Queen Naija - EP
Queen Naija Gives A Compelling Argument For The Revival Of R&B On Her Self-Titled EP
If you’ve read any of my other Narratives in the past, you’ll know I’ve been completely unimpressed with the current representation of R&B in today’s music industry, feeling it completely lacks the sense of self & true emotional turmoil that once governed the genre. There’s seldom been a narrative-focused record to come out that wasn’t either far-too egocentric of a Neo Soul experience or way too reliant on Alternative R&B culture to really move the needle into truly interesting sonic territory, with the younger audiences concerned with nothing more than gangbanging, treating women as objects or flaunting the extreme wealth that comes with being involved in the R&B market these days – While others have certainly broken free of this aesthetic in brilliant fashion, artists like Michael Kiwanuka & H.E.R. being of particular magnificence, there’s been a surprising rise in fringe-artists like Queen Naija attempting to rekindle the flames of the classic R&B industry lately, pushing forward with personality-packed albums that bring things back down to ground-level for modern audiences, showcasing a talent for storytelling that frankly feels rare nowadays. Her latest self-titled record Queen Naija produces a surprisingly compelling argument for the continued relevance of the vintage genre, though it’s not without some major missteps that might hinder her continued existence in the years to come.
A Sound Steeped In Anachronisms
From the moment you first press play on songs like “Medicine,” there’s a bit of a jarring sonic aesthetic at play that captures your attention in the most peculiar way. At first, you’re intrigued by the way she composes her music, clearly pulling from the late-nineties & early-noughties range of R&B music as she packs each song with delightfully funky grooves which give themselves room to simmer in the melody for a bit, unconcerned with driving forward at a danceable pace or providing lyrics that align with modern club sensibilities; This track & every other on the album hold a distinctly Michelle Williams-style energy, capturing the distinctly feminine perspective of a woman caught up in the misogynistic culture of R&B as she sings of her desire to find equality in her tumultuous relationship, making it clear any number of guys from her block would be more than willing to take her hand – a very nineties-centric display of shade – whilst mixing in elements of the then-new Alternative R&B music style that placed a heavy emphasis on sexual empowerment & subjects of the like – Everything she sings about & produces instrumentally fees out of place in comparison to today’s scene, a bit more laidback & casual in the way each song is composed as to draw your attention directly to the word’s she’s saying, but this peculiarity also serves to inform audiences that there’s much more melodic variance available to us than the mainstream labels are willing to give us, expanding your bubble of musical interests & compelling you to explore just what her influences were.
The Downside Of Authenticity
As impressive as it may be to hear an artist like Queen Naija evoke the anachronisms of the now-vintage R&B scene, her Self-Titled EP unfortunately also makes it clear why these sonic aesthetics went out of style in the first place. It might be blasphemous to suggest, but this style of music is just a bit boring when stacked up against the exhilarating soundscapes you’d find on the radio today, providing clearly-unique narrative perspectives but utterly lacking in emotional expression, coming off as amateurish at times due to the painfully underwhelming recording quality present across the album – Take the song “Butterflies,” for instance: In the official Live music video performance wherein Naija sings alongside an acoustic guitarist on the beach, you’re given a track full of beautiful vocal melodies & wonderfully radiant storylines which feature a breadth of vocabulary absent from her contemporaries tunes, but you’re simultaneously subjected to just how lifeless & unenthusiastic she is as a performer, a trait that carries over to the studio recordings across the record; She constantly runs out of breath, can barely hold a note in-tune without needlessly diving into a vocal run & sings as though she’s simply talking to the listener in her regular talking voice, barely putting forth the effort to show you the true range of her voice as R&B singers as wont to do – Think I’m being too harsh on an up & coming artist with major potential for the growth? Dip over to the Live stage-performance of “Mama’s Hand” that makes it even more obvious how B- & possibly even C-level Naija’s skills are as an artist, letting the words just fall out of her mouth over instrumental arrangements that don’t have catchy enough hooks to keep your attention; Sure, the crowd is singing along gleefully, but even my old Screamo band Tetragrammatron had its loyal following who would sing along to our admittedly-goofy songs because they felt like they were supporting us as an act.