In the hip-hop world, mixtapes have long provided a place for MCs to be their most spontaneous, most unbridled, and often most creative selves. They're also a way to give fans a preview of what's to come on the official releases. Yet, prior to Trey Songz and Anticipation I, R&B singers had rarely taken advantage of the format's freedoms. Released two months ahead of his third studio album, Ready, in 2009, Anticipation I qualified as a bold move by Songz and his mentor and producer Troy Taylor, one that could've felt like too much too soon. But the gamble pays off in every respect. Though largely comprising songs recorded during the making of Ready, Anticipation I is as consistently engaging as its successor, which is a testament to the singer's creativity and productivity. An ecstatic ode to pleasure featuring a grandly scaled production by Taylor, "Scratchin Me Up" elicits one of Songz's most impassioned vocal performances to date. He maintains the intensity levels on the brooding "Does She Know" and "You Belong to Me" before "On Top" and "It Would Be You" sees him trade that fire for some smoldering Quiet-Storm balladry. The latter song's shades of dreamy '70s soul come even more strongly to the fore on "Make It Rain." Whereas Ready features a starry line-up of guest artists and outside producers, Anticipation I gives Songz and Taylor space to be the dominant creative forces. And though they emphasize the sensuous vocal performances, rich textures, and tight beats that are so fundamental to Songz's sound, they also embrace the mixtape's capacity for unpredictability. For proof of how well he adapts to the format's possibilities, there is the cascading '80s-style synths that add luster to "Famous" or the deft reworking of The-Dream's "I Luv Your Girl" on "She Ain't My Gurl," on which Songz and guest vocalist Sammie describe the advantages of being someone's piece on the side.