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Ayra Starr Sacrifices Soul And Emotion for Groove On Deluxe [Album Review]

At the 15th annual edition of The Headies that took place at Atlanta, Georgia—earlier this year, Ayra Starr bagged an award in the Listeners’ choice category. This writer is of the opinion that if her debut album, 19 & Dangerous had been nominated in its appropriate genre category of R&B, it would have rightfully won.

’19 & Dangerous (Deluxe)’ cover art.

In the coming years, there would be a debate on the classic status of 19 & Dangerous. It is a stellar project by all metrics and is arguably the best mainstream album of last year, but because it had only one hit record in Bloody Samaritan and a sleeper hit in Beggie Beggie ft. Ckay, the general consensus of it clinching classic status might not be unanimous. Thus, it makes sense from a critical standpoint and even a commercial one, to have a deluxe version that could help prolong its shelf life and notch more hit records, if possible.

So it’s no surprise that Ayra and her team, shifted from the R&B and emotive elements that made the initial project such a resonant, cohesive one—to a more pop-driven soundscape. This isn’t a bad decision in itself, as it is totally justified in the grand scheme of things. However, the fact that the execution of these new songs and their invariable quality, isn’t on par with the original songs is where the problem lies.

Asides Rush and the Bloody Samaritan remix featuring Kelly Rowland that served as singles, there are four new songs on the deluxe. Ase, Lonely Refix ft. Zinoleesky, Running ft. Lojay and Skinny Girl Anthem. None of these songs are downright horrible songs, but they simply don’t attain the euphonious, soulful heights of the original songs. Indeed they are pop songs and it would be unfair to criticise them for not being as soulful as R&B songs, but that isn’t the sole problem of the deluxe.

The tracklist of the deluxe version.

The overaching limitation of this deluxe is that the arrival of these new songs, demanded a new track sequencing and arrangement that disrupts the cohesion of the album. In many ways, the transitions from track to track on the original version was organic and almost seamless.

It’s vital to note at this point, that it isn’t forced on the deluxe either, but it isn’t as cohesive as the last project. The songs aren’t cut from the same sonic clothe. Whether it’s the new producers on the album—as the original was entirely produced by Andre Vibez and London—or it’s the increased tempo, the overall listening experience isn’t as wholesome or as rewarding.

On Ase, Ayra is still in her rebellious element that’s prominent in the preceding tracks but unlike those songs, character is missing. “Fuck society” she sings over a minimalist pop beat, laced with synthesizers. On Cast and Fashion Killer, the listener is compelled by her character through impressively written verses that bared likeable mannerisms and shenanigans, which in turn portrayed her as an intriguing character.

Lines like “Suck on these nuts if you ain’t approve of, I’ve cared for too long” and “I light the room in the dark, ’cause my bling is a torch” are laced with the same, defiance sentiment of Ase, but they are more resonant because the songs in general have more depth and also contain periods where Ayra is introspective and imperfect.

I heard life has no limitations, but the one you make” and “my denim faded but i rock it like a baby in a cot” convey the sentiment quite well. The former establishes that thought goes into her actions and the latter depicts a relatable star, that rocks faded denim like the average person. Ase on the other hand is all-out defiance and simply doesn’t resonate as much. Ayra is the sole credited writer on the track, so that might explain why the writing falls short, in comparison to when more hands were on deck.

Ase shows some symptoms of the shortcomings of the deluxe, but it’s the Lonely refix that embodies everything wrong with it. The upbeat mid-tempo beat has been spliced and sped up to a higher BPM, and the soulful background vocals and emotive symphonies have been stripped away, so Ayra’s vocals are bare. Zinoleesky delivers on his verse, but it’s not enough to save the song as it’s been stripped of its soul. No pun intended.

Running ft. Lojay is the best song on the deluxe and it works because it stays true to the sonic soundscape of the original version. We’re back in R&B territory and both Ayra and Lojay have ample, ideal space to coast on the terrain with honest, confessional lyrics about love and sacrifices. It is an R&B song, but tinged with pop leanings nonetheless so it teeters satisfactorily somewhere in the middle. This is the direction all the new songs should have taken.

Skinny Girl Anthem ft. Kayykilo is pretty much emblematic of the same problems, the previous songs suffer from. Bare vocals with not enough going on in the background, minimalistic and cliche pop beats and verses that lack character and have only bite. Rush and the Bloody Samaritan remix are great records though, as the latter is one of the more impressive and organic Afrobeats crossover features that excels—but they arrived as singles, which only makes the flaws of the other new songs more apparent.

Ayra Starr is an incredibly talented artist with a ceiling that’s higher than most of her peers in the new generation. She released two stellar projects in 8 months—her self titled debut EP and her debut album—at the age of 19 and demonstrated a precise mastering of her artistry and honing of her sound, that’s unusual for someone of her age. Her immense talent has never been in question, however, this deluxe leaves much to be desired and doesn’t work as well as the original.

It would be termed as a success though, if it generates more hit records for her and rightly so.

Verdict:

Sonic Cohesion: 1.3/2
Unharried Transitions: 1.3/2
Pristine & Expansive Production: 1.5/2
Songwriting: 1.4/2
Track Sequencing: 1.5/2

Total: 7.0/10

This review is written by T.J. Martins, an Album Talks’ writer.

Listen to ’19 & Dangerous (Deluxe)’ Here:

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