Already drawing comparisons to artists like Billie Holiday, Alicia Keyes, and Jill Scott, Chrisette Michele seems poised to create a major name for herself. She recently appeared on quality tracks by Jay-Z and Nas, and her vocal style recalls the days of jazz and blues, channels everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Erykah Badu, and is at once timeless and modern. I Am, her impressive major-label debut, is a well-paced, polished product that announces her very individual style with confidence and strength.
Michelle’s voice is a signature instrument, as versatile as Jill Scott’s yet nasal like Billie Holiday’s. The best songs on I Am, including “Like a Dream” and “Good Girl,” inject a classic-jazz sensibility into up-tempo hip-hop-flavored productions. Will.I.Am produces a few tracks here, and Michele’s impressive vocal range and hip-hop swagger mesh with the mix of big band, jazz, and hip-hop he creates. His touch is undeniable on the album’s best track “Let’s Rock,” which perfects the jazz/hip-hop/pop sound.
The album may lean a bit heavily on dramatic ballads, and the slower songs don’t necessarily display the same stylized production as the more up-tempo work, but the quality remains consistent due to Michele’s songwriting and voice, even as she explores various genres: She gives you big voice R&B on “Work It Out”, intimate acoustic soul on “Your Joy,” and Broadway ballads such as “Love Is You.” But it’s those up-tempo tracks, such as the Mary J. Blige-influenced “In This for You” and the jazzy “Be OK,” that she really shines.