Contemporary R&B fell off in the early '10s. On the male side particularly. Aside from reliable, established individuals like Usher and Trigga Trey, there was a time where the newer people on the scene took a turn away from traditional lineage. Artists like Miguel and The Weeknd, while hitting the Pop demographic, left fans of the '90s swing having to resort to old acts to get their fix. Once artsy media found Frank Ocean, they didn't have the enough capacity to hail another R&B upstart, despite their unquestionable talent. New Orleans had someone the world needed to hear, and they went by the name August Alsina.
It would be a stretch to call the music innovative or extraordinary, but August Alsina's intro to the game was very necessary. Once his mixtape grind turned into radio play, it wasn't long before he hit us with his major label debut “Testimony” in 2014. Shows with Trey Songz and Chris Brown early in his career reinforced his place alongside the era's best seductive crooners, as he delighted scores of (let's face it, mainly teenage) girls.
A few people had tried to make Trap&B a ‘thing', but by '14, those jaunty drum patterns and booming bass lines were the standard for all BET-approved audio. Having Drumma Boy, one of the sound's innovators at the helm, gives the release production direction. Elsewhere lesser known talent like The Exclusives and The Featherstones make this a very complete album. He kicks things off with purpose on the opener, giving a story-to-date intro, assisted by empowering an instrumental.
While we may be used to little more than make ups, loving and break ups on contemporary R&B records, August boldly decides his debut is an opportunity to internal battles, hardships and discusses struggles with mental health (most notably on “FML”). At no point does he – or his troupe of expert beatsmiths – allow it to drain on the vibe. Every track fuels the emotion for the next one.
August lends on Hip Hop sensibilities with rap-like melodies, the heavy production and also the array of guest stars. He calls upon the assistance of Nicki Minaj, Yo Gotti, Pusha-T and Rick Ross along the way, and they all seem at home with his refined strain of R&B. Even when he’s doing things solo, he’s commanding these juiced up musical arrangements with the skill of an MC.
August’s vocal abilities are constantly tested here, and he constantly reaches deeper to showcase his talent. Whether he’s juxtaposing Gospel-style delivery with street tales on “Benediction” or admitting his wrongdoings to a loved one on “You Deserve”, the delivery is always crisp. To stand up with the heavyweights in the field, you need to go there with your voice, and that’s exactly what we receive at each turn.
The album feels like the culmination of an eventful of a young’n’s life. The grind has paid off, yet he’s weary of an even greater mountain to climb to maintain this new lifestyle. It's a very complete and unexpectedly autobiographical body of work that takes several sonic twists along the way. By the end, there's a sense of satisfaction, calming after the rollercoaster of emotions that preceded it.
“Testimony” may not get the accolades of a classic, but it completes any respectable R&B collection. Before R&B was littered with Dancehall remakes we had people like this to celebrate. As fresh today as it was on release. The ideal way to kick off a budding career. Give August a round of applause.
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