There’s something very alluring about DJ Jazzy Jeff and the sweltering summer months. It’s been twenty years since he and The Fresh Prince released “Summertime.” And although Jeff didn’t produce the hit single, we still lose it when we hear that familiar Kool & The Gang sample and those effervescent record scratches. Almost ten years ago, the Philadelphia native stepped out on his own and released The Magnificent, a hefty 18-track album that not only suffocated the 80 minutes one can use on a CD, it solidified Jeff’s position as a dynamic producer worthy of his own lane outside the vaunted Will Smith shadow.
That album — just like the ones that succeed it — is light and summery, providing a sophisticated glimpse into Jeff’s understated brand of hip-hop/soul fusion. So it’s not surprising that his collaborative album with Toronto singer Ayah is breezy and nostalgic, down to the familiar soul samples used for the instrumentals. To that end, Back For More serves its purpose as a safe, feel-good record suited for after work happy hours and summertime cookouts. These rhythms flow effortlessly and go down easy, but they won’t knock you out.
At least Ayah makes her intentions well known in advance. “Play this in your car on your radio/Listen on the train after a long day,” she sings on “Press Play,” the album’s quick intro with Stevie Wonder’s disembodied voice looped within the melody. In some ways, Back For More is the prototypical depiction of what soul music is supposed to be: melodic drum taps, heartfelt messages of struggle and lovelorn musings of romance gone awry. It’s also a decent nod to hip-hop soul, with charming contemporary rhythms and punchy lyricism. But at times, it feels a little too easy and doesn’t resonate long after the first listen.
On many of the album’s 13 tracks, Jeff dusts off a few favorites and restructures them for Ayah’s contemplative look into life’s happenings. “Make It Last” is a direct loop of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me,” while “Forgive Me Love” and “Maybe We Can Just” recreate The Isleys’ “The Highways of My Life” and Barry White’s “Playing Your Game, Baby,” respectively. And Ayah is edgy at times, filling the songs with a mixed bag of singing and rapping. “The Game,” for instance, is a clear album highlight, which finds the vocalist warning listeners against life’s pitfalls. All told, Back For More is a solid collaboration for Jeff and Ayah, and another decent banger for the summer heat. Now bring on the dog days.