Like A Drug * John Michael * R&B * November 6, 2015
Singer John Michael has been on our radar for a little while now. We didn’t get into him until we heard his third mixtape, #NewJackThing, in early 2014. We noted how smooth his voice was and how, despite being an underground artists, he seemed to have access to better than average production for his tracks and his lyrical content for each song, despite going a little broad at times, managed to stay focused on its theme. He seemed to have the understanding of the type of effort in the different elements of song creation that it takes to makes something pop. It’s the kind of understanding that can make a freelease stand out from a large pack of equally hungry and eager artists. We wanted to hear more.
It didn’t take long. During 2014, his output was prolific. Two more mixtapes and series of loosies, including several Christmas-themed tracks, made him a hard man to avoid. And with every release, there were those tracks that stood out and made us take notice (including what eventually became the title track to this album) and made us see more and more of his potential. He was growing as an artist and experimenting with his style; sometimes doing full rap tracks and adding rap verses to songs. Even if we weren’t feeling every track, we respected that he wanted to try something new and broaden his horizons. There was the feeling that he was improving a little with every release and it was nice to hear.
So with what could potentially be his last entry into musical world, Duality, coming down the pike, we thought we’d revisit his last album, Like A Drug.
1. Fill Your Glass Up – The first track from this album starts things off with a laidback production that gives the classy club feel right away. The thrust of the song has Michael enjoying an evening with his lady in a place where there is nothing but good moods and good people. There is a toast-it-up vibe that permeates the sung verses and chorus and it’s due almost entirely to the vocal delivery that Michael choses to use in those sections. Even his rap verse, despite it being a little long, manages to keep the party going and, in fact, creates the feeling of moving from place to place to experience the night. The lyrics are pretty standard for this type of track and, at times, feel unfocused due to him moving from a specific party theme to more a general fun-having one, but the song is never upended and is easy to follow. While not the strongest track for an opener, this has a lot of repeat potential.
2. Goin’ Up – Production-wise, this track feels like a big swerve from the more mellow tones of the first track, but it keeps with the party theme that has been set up. A lot more boisterous and focused on a more hype club experience, this one has Michael having fun with his boys and enjoying the single life. The lyrics on this one are more cohesive than the first and, despite an odd moment of self editing that was likely done so that he wouldn’t be rhyming the same word with itself, more explicit in content. The fact that Michael’s vocal delivery on this one changes to match the track’s tone without feeling forced gives you a feeling of the man himself; able to be grown and sexy while still turning it up when it’s appropriate.
3. All You Gotta Say – A standout from of those loosies we mentioned from 2014. The slow, melodic production is a nice match for Michael’s voice as he sings seductively about taking advantage of the moment. While it initially sounds like this track is about sex, really listening to the lyrics makes you realize he talking about that forever type of love that’s deeper than the physical. The lyrics feel honest and true, speaking on the reservations that they both have but also knowing that they have something special. A standout track.
4. The Corner – The production of this track continues with the more lowkey, jazzy style from the previous track. This one has Michael trying to convince a woman who is turned off by cornerboy status to give him a shot. While this kind of song can absolutely feels like game to most people, the singer manages to deliver the lines without the listener giving him too much pause on his motives. The lyrics of this one are solid, sticking closely to the theme and speaking about their differences in a way that complements her without simultaneously making him come off as desperate. It’s the vocals, though, that really shine, as Michael manages to exude confidence without coming off as conceited. A strong track.
5. Like A Drug – The title track and lead single that had a version included on one of his previous freeleases, this track marries the more upbeat and carefree feeling of Goin’ Up with a more upbeat version of the production style from the other tracks. Full of horns (no doubt on purpose), this song has Michael professing his addiction to his lady’s good lovin’. As we said in our initial review of the track, this song, despite making and being cohesive, is not all that lyrically dynamic mostly due to the fact that the ‘your love is my drug’ theme has been done a lot in recent years. What saves this song from mediocrity is Michael’s vocals, which are strong, theme appropriate, and containing just a hint of lust. Worth a few listens.
6. No Fear – Slowing it down again, this track actually feels like a part two to the previous one in that Like A Drug felt like him acknowledging the power his lady has over him and this feels like him turning the tables and putting out there that he may have that same power over her and asserting himself once they get to the bedroom. This is a standard babymaker with the tone of the vocals driving the song. While the autotuned rap verse is a little out of place and breaks up the flow some, it’s not to distracting due to its short length. A repeatable track.
7. Run – Switching gears in production to a more pop&B track, this track has Michael imploring a woman who has been done wrong to take a chance and open her heart to him. Considering that this could easily feel like a rehash of The Corner considering the similar themes, the differing production and more urgent vocals tones serve to make them stand apart from one another. Again, lyrically, this song falls somewhere in the middle; not really differentiating itself from the pack of similar songs but staying on theme and making sense as a whole. Again, as well, it is Michael that saves it from mediocrity and makes the song worth more than a passing glance. Worth a few listens.
