Album: The 18th Day
Rating: 6.5 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
Lauryn Hill returns in sparkling form, following up her “The Miseducation :” solo effort with a true sequel which buries the memory of her rambling “MTV Unplugged” bore with shovelfuls of the real roots ‘n’ soul found on her debut.
Y’see – that’s how the press blurb would read if L-Boogie had released “The 18th Day”. Its not however your favourite Fugee dropping this 14 track longplayer, but the UK’s own Estelle. Many will have only had their first encounter with the 24 year old West Londoner through ‘1980’, the first single from this album. The more knowledgeable will know her through last year’s commercially-released mix cd, and her team up with Blak Twang on ‘Trixta’. A select few will have been rolling with Estelle from day one through her appearances with 57th Dynasty and Mell’O’. Its evident though that with the release of the ‘1980’ track, Estelle’s star definitely rose into the UK stratosphere, producing an appetite for the release of her album not seen since : um : Miss Dynamite (remember that other UK female who rapped and sang and basically disappeared from view as quickly as she appeared.?)
With “The 18th Day” Estelle hopes to establish a career longer than your average Hiphop female, and at the same time strike a blow for UK Hiphop. The first part of the equation may well be quite easy to pull off – on one hand “18th” is pleasing musically, with a range of varying styles which will appeal to a equally varying range of listeners. This however may also be its downfall when we hold it up as representation of UK Hiphop. Like Lauryn’s solo effort, which received critical acclaim from the snobbish ‘real’ music magazines for its range of influences and equal amounts of criticism from Hiphop heads for the same reasons, Estelle’s debut is not a straight up Hiphop record. There’s a shedload of singing here – something that will come as a shock to those who are more familiar with Estelle spitting, and spitting : and spitting; and there’s a definite air of happiness surrounding many of these tracks – a mood that seems curiously out of place and ‘pop-ish’ in today’s Hiphop world of screw-faced, ice-grilled faux gangsterism.
While the autobiographical tales in ‘1980’ are complimented perfectly by the golden vocal chorus, at other points throughout “18th” its almost as if Estelle is trying to distance herself from her Hiphop roots by going all-out on the singing tip. Its not that she’s a BAD singer – she’s actually stunningly good : it’s the fact that after sucking a lot of new fans in with a track like ‘1980’, she could have used that opportunity to introduce these newbies to some decent thought-provoking Hiphop. Don’t get me wrong, cuts like the club-influenced ‘Don’t Talk’ and the Ummah-sounding ‘Change Is Coming’ definitely compliment the lead single, with Estelle coming off like some kind of Missy Elliott with skills (dope singing voice AND hit lyrics) over some great beat selections. Elsewhere, ‘I Wanna Love You’ sounds like a terrific Terri Walker impression (not a bad thing at all), and the Joe Budhah-produced ‘Hey Girl’ rivals anything Kanye has ever churned out.
However at many points throughout “The 18th Day” the urge to sing a happy song with a happy hook (which as the cynical among us will point out, often leads to happy cash registers and happy record labels) seems to have overtaken Estelle. Telling the listeners how she’s in love with a guy and her heart is about to explode, as she does on ‘All Over Again’, may very well be a case of an artist truthfully trying to connect with her fans, but the fans who’ve been down with Estelle since the beginning may find it strangely out of place on an album from one of Hiphop’s finest females. Repeat that thought for cuts like the bland ‘Dance With Me’, and the wannabe-Motown fake vibe of ‘Go Gone’ which throws up comparisons with the Spice Girls’ ‘Stop’ (check it if you don’t agree). Many, including Estelle herself, will defend the inclusion of tracks like this, by stating that she doesn’t want to limit herself to just Hiphop – that she has other ideas and influences she wants to explore. Fine says me, and other likeminded heads, but a bit of warning would be nice.
When Andre went bonkers and started recording “The Love Below”, he gave plenty of warning that this would be a total departure from what came before. Thus people although still surprised by the final quality of the finished product, at least went into the album with their eyes already open to the fact that this was NOT your standard Hiphop album.
Now many will take this statement, and how I’m applying it to Estelle, and harangue me for unjustly criticising a great album. “The girl can’t win”, they’ll say. “She’s put her heart into making a great album. A UK “Miseducation” even : and all you can do is take digs at her for not staying Hiphop the whole way through.”
In some ways they’re right. I guess it is admirable that Estelle did take the risks to make the album she wanted. I guess it is admirable that she wants to demonstrate that she’s more than just a female emcee – that she’s also a great musician, song writer, and singer too. However for me, my feelings towards this project are exactly the same as they were towards Lauryn’s solo joint – I’m gutted that I didn’t get the Hiphop album I thought I would get. Like Lauryn, Estelle is a fierce lyricist, and it is this talent that I wanted MORE evidence of on this album.
It will be interesting to see if Estelle’s album matures in the same way that “Miseducation :” did for me. Although I was initially disappointed with Lauryn’s album, I eventually recognised it for the excellent piece of MUSIC that it truly is, and still pull it out on the regular for spins. Who knows? Maybe Estelle’s efforts will not be totally in vain. For now though – Hiphop fans should initially approach with a degree of caution.