Contemporary R&B has made an interesting jump from love and affection, to smooth street tales and August Alsina, 23 is at the forefront of its transformation. Ruminative, vulnerable and hollow best describe This Thing Called Life, the sophomore album from the Def Jam Recording artist. The follow-up to 2013’s Testimony shows the singer battling with fame, fortune and family, opening up to fans with his raw, no-holds-barred songwriting.
The New Orleans native, whose scarred vocals seem more like a cry for help, are shaky, as he tries his best to navigate away from the ghosts of his tormented past. “Song Cry,” the album’s third single, packs a eerie punch, speaking to the gritty reality of life and the singer’s struggle with family matters. “Change” in all of its vocal strength, flows as it bridges the dissonance between wanting change, and enacting it. “Look At How Far I’ve Come” is a successful attempt at moving toward a brighter future. With uplifting lyrical dexterity, Alsina gives hope to those in struggling circumstances, singing “I know some days you feel like giving up… tryna keep your head up, but you fed up, tryna stack your bread up.”
“TTCL,” although solidly constructed, is lacking in its ability to project a clear message, as it is overwhelmed with painstaking bottled emotions aching to be released. This could be reason for Alsina’s uncertainty throughout the 15 track-LP. Too often, the singer has more questions than answers. The album opens with the title track, which is oversaturated with questions that would compel one to offer Alsina a suicide hotline number. Furthermore, the repeat lyrical content about the loss of his brother, and inconsistent flow about the harsh realities of celebrity, showcase the album as disjointed, hurling listeners into a perplexed disposition that hurts it creatively.
This by no means says that the album is intolerable, as there are a few bright spots that ignite TTCL, mainly the album’s features. Such as “Job,” the Anthony Hamilton and Jadakiss assisted banger that is a testament to the young, black struggle many face today. While it takes a confident singer to allow Hamilton to sing the catchy and relatable hook, Alsina holds his own while gliding over the Sampha sampled beat. Second single “Why I Do It?” featuring a vintage Lil Wayne give listeners what they truly want from Alsina, beat thumping bounce tracks that showcase the star quality he possesses. The album’s latest single “Been Around The World,” is the strongest [of the four] released in support of the album’s promotion, and rightfully so, as repeat collaborator Chris Brown reinforces the “around the world in 80 days” concept. Besides, you can never go wrong with a clever Biggie Smalls sample. The most compelling track however, is toward the end of the album. The Jahiem-esque “American Dream” highlights the singer’s signature bounce and offers listeners inspiration and motivation in the most unique of ways.
At the end of the album opener Alsina asks the question “what is this thing called life?” To be honest, it doesn’t seem like he gets it quite yet. However, it is clear that although Alsina still does not know what this thing called life actually is, he’s trying really hard to understand his place in it.
The Urban Connect standouts “Job,” “Hollywood,” “Been Around The World,” “First Time,” “American Dream.”