R&B hasn’t, in recent years, always reflected relationships as honestly as ’90s and noughties R&B stars did. Yet on her stunning debut album, ‘Over It’, Atlanta star Summer Walker subverts the genre with a collection of subdued love songs that continues her winning streak. Her brilliant breakthrough track, ‘Girls Need Love’, released last year, set the template – emotionally raw lyrics, sultry sounds – and became a platinum smash when Drake lent a guest verse to the remix. The question is: could the 23-year-old keep up the pace across an 18-track album?
Spoiler alert: she can. There’s ’90s nostalgia on ‘Come Thru’, which samples Usher‘s 1997 UK Number One ‘You Make Me Wanna’, though Walker flips the narrative – about a man who’s in love with two women – to relay the tale from a woman’s perspective: “Got my feelings runnin’ on a loop / This ain’t what I’m really used to”. With added hip-hop percussion, the classic song is revamped with the current sounds populating R&B.
And on ‘Just Might’, Walker is bracingly frank about the promiscuous life she just can’t resist; by laying her raspy vocals over sensual beats, she lets us not only hear the thoughts, but feel them too. When she says with a shrug that she “just might be a ho”, you can almost hear her smiling. R&B crooner PARTYNEXTDOOR takes the role of an anguished, cheated-on boyfriend; blending in a male voice, Walker gives us a 360-degree perspective on the sorry situation.
American singer-songwriter Jhené Aiko assists Walker on the aggressively named ‘I’ll Kill You’, on which the musicians sing atop spacey keys to relay their possessiveness – and sense of agency – in a relationship. If there’s one thing you learn from this stunning track, it’s that you should never test Walker and Aiko when it comes to their men. From the get-go, Summer Walker warns, “If them bitches ’round you, better be blood / If it ain’t me or your mama, shouldn’t be showin’ you no love”.
R&B fans have been waiting for a sucker-punch like ‘Over It’. There’s been a lot of insipid, cutesy output across the genre – broad brush strokes either depicting crushing over some guy, or being in gut-wrenching heartache, with little in between – but Summer Walker paints in subtler shades. This is an album of relatable, mixed emotions, the narrator promiscuous one minute and faithful the next. This is record of complex emotions, treated with a lightness of touch that ensures it’s fun as fuck. We’re far from ‘Over It’.