By Stephanie Pettway
If you are like me and didn’t know who James Blake was outside of him being featured on popular songs such as “Stop Trying to be God” from Travis Scott’s latest album “Astroworld,” and “King’s Dead” from the Black Panther soundtrack, then you will be surprised to hear that he released his fourth studio album “Assume Form,” on Jan. 18.
So, who is this soft sounding singer featured on these rap tracks?
Blake is a musician and producer from London, England, who gained recognition after doing some work with Kanye West, which lead to him being nominated for a Grammy for “Best New Artist,” a couple years after.
From there he went to gaining notable production credits on Beyoncé’s “Lemonade,” Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN,” and Jay Z’s “4:44.”
This all adds some sense as to why his album has heavy influences of R&B and hip-hop, and even features some of the artist he has worked with in the past. Initially, this is what grabbed my attention to listening to this album, especially since I can’t resist anything that features Scott.
Upon listening I will say that I didn’t know how to feel about listening to full-length album by Blake. It is one thing for an him to be featured on a song and have a verse or two, or even carry a chorus; but it is another for him to have many songs and feature the artists that usually feature him.
This is not to say that I didn’t think that Blake couldn’t keep me interested for an entire album, because he has a good voice. It’s unusual, but nonetheless good. But, since these rap songs that featured him only showcased his voice in a rather one-dimensional way, I felt that this album was going to be boring.
Though it was definitely not boring, it was definitely unusual, but in a good way. The blend of hip-hop and R&B mixed with electronic sounds was very abstract throughout, and in no ways does it “assume form,” like the album title suggests, but it works.
“Mile High,” featuring Scott and Metro Boomin, “Tell Them,” featuring Metro Boomin and Moses Sumney, and “Where’s the Catch?” featuring André 3000, all possess the heaviest hip-hop sound, while maintaining the electric sound that is not foreign to Blake, like on his previous album “The Colour in Anything.”
Something that is also not foreign to Blake is the themes of love and growth that he has his songs revolve around. In songs like “Barefoot in the Park,” “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow,” and “Are You in Love?” Blake openly and freely expresses himself and has the most melodic and smoothest beats.
Other songs like “Power On,” and “Don’t Miss It,” talk about growth, change, and how to overcome situations that you are struggling with.
Though I have many praises for the album, it does have a couple of songs where it falls flat for me.
“Assume Form,” which is the self-titled track on the album, is one of the longest songs, and seems to drag on for 1 minute too long for me. Though it does build up as you get to the end of the song, it eventually just leaves you on a song cliffhanger and just ends.
“Lullaby for the Insomniac,” though melodic and soft, is long for me. When I think of a lullaby, I think of something short and sweet, not something approaching 4 minutes long.
With some lows, and many highs, this album made me not only appreciate every Blake feature I have heard, but also his artistry as a whole. Being someone who likes when artist mix genres together in their music, and he does it rather well, he shows that he is not afraid to experiment with different sounds.
He uses his platform to bring all of what influences him to create something refined and well put together while still maintaining what makes him unique and memorable.