It might be more entertaining for everyone involved if Jamie Foxx’s Unpredictable fell in line with other laughable celebrity projects such as Deion Sanders’s MC Hammer-era raps. It would be easier to process if the album were filled with stereotypical R&B. Foxx doesn’t exactly channel Stevie Wonder on Unpredictable, but there’s enough quality on the record that it actually hurts to see it tripping over itself in the quest to make quality soul jams.
Hip-hop collaborations fill the album, but the tracks themselves smolder with straight crooning and rhythms that will swing you back to ’90s slow jams. Foxx, who released his first album, Peep This, in 1994, doesn’t overextend himself with vocal theatrics, but he rides the mid-tones to nice effect and sometimes excels in that regard, tracking the piano on “Heaven” perfectly in step. “V.I.P.” acquits itself nicely with muted horns and lilting strings; it’s soul and hip-hop at the same time, like Black Moon sampling an old Barry White track. But the subject material has more the profundity of a Dru Hill than a Lauryn Hill, so the variety has to come with the guest shots. And that’s where the album starts falling apart.
In the land of the Unpredictable, apparently, “C ain’t after A and B” and “one and one ain’t two,” so Foxx’s good loving can change the immutable laws of arithmetic and play havoc with the alphabet. That’s all good, but for some reason when Ludacris steps on the scene the man’s announced with some overbearing Stax horns, and the track changes into something entirely separate. On “With You,” Snoop and Foxx trade smoothed-out lyrics, but then we inexplicably get the Game’s gruff tones with some quirky ethereal scrapes blended into the atmosphere. Most frustrating is “Extravaganza,” the duet with Kanye West, who Foxx has backed up a few times before. The track flows lovely, with thumping drums that boost the energy above anything on the album and Foxx laying out a rueful tale of drunken flings over music from a classical piano. Then comes Kanye with his clever self looking for those “bring-their-own-rubber girls, never-meet-your-mother girls.” Both pieces work fine within their own context, but brought together they don’t click.
R&B toes a fine line: Except with the inspired lunacy of R.Kelly, it’s impossible to combine the sultry and the absurd. There’s sadly too many moments where tactical missteps break that fragile mood, like on “Three Letter Word,” whose subtlety breaks down as soon as Foxx breathes the word “sex” for the twentieth time and explains that “some do it bourgie, some do it hood.” In case you miss it, he repeats twice more that he does it hood. He finishes a spoken narrative with Mary J. Blige about love, hoping to get back the caring, the hugging, and “cooking for your man,” which she inexplicably indulges by saying “whenever you’re hungry, baby.” Foxx shows some real talent on this album, and he doesn’t embarrass himself – except for when he embarrasses himself.
Jamie Foxx Web site (streaming audio)