Lately, R&B has become an intolerable genre due to the swaggering egos and overally poor songwriting abilities of many of the notable artists within the genre. It is subject to the likes of Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, and Usher being the poster boys for the genre. The genre used to be called rhythm and blues until popular music took hold of it and bludgeoned it to death. It is a skeletal wreck of a genre with very little talent emerging from it, except for the occasional beacons of hope and light. Even when these artists do emerge, they are often relegated to being classified as alternative pop. Not catchy and mindless enough to be considered pop music, but still too brilliant to be classified as R&B. Jimmy Nevis is one of those artists.
The Cape Town born singer made waves in 2012 with the release of his debut album Subliminal. The album spawned numerous chart-topping singles, a country wide tour and a prestigious SAMA nomination for “Album of the Year”. The next two years have seen Jimmy Nevis honing his songwriting skills, and thus spawning his mature and thoughtful sophomore album, The Masses. With a degree in Sociology, it is only fitting that Jimmy Nevis breaks away from the love-hate structure of pop music on his new album to write an album that is, well, about the masses.
The Masses does not stick to the cut-and-paste structure of traditional pop music, hence his relegation to the realms of alternative pop. It rather focuses more on the emotional reaction that music provokes than trying its best to incorporate catchy hooks and memorable choruses. Dreamy tribal and urban influences give the album an ethereal and spaced-out feel along with the delicate piano melodies and the moments of occasional upbeat sincerity. It is a thought-provoking piece of socio-political commentary laced with the utmost amount of musical integrity. It is sort-of like Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts” except in an album format and done by a South African singer in his early twenties. Jimmy Nevis exposes both old and new wounds as he digs into out identities as South Africans. There is unique amount of sincerity and soulfulness as such a young man reaches into the country’s past and brings it to light in such a modern context.
The remarkable thing is that instead of harping on about old injustices, Jimmy Nevis rather focuses on the new injustices as a result of a corrupt system that allows the rich to become richer, while the poor wallow in poverty. This lyrical theme is particular in the song “Blue Collar”, which is literally about the vast amount of blue collar workers that slave away each day in South Africa just so they can put enough food on the table. The beautiful thing about each of these songs is that they are flecked with a hopeful sense of optimism as Jimmy Nevis looks to a brighter horizon.
I have never been a huge fan of Jimmy Nevis, but this was back in 2012 when I was still a hardcore metalhead. It is now 2014, and the both of us have matured musically. Jimmy Nevis matured as a songwriter and has delivered one of the most striking, and easily accessible pieces of social commentary seen in a modern era of South African music. I have matured in a way that his soulful melodies and sincerity touch my soul in a way that only good and proper rhythm and blues could do.