Artist: T-LoveTitle: Long Way BackRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Ashiya Smith
They say greatness is a journey, not a destination. If this adage is indeed true then West Coast based singer/emcee T-Love is well on her way with the release of her debut Long Way Back(Astralwerks). The LP offers a diverse collection of eclectic cuts inspired by the likes of blues and jazz matriarchs Billie Holiday, Abbey Lincoln and Nina Simone, as well as tracks reflecting the influence of T-Love’s hip-hop and soul contemporaries Lauryn Hill (then and now), Bahamadia, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu.
T-Love reaps the benefits of working with artists and producers, such as Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na and Detroit’s Jay Dee that mirror her visionary direction and truth in artistic expression. Jay Dee blesses the project with four joints, including the title track, “Long Way Back.” All four cuts are “signature Jay Dee,” exhibiting his production flair for pairing break-beats with unusual cadences. The heavily melodic “Seven,” is a standout track that illustrates the collaborative synergy that is prevalent throughout the LP. This song is enhanced by newcomer Dwele’s vocals, which were also featured on the Slum Village track, “Tainted.”
In terms of flow and lyrical dexterity, T-Love has a “mature” rhyme style reminiscent of the old-school back and forth delivery popular before the emergence of emcees like Rakim and Big Daddy Kane. Although her flow is probably a direct attestation to influences of that time, the fact is, hip-hop has evolved. Consequently, on many tracks, her flow comes off as monotonous instead of nostalgic. Nevertheless, T-Love manages to overcome these setbacks by delivering evocative rhymes with socially conscious undertones. On “Who Smoked Sunshine,” she comments on black women with self-esteem issues: “I got witty/ I put it together cuz she wasn’t very pretty/See all the years I knew her n##### never stepped to her/ …Hey it’s her butt/Now she’s too corrupt/To know what she could do with her legs shut.”
Although this is her first full-length release, T-Love demonstrates a natural ability and reverence for the art that comes from years of studying and honing one’s craft. The artist is at her best on jazz infused cuts like “Swing Malindy” and “Oh-So Suite” – where her singing voice is light and her delivery is effortless. Overall, the LP successfully reconciles the hybrid of “real” hip-hop and “true” jazz without compromising the integrity of either genre.