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Album Review: Jaheim - "The Makings of a Man"

Joys & Pains

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

By

Album Review: Jaheim -

Album cover © Atlantic Records.

The first three albums by Jaheim were titled Ghetto Love, Still Ghetto and Ghetto Classics, seemingly to signal that even though he's an R&B singer, he doesn't have a flowery, soft mentality. This might be the first album by the New Jersey native that doesn't have Ghetto in the title, but don't let that fool you. The Makings of a Man, which is Jah's fourth album overall, may have prettier melodies and bigger hooks than some songs on his previous albums, but the subject matter is still ghetto life, and he does a good job painting a picture of how he rose from life in the projects to become the man he is today.

Depth & Density

For years, singers from R. Kelly all the way up to J. Holiday have tried to turn the old formula of the sensitive R&B pretty boy/lover man on it's head and present harder tales of life. But where Jaheim differs from the others is the depth, density and quality of his lyrics. This album is so full of substance that it takes repeat listenings to completely grasp the various concepts within.

One such densely layered song is "Have You Ever," a track about life's regrets. A sample of the lyrics: "Woulda told the truth but lied, Held back when you should have cried, Didn't say it when you should have said goodbye, Meant somethin' but didn't say it, Said somethin' but didn't mean it, Seems like we've all been through it."

The track comes across as more of a confessional than anything else, as does the autobiographical "Life of a Thug," in which Jah reminisces about his days as a youth, selling drugs, killing people and hustling. From the description, it sounds like a gangsta rap song, but in this case the song isn't a glorification, it's like a conversation where he lays his past out to you so that you can see how far Jaheim has come as a person. It's also a sort of celebration and sigh of relief from Jaheim, who seems happy and relieved to have put those difficult days behind him.

Walking a Tightrope

But despite all the 'hood life tales, the album's standout track is it's first single, "Never," the tale of a man who's found Ms. Right, or as Jaheim puts it: "I used to say never would I love this way, Never give my heart away, never would this player hang his jersey up and leave the game." It's a formulaic song that's been done numerous times by other singers, but Jaheim's deep, rich, Teddy Pendergrass-meets-Luther-Vandross style vocals add a new dimension to the old formula.

And speaking of vocals, one the best things about the album is Jah's full, warm voice, which sounds just as good, albeit more mature and relaxed, as it did on his first three albums. As he should, he carries most of the album's vocal work by himself, with the rare exception being "I've Changed," a duet which features a strong performance by the sometimes inconsistent Keyshia Cole. "I've Changed," which is about self improvement (working out, taking cooking classes, etc.) to keep and impress a lover. It, like much of the album's romantic material, highlights the album.

Jaheim walks many tightropes on The Makings of a Man: he's a young man with an old voice singing both ugly ghetto stories and beautifully romantic music. Sometimes he slips on the tightropes a little, but never any any point does he fall.

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