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Sounds like … R&B crooning in the vein of Pharrell Williams and John Legend, but with sound beds reminiscent of Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, OutKast, and GorillazAt a glance … J.R. shows marked artistic growth with Life by Stereo, a bold and adventurous R&B album that also happens to be one of the genre's very bestTrack Listing Intro Rock Star Not a Slave Tonight Ridaz OK You Chose Me When the Thrill Is Gone We Need You No Fear Treasure (interlude) Trust in You Say Yeah Your Word Getaway Words of Life Never Lose
R&B singer J.R. is nothing like his label mates on Cross Movement Records. He's not a rapper, he has spiky hair, his clothes aren't baggy, and he exudes a debonair cool that's a little lost on his rougher-around-the-edges hip-hop colleagues. His debut, Metamorphosis, was a surprisingly varied urban-pop disc, as well as a shot in the arm to the almost nonexistent Christian urban arena, the majority of which is a little too "gospel" to be enjoyed by more straight-ahead fans of contemporary R&B.
Two years later and J.R. is nearly unrecognizable—not so much physically as artistically.
His second album, Life by Stereo, doesn't just expound on his soulful urban persona, but totally shatters it to reveal an eclectic, adventurous vocalist who isn't afraid to go beyond typical R&B. It's almost as if J.R. has been listening to a lot of Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, and Pharell Williams at their most offbeat—all of them come to mind here.
That's not a bad thing in terms of urban gospel or even hip-hop music itself. Over the course of an album, either genre can seem a little predictable or repetitive by the end, whereas Life by Stereo never quite sounds the same from track to track. One moment the sonic beds are reminiscent of OutKast's Andree 3000 ("Not a Slave"), the next is N.E.R.D. by way of Radiohead ("Tonight"), and elsewhere the inspiration is soulful pop/rock in the vein of Lenny Kravitz ("No Fear"). And that's just three songs.
Of course, J.R. also makes room for silky-smooth R&B crooning ("Getaway") and more conventional, hook-laden hip-hop fare ("Ridaz"). The whole of Life by Stereo is a trove of surprises, with production values so slick, it's impossible to dislike, even if it does catch you off guard. Likewise, the experimentation doesn't mean J.R. is compromising lyrically—if anything, he's more purposeful than ever about his desire to point everyone, even the most bohemian and urbane, to the Source of his creativity. Life by Stereo isn't just great R&B music; it's great music, period.