It’s a difficult time for female R&B singers — right now, Tinashe, Beyoncé and Jhené Aiko are the only three in the top 25 on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts — and veterans face an especially tough market. Ashanti released an album earlier this year that sold 28,000 copies in its opening week. Mary J. Blige has got a lot of press for a project she is planning to release with UK duo Disclosure, but hardly anyone noticed the album she actually put out this year. This is the environment in which Jennifer Hudson releases her third studio album, JHUD.
Hudson’s known for her vocal pyrotechnics — the GRAMMYs don’t pick just any singer to sing a tribute to the late Whitney Houston. But right now, fleet beats are the rage. Surveying the landscape, Hudson bucks her reputation and puts out a dance album.
Hudson doesn’t connect with the producer DJ Mustard, who is currently dictating the fast pace of R&B and rap radio, but she does the next best thing, hooking up with Pharrell Williams as he continues his quest to revive vintage disco. Hudson also collaborates with Timbaland, who may not be as reliable a hitmaker as he once was, but still knows his way around the charts. To top it off, she does a track with the English duo Gorgon City, who — much like Blige’s current partners, Disclosure — are working hard to freshen up and repackage house and garage music.
Hudson has done disco before — see “Don’t Look Down,” from her latest album, I Remember Me — but she’s never committed to it fully. It’s a bold move for her and an important one. The flood of club music is currently dominated by the dudes. Most of Pharrell’s hits — or Mustard’s — feature male vocalists. Hudson links with a long tradition of powerful female vocalists making highly danceable music. And the spare templates she uses here, which are heavy on rhythm and relatively empty otherwise, give her plenty of space to flex her powerful voice.
Read on for Billboard’s track by track review.
“Dangerous” – Hudson establishes the tone of JHUD immediately with a dry beat, a few piano chords and heavy bass. For much of the track, it’s just her singing along with the muscular rhythm section.
“It’s Your World” – Hudson smoothes things out here, using the warm tones of an electric keyboard and pretty backing vocals. R. Kelly, a fellow Chicago R&B singer, shows up for a honeyed verse.
“He Ain’t Going Nowhere” – This is the first Pharrell production on the album; it also features Iggy Azalea, who currently appears on 3 different songs in the top 20 of the Hot 100. The song builds around heavy, repetitive bursts of bass. Hudson gives sex advice, and Iggy raps about how she’s got her man “wrapped around my fingertips.”
“Walk It Out” – This one is produced by Timbaland and his longtime partner Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon. It has a signature Timbaland beat, firm but chattery, and a little vocal twirl at the opening that sounds like Jai Paul. Timbaland rap-sings, and Hudson tries on a new vocal look: “I be on that good shit/ I be on the hood shit.”
“I Can’t Describe (The Way I Feel)” – Hudson claims she can’t describe the way she feels, but she does just fine when she gives it a try. T.I. makes an appearance, rapping quickly without breaking a sweat, curling his words around the bass. His textured voice gains from friction with the clean beat. Pharrell is back as a producer.
“I Still Love You” – This is the track where Hudson teams up with the young UK dance duo Gorgon City. Hudson employs a touch of Gloria Gaynor, and Gorgon City inject the hollow bass sounds that they’ve used on their signature tracks — “Real” and “Ready For Your Love.” Hudson sings the title phrase with such vigor that her love sounds awful close to hatred.
“Just That Type Of Girl” – And Pharrell is back again! Hudson is unapologetic here: “looking for what I need/ Tonight I’m gonna do it for me.”
“Bring Back The Music” – This first ballad of the album surprisingly comes at the latter end of the album. Hudson loses herself in nostalgia: “Somewhere along the line we lost sight/ And it made the music go away.” When that’s a singer’s theme, it’s more effective to show than to tell, by creating songs that fill the void described.
“Say It” – This beat is influenced by Afro-funk. “Do you want me, do you need me?” asks Hudson. “Then tell me!” The backing vocals (“tell me you need me too”) take on the cadence of Michael Jackson‘s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”
“Moan” – Hudson ends the album with another ballad, a long cool-down after all the excitment.