Jimmy Lee

Jimmy Lee

Producer, bassist, and Tony! Toni! Toné! cofounder Raphael Saadiq steps away from classic soul (2008’s The Way I See It and 2011’s Stone Rollin’) to tell a tragic personal story. Jimmy Lee refers to his older brother, who was addicted to heroin and died of an overdose in the ’90s. Saadiq draws on the struggles he witnessed and experienced to create the most personal album of his career. “It’s about my brother, it’s about me growing up to be a man versus a boy, and the vulnerabilities and frailties we have in life,” he tells Apple Music’s Ebro. Given the fragile subject matter, the songs on Jimmy Lee are dark, leaning on supple soul and gospel as both vessel and confessional. Perspectives move from an addict’s (“Sinners Prayer,” “So Ready,” “Kings Fall”) to those caught in the addict’s crossfire (“This World Is Drunk”). A burst of clarity emerges on “I’m Feeling Love” (“You are my rehab/The only needle that I have/Injections every day/Vein to vein, I’m here to stay”) before returning back to fatal urges. The aftermath begins with “Belongs to God,” a church spiritual that mysteriously ends and opens into the ominous self-examination “Glory to the Veins.” “Rikers Island” is split in two parts: one a gospel-delic protest against the physical and psychological incarceration of African Americans, the second a pleading spoken-word piece voiced by actor Daniel J. Watts. Then an uncredited Kendrick Lamar steps up for the chorus on the album closer, “Rearview” (“How can I lead the world when I’m scared to try/Why should I need the world, we all gon’ die,” he posits). Jimmy Lee is a chilling lamentation. Like Sly Stone and Marvin Gaye, Saadiq uses soul music as a transformative tool, embracing darkness in order to shed light.

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