“Slow Down,” the lead single from Bobby Valentino’s debut, immediately arrests. It’s the violins. They beckon. But it’s the chop and roll of the drums, stark and uncomplicated, that prompts late-night lip-biting and shoots acrylic nails and faux Rollies skyward. As inviting as the track is, there is an inclination to dismiss the glaring gaucheness of the lyrics: “Slow down. I just want to get to know you. But don’t turn around ’cause that pretty round thing looks good to me.” But Bobby Valentino sings it straight. He sounds sincere and uncommonly polite. This is how people talk. Inelegantly. Poetry is luxury.
Global pimp Ludacris strides in characteristic grandiosity over the follow-up track, “Give Me a Chance,” chanting down women’s guards in chivalric patriarchy before the capable Valentino takes the reins. The pretty-boy minces no words, hardly misrepresenting his own purported single-minded interest. Honesty is the best policy, and Valentino games exquisitely. He rides clean atop the ephemeral instrumental mélange and distinctive drum chatter crafted by Tim & Bob, his refreshing — if formulaic — production team. Talk about a one-two punch.
Born Bobby Wilson, Valentino glimpsed at stardom as the sweet-faced front boy of the short-lived mid-nineties quartet Mista: soulful teens who laid bare gentlemanly aspirations in mild hit, “Lady.” Since rechristening himself as Valentino, his persistent monogamous ambition has been wrapped in the ice-cold code of the streets. On “Tell Me,” Valentino’s unwavering romantic interest in a woman plays a backseat to ass fixation. On “Gangsta Love,” he weaves his overwhelming affection for his companion into a tale of her ghetto-centric flair. Clap-anchored synth ditty “Come Touch Me” explicitly celebrates a lover’s sexual dexterity. Valentino is no lothario, although that’s what he may want listeners to hear.
“One Girl to Love” concludes the album. Valentino belts over delicate keys and pining strings admonishing playa types, including himself, rather pragmatically: “If we keep breaking these girls’ hearts, somebody’s gonna break our hearts.” But when the chorus arrives and ascends and Valentino is all New Edition and Jodeci, his posturing collapses. Maybe that’s why his flirtation with objectification doesn’t grate but bang.