Schmooze Operator

If you’re in the business of mindlessly making babies, have a hard-on for ’90s R&B production, and find the testes-crushing banalities of hetero “romance” and booty calls to be cutting-edge material, have I got a CD for you. And because you’re also a big fan of irony, it’s called Unpredictable.

The problem here is not a lack of talent. From his days as Ugly Wanda on In Living Color to his eponymous sitcom, and from Peep This, his acclaimed ’94 recording debut, to his Oscar-winning performance in the otherwise awful Ray, Jamie Foxx has worked hard to let you know he can sing, dance, act, mug and crack wise with the best of them. The problem comes with defining “best.” On Unpredictable, Foxx takes the term to mean the depressingly literal, enervated excrement that’s harvested and shucked on plantations Sony, BMG, Warner, etc. by their oiled-up, worked-out, interchangeable and disposable Negro property.

After repeated listenings, little from this album sticks in one’s mind. Though it ends with a one-two attack on the tear ducts — “Wish U Were Here,” about Foxx’s late grandmother, who raised him, and “Heaven,” about valuing life while you’re living — songs about fucking and flossing dominate; none display a hint of wit. They coalesce into a goop of drum-machine-thwacking board work and embarrassing lyrics. To wit, the first verse of the song, “Get This Money”: “Shorty, trust me when I say/You’re looking John Blaze in your lingerie/And shorty, I like the way you play/And move about on stage/I won’t be mad at you for swingin’ it my way .?.?.” Foxx is almost 40.

He’s clearly a gifted man, with a tuneful voice that’s been whittled down to sound like any number of smooth crooners who flip from impassioned seduction to impassioned prayer with equal aplomb. But what you hear on this CD is the distillation of VIP-room posturing, industry networking and schmoozing; the calculated expansion of celebrity and power; and then the desperate maintenance of it all. That’s not to say he has to address tsunamis, plagues and dying rivers. Fine, sing love songs. But like many straight folk (both men and women) in contemporary pop culture, he reduces heterosexuality to a sorry state lacking poetry, inspiration, music, real eroticism. Do we need to mount a telethon?

Unpredictable’s best moments all come courtesy of cameos by A-list go-to guys: Ludacris, Common, Kanye, Snoop and Mary J. Blige. In fact, his duet with Blige on the Skip Scarborough–penned soul classic, “Love Changes,” stomps everything else on the disc. It’s a song about the psychology of love, the way it stretches, shapes and remakes (if not undoes) you. It’s about the spiritual aspect glimmering beneath the carnal. FF through the cheesy spoken breakdown, and it’s a repeat-worthy cut.

Unpredictable isn’t the sound of an artist stretching or reaching — it’s the sound of shrinking and settling, of aiming squarely for the status quo. It’s music that stays low to the ground because no one even dreams of taking flight anymore. Like the majority of modern R&B, it’s the sound of Negroes eating cake while the world burns.


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