He’s neither the player in “This Luv”, the man begging for forgiveness on “What you want”, threatening to leave like in “Better start talking” or the heartbroken “Where I wanna be” singer; but a man thankful for the 22 years he’s spent with his wife. “They say that a man aint’ supposed to cry but I am crying out for you coz I see me with you forever,” he sings. There’s nothing sexier than a vulnerable [Read – honest] man. Definitely replay material for the lovers as well as dreamers.
3. Closer I get to you featuring Alja Kamillion 4.26
Anyone whose ever lost a relationship or a loved one would relate to this one, it brought tears to my eyes. For some reason, it brought back memories of my dad, who passed away. Nway it’s the only collaboration in the album with the honey-voiced Alika Kamillion surprisingly only singing a mere BGV “Oh la la la,” –I think sampled from Fugees. “The closer I get to you, it’s so hard to be away from you …”
5. Don’t Blame Me 5.08
Girls get tired of boys. At some point you get tired of games and idiocies making you wish you could transform your man into a real man. And the first sign to your man changing is usually by him owning up to past mistakes, after all nobody is perfect. This is an ode to real men, “There comes a time in a man’s life when we have to let go of little boy’s habits and become a man”—Donell preaches in the intro. This Babyface-esque production and vocal arrangement is top notch, a favorite and must-listen.
6. You Know 4.52
For edginess—Donell gets a 100% on this one. This song is stamped Usher Raymond. Its production is a mix between what Polow D and Diplo would come up with for Usher. The beat has that Usher bounce and vibe—“Sex on my mind. I keep fucking around; I can’t keep choosing”. [I mean isn't that the story of Usher’s life?] This is the first thing that shows me that away from the near-old notion of bringing back R&B music, Donell is still keeping up with the new cats like Miguel as well as the classics like Usher-baby.
7. I Miss the King 4.03
The electric guitars in this one are to die for. Amazing is an understatement. This is such a lovely dedication with Donell singing about how MJ inspired him and many to sing and be great. The vocal arrangements in this one would make MJ very proud if he were to wake up. Replay material.
Even though too unpredictable, music genres stay like fashion. One day a certain sound is in; the next it’s out. The 80s and R&B music stayed out too long. And even if for a split second; thank you Daft Punk and Donell Jones for exhuming these genres via Random Access Memories and Forever, respectively.
BONUS: Donell is just about the most humane and humble superstar I ever got close to. I remember a few years back getting into a small conference room at a Nairobi hotel, where a dozen journalists awaited to interview him. It literally took me minutes to locate the man, wearing his trademark Kangol disguising him as just another dude. The more I tried to squeeze out of him some of that vigorous personality usually expected out of celebrities, the more it became crystal clear to me that Donell Jones is just Donell Jones—a man only in love with more than just R&B—his family and good music; the kind that’s crafted to tells true stories. Below is a video I took of him performing my fave Donell jam during his debut concert in Kenya.