R&B crooner Jaheim Hoagland emerged a few years ago with a loveable-thug persona and butter-smooth delivery. It didn’t catch on right away, but it ultimately led to success on his second release, Still Ghetto. The combination of his Luther Vandross-like vocal style and his tank-tops-and-Timberlands image makes Jaheim, from New Brunswick, New Jersey, at once extremely likeable and somewhat of an oddity. This image, however, does translate into his lyrics, with J humming about ghetto life and love. On his third release Ghetto Classics, Jaheim refines his style into a tight, eleven-track set that is free of filler and is aimed directly at his core audience.
Regardless of whether you can relate to Jaheim’s thuggish look and vibe, you can’t deny that he has one of modern R&B’s most recognizable and appealing voices. He is the new-school Vandross, leaving a trail of wet panties behind him, and that alone helps his material to soar above most of the pack’s. Jaheim’s singing is effortless, always calm, and never overpowering.
Lyrically, he stays true to the ghetto-lover-man persona he has created, which is both good and bad. The tracks all deal with baby-mama dramas and chilling on the block, et cetera, but they do so with style and grace. The cleverest track, “Fiend,” compares a relationship to a weed addiction: “She gives me stimulation/ Ain’t nobody messing up our rotation.” “Like a DJ” uses a creative metaphor as well: “You fade me out and you blend him in/ I can’t get no spin unless I’m requested/ She’s something like a DJ.”
Playful devices like these help make the album more than simple R&B crooning. Musically, Jaheim is influenced by hip-hop and vintage soul, and the productions sway between these two elements. The album’s tone is set by the classic ’70s soul of “The Chosen One,” with its soaring horns and finger snaps, and this style is continued through all eleven tracks. There is a consistent vibe on this record that was missing from Jaheim’s previous effort, but some of the tracks do begin to sound alike after a while.
Ghetto Classics might be an ambitious title, but Jaheim presents a thoroughly enjoyable and well-crafted album of mid-tempo soul. The consistency of the productions and the creative representation of ghetto life set him apart from other run-of-the mill representations of the same themes.
Warner Bros. Records Web site