Styles: zeitgeist-pop interspersed with middling-R&B
Others: Drake, R. Kelly
“I just want to be, I just want to be successful,” sings Trey Songz on the latest single, “Successful,” from his third studio album, Ready. In this plaintive lyric, we have a convenient jumping-off point for explaining Trey’s unfortunately fledgling career.
The repetition is the first thing that hits you. Trey does not just want to be successful; he really wants to be successful. Certainly effort has never been a problem for the hardest-working man in R&B, who releases freestyles and covers at a Waynian clip. And it is on these “blogosphere joints” when Trey truly shines. A master of reinterpretation, Trey has put his distinctive touch on a variety of hip-hop and R&B hits. “Songz Medley” finds Trey enlivening Young Money’s “Every Girl,” Ciara’s “Never Ever,” and, most notably, Pleasure P’s “Boyfriend #2,” on which Trey as Lothario cleverly turns pain into pleasure: “My baby gotta have me, but she want to make you happy/ She was supposed to come over but she just wanna console you, and I just wanna do both you.” On “Death of Autotune Kellz,” arguably his finest track to date, Trey lightheartedly jabs his fallen hero: “This a farewell, throw em down the stairwell/ And if he wants to compare sells with old Kells that ain’t fair/ Well he’s a legend but I’m fresher, check out my dresser I’m such a dresser.”
Elsewhere, “Successful” features urban music’s brightest star, Drake of “Best I Ever Had” fame. Drake, much like 808-era Kanye West and Lil Wayne, succeeds because he is a truly modern pop artist, effortlessly switching between rapping and singing. But Trey blends spitting and singing with even greater subtlety. His singing has a rapper’s flow about it, and his lyrics are filled with brash punchlines. Over MIA’s “Paper Planes,” for instance, Trey’s vocal stylings imaginatively vary from unhurried crooning to a frantic Dirty South flow to an Auto-Tuned Jamaican groove. This adaptability is the reason he can successfully cover songs from such a wide gamut of genres.
Brash, versatile, charismatic, and modern, Generation Y should be consuming Trey Songz in droves. But he has not given them the opportunity. His albums, thus far, have lacked the ingenuity and eclecticism of his freestyles and covers. Instead of being inventive and genuinely charismatic, the Trey we find on Ready is often generic and monotonous. For evidence, look no further than lead single “I Need A Girl”; with its run-of-the-mill lyrics about longing hearts, it sounds like the work of any middling R&B singer. No better are similarly timid, tedious tracks like “Love Lost” and “Jupiter Love.” Where is the bravado, the charm?
Better are the swagga-oozing “Panty Droppa” and “I Invented Sex,” which expertly build the mood with chopped and screwed vocals and exploding percussion, respectively. But it is the comical “LOL :-),” featuring Gucci Mane and Soulja Boy Tell‘Em, that sees Trey finally reach the heights of his blogosphere exploits. When Trey playfully sings, “Send that little face with the tongue cause I’m nasty,” we have a genuinely novel pop music moment: a booty call (an R&B staple) that only this generation can relate to. The song has its fair share of other excellent moments. Soulja Boy Tell‘Em drops this bit of inexplicably admirable text-rap: “She scratching my back, screaming out I’m hers/ She text my phone said I need your love/ I met her Monday last week in da club, one week later now she telling me that she in love.” There is the ringtone-ready beat courtesy of producers Fisha & Price. And then there is the hypermodern chorus, “Go to my page and follow, and if you got a body like a coke bottle/ Shorty sent a twitpic saying come and get this/ LOL smiley face, LOL smiley face,” In the end, it is all somehow apropos.
“I want the money, money and the cars, cars and the clothes,” begins Trey Songz on “Successful.” It is not about the bling or the status; it is about getting what you deserve. Considering his immense talent and tireless work ethic, Trey Songz has certainly deserved to become a bigger name than he currently is in the world of R&B music. While Ready is far from a perfect album, it seems Trey is learning how to inspirit his original works with the charm and inventiveness found in his freestyles and covers. However, while Trey, as the title suggests, is ready for success, it still remains to be seen whether his intended audience is ready for him.
1. Panty Droppa (Intro)
2. Neighbors Know My Name
3. I Invented Sex (Feat. Drake)
4. I Need a Girl
5. One Love
6. Does He Do It
7. Say Aah (Feat. Fabolous)
8. LOL :-) (Feat. Gucci Mane & Soulja Boy Tell 'Em)
9. Ready to Make Luv
10. Jupiter Love
11. Be Where You Are
12. Successful (Feat. Drake)
13. Black Roses
14. Love Lost
16. Holla If Ya Need Me
17. Yo Side of the Be