8. You Want Me – This track feels like the slower-paced sister to Goin’ Up with it being primarily about the more sexual and unattached side of John Michael. Oddly enough, despite this being more explicit and brash lyrically, this is also one of the tracks that differentiates itself from many of the other songs on the album by painting a stronger picture of the circumstances it speaks on. It is to the point about what he wants from the woman in question and is unapologetic about it. The singer’s vocal performance, is a good match for the track overall. Despite how he may comes across through its meaning, this is a strong track overall.
9. Real – This track has Michael going back to familiar territory and promising to be a better partner for the woman he loves. The lyrics here a bit of mixed bag; starting off a little ambiguous at first, moving into a chorus that isn’t flushed out enough due to the constant repeating of the word ‘real’, and finally settling into a cohesive line of thinking in the second verse. The production is nice, offering something that landed on the ears like a Men At Large track at first. The vocals are solid as well and serve to keep the listener engaged. But due to the lyrical misstep and the fact that it is so short, the song feels like it’s incomplete. Worth a listen but ultimately skippable.
10. Makin’ Love – This is the first track that marries the more brash side of Michael with the sensitive side. About him bringing that energy that some people bring to the single sex scene to his relationship, this track serves as a babymaker for those who may not be in a lovemaking mood (we all know there’s a difference) but still have a deep emotional connection with their partner. The production, probably some of the strongest in the set, serves to aid that marriage in tone by melding that old slow jam feel with a more modern slow jam backbeat and bassline. Again, the singer’s vocals are the highlight and serve to add a lot the energy to the track with his confidence. A strong track.
11. Already Gone – A full departure into the pop style on the production front, this track is the first that speaks on the end of a relationship when both people know there’s nothing that can be done to save it. This is another lyrically strong track, despite a misstep on the chorus that switches focus in the first couplet from Michael to the woman in question. The vocals delivery on this teamed with the style of production reminded us a little of TLC’s Unpretty, but it never feels like a blatant copy. Worth a few listens.
12. No Quit – About trying to keep a relationship together, there are few interesting elements to this track that make it stand out from the rest of the set. First, the production teamed with the harmonies and lilting lead vocals created a rich, lush sound. Second, the lyrics in the first verse seem to highlight a mood beyond the confines of the song itself by remarking on how having side chicks and time-wasting seems to have become the norm in the world. It also expressed the imperfection of the people involved in the relationship, especially something else, and admits that is something they have to work on together. It allows the listener to connect to the material in a way that is important to make the song stick with you. A standout track.
13. Marry Me – Connecting with previous song All You Gotta Say in theme, and No Quit in outcome, this track has a self-assured Michael making his case to his lady for them to share their lives together. The production on this one feels a little lackluster at times, but Michael’s delivery makes up for it in lead and harmony vocals. The lyrics are good, spelling out his reasons for wanting them to be together and recounting just what she means to him. It’s straightforward in a good way and that the listener can appreciate even if there isn’t a broader connection to themselves. Worth a few listens.
14. That’s Our Baby – This song feels like a direct sequel to the previous track. Michael and his lady have procreated and he speaks in the joy and insecurities he feels about being able to stand up to the task of being a father. This, like No Quit, has more relatable elements than many of the other tracks in this set by making the lyrical content something that paints a clear picture of the circumstance and speaks to the plethora of feelings one can have as a parent. Lead by an acoustic guitar, the production adds a wholesome feel that matches the theme perfectly. Michael’s vocals feel a little eager at times, but it goes along with the eagerness that he talks about in his song to raise his family. A standout track.
15. Inevitable [Bonus Track] – This song popped up on the singer’s SoundCloud about a month before the album’s release. A mellow babymaker, this song feels very stream of consciousness in its content, depending almost entirely on Michael to provide the emotional connection through his performance. About the promise of a night of good love, the production is the star this time around. While Michael does a good job of conveying the sexy, the beatwork provides the overall mood and asserts itself very subtly throughout the song. Worth a few listens.
What we ultimately got out of John Michael’s Like A Drug is the feeling of continual improvement. This is has been the most cohesive, well-sequenced project he has released to date, as well as one that seems to have revealed a style preference when it comes to the productions he likes. While we would like him to work with new song writers to broaden his lyrical appeal and depth of feeling, there is no doubt that, as listeners, we came away feeling like we had a better understanding of the man himself and how he approaches the different aspects of love in his life. It has us still eager to hear more from him and curious as to what his new album, Duality, will offer us.