Names are attached to memories. The initial impression left by a musician is often tied to a piece of art—a mixtape, an album, or a song. In an age of surplus releases and multiple avenues of discovery, it has become increasingly more difficult to pinpoint the first time a new act arrives on our radar. It’s special when you remember that magic moment.
Masego’s guest appearance on GoldLink’s “Late Night,” a track from the DC native's 2015 sophomore mixtape And After That, We Didn’t Talk, was an instant thrill. I didn't recognize his voice but I was arrested by its soul, like his vocals were dipped in molasses. Encountering the unknown and feeling the joy of a pleasant surprise is the benefit of a standout guest appearance. The Virginia native’s feature was brief, yet memorable. I remembered his voice and his name.
Standing out with a sound that sticks is required when you want to be remembered. Before the release of “Late Night,” Masego made a name for himself with a brand of music that fused elements of jazz, house, and trap music. The concept, in theory, is hard to imagine as an entity that excites instead of overwhelms. It’s a feat to fuse genres, and the execution is more important than the idea.
Incredibly, Masego garnished attention by capably constructing a melting pot where these sonic worlds could intersect and coexist. Making it sound effortless gave the 25-year-old multi-instrumentalist a unique space to operate in.
It’s been three years since Billboard premiered Pink Polo, the seven-track EP created by Masego and Dallas producer Medasin. The breakout project showed promise of something that was still in the early stages of development but with a precise sense of vision. With Lady Lady, Masego’s debut album, the potential displayed throughout Pink Polo becomes fully realized.
There’s a richness in the layering of jazzy saxophone riffs, hip-hop's infectious bounce, R&B’s soft smoothness, and the swing of house. Lady Lady is a five-course meal that feeds a variety of records on an accessible silver platter.
On the interlude “24 Hr. Relationship,” Masego puts a 2018 spin on André 3000’s "Where Are My Panties" interlude from OutKast’s 2003 dual album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Lady Lady lives in a similar universe as The Love Below, an album committed to women and experimentation. André used The Love Below to showcase the range of his creative aptitude beyond rap; Masego operates with the same box-less ingenuity.
The two albums aren’t similar in sound or style, but rather freedom and thoughtfulness. The Love Below told a generation of rappers what leaving the confines of a genre sounds like, while Lady Lady exemplifies not leaving but never picking one style to be your voice.
Lady Lady celebrates diversity in music but also women. On the groovy standout “Old Age,” Masego and TDE's West Coast songbird SiR honor older, sophisticated women. It’s the same concept as Cozz’s “Freaky 45” but replaces the lusty message with warm chords and childlike admiration. On the seventh track, “Queen Tings,” the vocalist playfully references a woman of queen stature by referencing highly esteemed women like Sharon Leal, Lisa Bonet, Solange Knowles, and Rashida Jones. Completing the record with a sweet sax solo is the cherry on top.
Masego also mentions Aaliyah and interpolates “Rock the Boat” on the second verse of “I Had A Vision,” but he cuts himself off. “Shut up, you can’t clear that sample,” he says. Women aren’t made into trophies on Lady Lady, but Masego places them on the highest pedestal.
Masego's artistic strength lies in his musicality, and where Lady Lady finds its weak point is in his songwriting. Though he has a voice that perfectly blends with his beds of soul and jazz music, there’s room for Masego's pen to grow. For instance, on the hard-hitting "Shawty Fishin’ (Blame The Net)," while he hits the right notes while singing the hook, the rapping is a much harder sell. Of course, it's easy to be swept into how a song sounds and not what’s being said.
The same can be said of “Lavish Lullaby”; the way Masego doesn’t fully enunciate his words is reminiscent of Future, but without the heavy usage of Auto-Tune. "Lavish Lullaby" might be the most pleasant mumble rap ever recorded, but the song doesn’t truly pop until the closing bridge where Masego brags about being Kobe with the love.
Vocally, I prefer the Masego who appears on “Tadow,” with an added texture to the vibrant sounds exploding across the record. The extended, original version of “Tadow," a collaboration with producer FKJ that was released over a year ago, doesn’t feature a vocal performance until the four-minute mark, and yet, the captivation never wavers. Even without his voice, Masego's music is the star.
Ultimately, that's the sticking point with Lady Lady—you can remove all of Masego's vocals, and you'll still have a noteworthy jazz project. The music is already there, but with an increased focus on his songwriting, the next step in the evolution to his final artistic form will be complete.
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