Note: This post has been updated to represent the “new” visual version.
Jesse Boykins III is a special kind of soulful. If you’ve ever heard Victoria from his 2008 album, The Beauty Created, you know the kind of multi-layered elegance that he comes with. He is one of the few that can layer understandable but strongly poetic lyrics with smooth vocals and poignant production for something that pleases the ear but doesn’t necessarily fit a mold, creating something uniquely him.
And now he’s giving it away for free. (Note: Well…he was.)
Bartholomew is not a collection of half-measures; this compares favorably with any other album in his discography. Boykins takes his brand of soul to another level by removing some of the smoothed-out extras from the production in many places in favor of a more tribal, elemental sound. It still manages to be smooth, but it’s due almost entirely to the vocals of those featured and Boykins himself.
And this is also a star-studded set when it comes to features and production. Between songs that feature Dej Loaf, Melanie Fiona, Luke James, Audiopush, and Bridgett Kelly (just to name a few) and production that features K. Roosevelt, Leon Thomas III, MeLo-X, and Dot da Genius (just to name a few more), you would think this would sound like a chaotic mess. Instead, what you get is a coherent and cohesive album that flows from one distinctive song to another without leaving the listener feeling like they’re lurching uncontrollably through someone’s thoughts.
Lyrically, this offers a little something for everyone. All the tracks have poetic bent to them, but songs like Earth Girls and Everybody Shut Up are more straightforward than tracks like LARain and Vegetables. The fact that set seems to build its metaphorical well as it progresses means that it takes the listener along instead of leaving them to flail in a sea of words. On an already well-crafted album, it puts the icing on the cake.
Our favorite tracks are Into You, Solar Sisters, Mean Girls, and Eye of the Gentle Tiger.
Update: I can only guess how some of you may have felt when this album essentially disappeared not too long after its late summer 2016 debut. We saw a Wave I set that made the rounds, but it only had three tracks and none of them were on the version we posted about a year ago. We were beginning to think we imagined the whole thing and were going to get ourselves checked out…when this popped.
From an audio standpoint, this is almost the exact same album that he dropped last year and it holds up just as well. There are a few places where the production either has been cleaned up or changed slightly, but it’s so minute that you can barely tell the difference if you aren’t listening closely. The lyrics are the same too, with no detectable changes at all.
The biggest difference seems to be the loss of two feature. Both Isaiah Rashad and Mick Jenkins were included as features on tracks and they have both been removed (from Everybody Shut Up and Only Way Out respectively). This change to be more about the songs flow better than a statement about the verses (both were solid) and give Boykins more time to himself on more tracks. They weren’t essential to the songs’ understanding, but they are something we missed when they didn’t appear as expected.
One thing we want to warn you about is to not be fooled by how static the image for the first track is. There is a lot more in this visual than just a series of songs with a series of set barely moving pictures for their duration. This is not a visual album in the way that a lot of people may be expecting. This is far more arthouse, with long swaths of time spent with the singer(s) spent staring at the camera motionlessly. There are interruptions of movement and facial expression, but they are not so much acting out the lyrics as conveying the emotional resonance of them. It’s an intriguing experience and something everyone should see at least once.
After listening to this again, we’re adding Earth Girls and LikeMinded to our favorites because we were fools to leave them off the first time.