Ever since Usher and talent manager Scooter Braun first introduced Justin Bieber to the world back in 2009 after seeing him on YouTube, he’s been a mainstay in the music scene. Pre-teen girls would swoon and scream for the hot new teen heartthrob with the swoop pixie cut and high-pitched voice.
Even though the then 15-year-old “Baby” singer was marketed as a pop singer, from the beginning with songs like “Up” and “That Should Be Me”, he showed an early affinity for R&B, citing artists like Mariah Carey, Usher, and Boyz II Men as influences. His previous compilation album Journals showed him stepping more into the R&B realm, but his latest studio album Purpose shows a more solid footing and comfort with the genre.
Purpose was released on November 13. It is an album that pulls influences of EDM and dance but rests on a bed of R&B. The album is full of great content and tells a story of a young man on a path of self-reflection and redemption with his former lover, friends, family, and most importantly, himself.
The album runs the full gamut of the emotional elements of R&B- from begging like Keith Sweat on tracks like “Mark My Words” and “Sorry” which were inspired by his ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez, to the irrational feelings of love with records like “What Do You Mean?”, to broken-hearted anthems like “Where Are Ü Now.” Heavy drum kicks, trap beats, synths, strings and keys lay way to Justin’s crooning.
Highlights of the album are those that sound like they came out of the early to mid 90’s like “No Pressure” and “Trust.” “No Pressure” talks about wanting to reconcile with a lover but putting no pressure on it. Lyrics like “You ain’t gotta answer none of my calls/I’m believing you’ll pick up one day” leads into the chorus “You ain’t gotta make your mind up, You ain’t gotta make your mind up right now, Right now, don’t rush, no pressure.”
Simple drum kicks with backing keys and strings provide a simple backdrop to Justin channeling his inner Tevin Campbell with Big Sean lending a guest verse. “Trust” finds Justin trying to convince a lover that they should be together despite her doubts with Lenny Williams-style pleading. The arrangement, warped bass with heavenly strings and descending keys, is so undeniably R&B. This is basically a Brandy deep-cut. The ad-libs at the end almost sent me on to Glory.
“No Sense” is another highlight because Justin switches between delicate ranged singing and monotone robotic-like speaking during the chorus over a trap beat. It was only appropriate to have Travis Scott lend a gritty verse to the track.
Then there are tracks like “I’ll Show You”, “Life Is Worth Living”, and “Purpose” that show a more introspective and inspirational Justin examining his own decisions and contributions to the trouble he had been in over the past few years in the tabloids. He talks about the mistakes he’s made, and how he’ll show everyone that he can in fact redeem himself from them and moving on through forgiveness of those he’s hurt and God.
All in all, Purpose is a solid project by Justin to showcase what he has to bring to the table in the realm of R&B. One thing I noticed: I couldn’t help but notice that throughout the entire project, I could’ve basically took Justin out and put Chris Brown in and never noticed the difference.
Purpose is what F.A.M.E. should’ve been and what Fortune tried to be. This is the direction that X should’ve been going in if Chris Brown wasn’t so busy being hurt and expressing the disloyalty of “hoes.” Everything from production, to intonation, to even the delicate vibrato and falsetto coupled with the rasp that Chris is known for was used in this album. So, I guess because Chris wasn’t shittin’, he had to get off the pot, which paved the way for Justin to be marketed as basically a white (and therefore friendly) version of Chris Brown.
Purpose gets 4 stars from me. It is a sold R&B album that incorporates other elements very well, but stays true to what R&B is: soulful, honest, and reflective.
I am very protective of black music. Seeing Justin, or any white artist delving into R&B always takes me aback at first. The music can be good, great even, but I’ll have a hard time swallowing it because of the privilege that is afforded to white artists. It seems that black music in general is good, but only if coming from white bodies. I’m a bit reluctant to always blanket though, because artists generally try their best to put out the music that they want to put out, even in the face of labels telling them to do something else.
So, Justin could honestly be a fan of R&B music and could just simply want to put out R&B music. A lot of blame lies with labels because they choose whom they’ll invest in and push. Labels generally see white artists as more lucrative than black artists putting out the same music, so clearly they’ll invest in the white artist over the black artist. It’s always a catch 22 because good music is good music but I can’t help but to think about the politics involved. I can admit that Justin put out a solid project while not ignoring the racial divide that exists within the music industry.
But, I digress. The young gawd Justin put out a solid project. Its EDM and dance elements will draw attention, but the R&B foundation will give it life over time.
The Deluxe version of Purpose can be purchased via iTunes here.
Discuss Bieber’s Purpose, industry politics, and more with Andre via Twitter at @Exhibit_Dre