Cuffing Season Eric Bellinger * R&B * July 17, 2015
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We’ve been waiting on Eric Bellinger to release Cuffing Season since late last year when the singer announce that it would be a companion piece to his freelease Choose Up Season, even hinting at its release in the intro to the mixtape.  The first single was released in December and the album was expected around Valentine’s Day, a year after the release of his first album.  Unfortunately for fans, the date came and went with Bellinger pushing the date first into March and then into July.  After push the album from the 7th to the 10th to the 17th, the project dropped and fans snapped it up with eagerness.

But what was the delay?  Eric Bellinger says that when he released his last album, Rebirth, his mind was all over the place and that it was reflected in his music.  Choose Up Season was about living the single life and having fun.  This time around he seems focused on his wife and growing family.  He also has taken the time to make sure that everything for this project works works together.  Can he manage to convey his new situation without leaving his core audience, many of whom are still single, behind?

1.  Cuffing Season – The album opens with an extended intro, similar to Choose Up Season, that sets the tone for the rest of the project.  Unlike the sister freelease, however, this intro is completely related to the title of the project.  Bellinger sings about his lady keeping herself closed off from him and wanting to do whatever it takes to open her heart and teach [her] how to love.  The melody has that romantic feel with its slow, lush undertones and tinkling piano.  The bass doesn’t drop until the “chorus” and fades again once its over, but its a nice effect that makes you focus on the feeling of the track.  Bellinger’s vocals are okay, but there is way too much autotune being used here.  The sad thing is that he’s proven that he doesn’t need it and that his natural tone is perfect for this kind of track.  But it’s not done yet because, after a breath of a gap, what sounds like an uncredited (and autotuned) Ty Dolla $ign starts singing about how he change this lady’s life before Bellinger joins in and continues by joining the idea of commitment from earlier to the idea of letting go of all the extra women in his life.  This part has the singer sounding much better as there is far less autotune and his adlib, including his falsetto, are strong showing vocal improvement from his last album.  Despite the vocal misstep, it’s an enjoyable way to start the album.

2.  You Can Have The Hoes – Starting off with a sped up sample of Barbara Mason’s Yes, I’m Ready (although, based on the harmonies, it could be Gladys Knight version) before the inexplicable Mustard on the beat, ho and the beat drop, Bellinger sings about the amazing things that being in a relationship with him comes with.  The production is weird morass of sounds, some of which work and some of which don’t.  The use of the sample right after the drop and on the choruses is actually really nice and, if it had kept that pace all the way through, this song would have been better for it.  Unfortunately, the verses descend into the usual DJ Mustard sound and the sample seems out of place as a repeated background piece.  The lyrics are a mixture of bragging and declarations of monogamy with Bellinger declaring his girl his best friend and saying he would rather be with her than anywhere else.  In that, the song is solid and even the title line, you can have the hoes, is used in a way that some people will not have a problem with.  Boosie Badazz’s verse is strong and adds a nice element to the track that works with the tone that is set.  I could easily see how someone could hate this song, but a turn-up track about monogamy is so incredibly rare that the concept alone makes it an interesting listen.

3.  iPod On Shuffle – One of the six tracks the Bellinger released to promote this album, it takes a couple of lyrical cues from Silk (Meeting In My Bedroom, Freaky), the crooner talks about the preparations he’s making for a night of loving, including the fact that he has all the bedroom jams ready on his iPod.  The production by Ayo has a lot of energy despite it being mid-tempo.  Bellinger’s vocals add the rest of the energy as his tone is engaging and you can tell that he means every word he is saying.  The song is also pretty lyrically solid as it uses the names of some infamous babymaker artists to set the tone (although the screwed chant after the chorus is a little out of place).  While not perfect, it’s definitely worth several repeats.

4.  Overrated – This track samples the Living Single theme song for a track about being single not being all it’s cracked up to be.  The lyrics are a nice hint to the changes in Bellinger’s life by talking about all the problems that his friends have that he doesn’t because he’s a happily settled man.  The manipulation of the sample is well done and creates a unique sound that has a familiar feel.  Bellinger’s vocals, while tinged with autotune, are nice hear and when he starts adlibbing about his happy home towards the end of track, his emotional tone takes things to a different level.  A strong track.

5.  Turn Down For You – About telling his friends that he doesn’t want to go out to the club because he’s having a good night with his lady, this track has nice elements of fun and romance to it.  Using what is fast becoming the Bellinger flow, he reiterates that monogamy is for him.  And while the singer does a good job vocally, it’s Tank that steals the show with his sexy, melodic delivery over the strong harmonies.  Aroc! delivers a strong verse that fits in perfectly with the mood that the album has set.  The production, while mid-tempo, has lots of energy with its occasional horns, and energetic vocals.   The end of the track serves as bridge between this track and the next, slowing things down and asking what made him turn down, the answer being the title of the next track.  A solid track.

6.  Love Made Me Do It – This track has Bellinger telling his wife why he does what he does for her.  The way that this song start off is wonderful.  He doesn’t sugar coat the aspect of love; instead, he says that, while those things might still interest him, he doesn’t do her wrong because he loves her.  There realness of this sentiment cannot be understated and makes the lyrics ring true to a lot of people.  The production has dropped a lot of the club sounds and slipped into a more mature R&B styled track without sounding dated.  The autotune of Bellinger’s vocals is becoming a problem, though, as it’s starting to feel like a crutch.  His adlibs would have been so much more crisp and the emotional resonance would have been stronger.  This would have been the perfect track to not use it.  Despite the issue with the vocals, this is a standout track.

