Defining modern-day R&B can be quite cumbersome, since the genre has noticeably transformed over time. As it continues to be crafted by a slew of more unconventional artists, ranging from Anderson .Paak to The Weeknd, its predictability is practically nonexistent. While this means R&B, and inherently soul music, is expanding both sonically and lyrically, it also leaves more traditional listeners yearning for the days of old-school jams. This is the void that Raheem DeVaughn has consistently filled for the past two decades.
The Grammy-nominated vocalist established his classic approach to music-making with 2005’s The Love Experience, which blended his seductive crooning with rhythms just as slick. Eight studio albums in and DeVaughn has not only remained loyal to his vision of being a hopeless romantic (the word “love” appears in each project title), but he also knows how to keep his sound fresh. Recruiting Apollo Brown, who has worked with the likes of Ghostface Killah, Ras Kass and Skyzoo, was an intentional move to elevate the singer’s signature stylings with edgier production. And for the most part, the formula works.
“If You’re The One,” which features the aforementioned Skyzoo, kicks things off on a high note; the beat pulsates just the right amount and is commanding but not overpowering. DeVaughn’s verses flow like bars and the rapper’s brief cameo punctuates the poetic nature of the track. “Just Fall in Love,” alongside Westside Boogie, follows a similar route. “One Time,” with singer Becky Cane, shows off the clarity of her voice and pays homage to neo-soul. However, the best song on Lovesick is “What a Man,” which possesses Motown flare and is saturated with James Brown-inspired chants. Subtle horns brilliantly break up the booming percussion and make the song infectious.
At times, DeVaughn gets too caught up in heavy-handed sexual metaphors for certain tracks to feel enjoyable. He passionately professes to a potential lover how he’ll make her “squirt like a water hose” on “If I Made Love To You” and “melt like ice cream” on the confectionary “On Top.” Surprisingly, “Zaddy” which features 3D Na’Tee, is even more amorous than either of those songs. It is also a manifesto in which he declares his irresistible sexual prowess, but in simpler terms and phrases. Even “Rick James” is gentler than expected amidst commentary on how freaky DeVaughn is feeling.
This irony makes for a more enticing listen, which is what the star has come to specialize in. Lovesick is a robust offering despite how DeVaughn’s own libido nearly distracts us from it. He can make anything sound good, so grabbing our attention is no longer a challenge for the artist—it’s keeping it that proves to be more of an obstacle. With the thrilling addition of Brown, DeVaughn rises to the occasion and gives further credence to the power of R&B. He also reminds fans of its origins while showing how creative evolution is endless when you stay true to who you are.
Candace McDuffie is a culture writer whose work has appeared in outlets like Rolling Stone, MTV, NBC News, and Entertainment Weekly. You can follow her on Instagram @candace.mcduffie.