7.  Make Up For It – Starting off with a screwed Mariah Carey sample of a track that I can’t place with certainty (Breakdown, maybe),  Bellinger sings about making up for lost time with his lady.  Again, the use of autotune in the beginning is unnecessary and heavier than normal.  Still the harmonies have a nice feel to them, especially teamed with the deeper Carey vocal.  The lyrics are par for the course for this type of track and get their point across well.  What saves this song from filler territory is the switch-up about halfway though where the beat drops and Bellinger releases the autotune a little.

8.  Share – Singer Chay$e takes the lead on this track about sharing the good times in life with the one you love.  There is a casualness to the lyrics that works really well.  They go out to dinner and split the check, puff a blunt together, and just generally enjoy each other’s company.  The downside of this is that the song clocks in at under three minutes, so it doesn’t give Bellinger and Chay$e a lot of time to work together vocally, but what there is works.  The production to the track has a nice, pulsing feel with a the main melody sounding a little muted underneath the bass at times.  Worth a few listens.

9.  Maybe Never – There is a continuous feel between the production between this track and the previous one.  There’s a nice vibe to it and the overall feel is bright and breaks up the slower tracks that dominate the middle section of the album.  Unfortunately, this track is the one of the set to have lyrics that feel like they’re all over the place.  The verses seem to connect to one another but feel disjointed from chorus and bridge.  That feeling makes this track highly skippable.

10.  Creep – Getting the legendary T-Boz from TLC to provide some guest vocals and sampling the groups monster hit Creep, the singer promises his lady that he will never cheat.  Bellinger provides his signature vocal style for the track, but the star is T-Boz who shows that she hasn’t lost a step.  Her vocals are still just as sexy and clean as ever and the two play off each other well.  The manipulation of the sample into a modern beatwork style is masterful and a theme for this album with most of the samples being used to great effect.  A standout track.

11.  Gina – Starting of with a little Martin Lawrence comedy, Bellinger sings about how he loves his lady like Martin loved Gina.  There’s a sample of Martin’s theme song in the background of the production which has a little throwback feel that fits the theme well.  The lyrics are solid with the lots of iconic images and names being used well to keep the feeling going.  Bellinger’s vocals are good here and he gives a different flow, which is nice change.  Aroc! drops another verse here and it works to add a little extra energy to the mid-tempo track.  Our only complaint is that it ends too quickly.

12.  Text Threads – This one samples Montell Jordan’s This Is How We Do It’s lyrics and chorus adlibs for a track about how he and his lady used text messaging as a prelude to their lovemaking.  The production has a dark undertone but is still pretty bright.  This is signature Bellinger and it is wonderful.  Despite the autotune, his vocals are engaging and energetic with the harmonies adding a lushness to what could have easily been a minimalist track.  The production is strangely both dark and bouncy with an upbeat feel that makes you feel like the singer is proud of his relationship.  Again, the only complaint is that it feels too short.

13.  Focused On You – Sampling Nas’ Oochie Wally, Eric Bellinger teams up with 2 Chainz for a danceable track that was the first single for the album and served as the bridge between this and his Choose Up Season mixtape.  With its sexy lyrics and club-friendly production, its a nice follow-up to the slower tracks that have preceded it.  The 2 Chainz verse is vibrant and probably one of his best features in recent memory.  Mya is also featured, but her contribution is so minimum that you have to listen really hard to hear her doing background vocals.  Despite having been out more than seven months at this point, it still feels as fresh as it did when it was released.

14.  Viral – Reminding us a little of his track 4 Digits from DJ Mustard’s 10 Summers album.  It’s about shaking the jelly with determination and probably the only track that doesn’t really fit the theme that Bellinger has set.  While he has lyrics that still have a monogamous tone, this is pretty much the only track that could be about his favorite girl from the club.  The addition of the IamSu verse from the version that was released this year is nice and probably one of the rappers better verses.

15.  Last One Standing – This song is about Bellinger presenting his bone fides in being a stand up man.  The production has a jazzy, romantic feel to it that is enhanced by the background harmonies and bongo drums teamed with the acoustic piano.  The lyrics, while thematically tight, are what doesn’t seem to fit so well with the track as the more modern language usage takes a some of the classiness out of the moment.  The singer’s vocals are again tinged with autotune, but it’s less noticeable here than in other places.  While this track is also short, it feels like its just as long as it needs to be.  Despite a few missteps, a strong track.

16.  The Summery – Announcing itself as the final track on the album as well as joining it to the previous track, Bellinger sums up the theme of the album by saying that he and his lady have a love for all seasons (making me exceedingly happy that the title wasn’t a misprint), taking time to thank his fans for their support, and announcing Cuffing Season 2.  While there is no good reason to put autotune on his spoken vocals, it doesn’t detract too much from the effect of the song.  The production is a nice touch as it feels like the playoff to a life show.

The overall feeling of this album is that Bellinger has maintained his status in the R&B game as one of the better artist out there right now.  The album is enjoyable and gives something different than the money, cash, hoes shtick that has become exceedingly old in mainstream music.  And while I hope that he drops the autotune, switches up is flow, and gains some lyrical maturity for his next project, I can say that Cuffing Season is worth the purchase for any longtime Bellinger fan and is a good introduction for anyone who is unfamiliar with him.

Rating: 3.5

                   

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