Baby Jaymes 

Ghetto Retro

Prince's diminutive shadow looms large over Oakland singer Baby Jaymes' debut album, so let's get the Purple One references out of the way now. It's all there: the soul-on-a-roll vibe, the self-referential lyrics, the hint of gospel, the fevered sexuality. Jaymes not only sounds like Prince circa Dirty Mind, he even looks a little like him. But while Mr. Rogers Nelson fretted over his ambiguous androgyny, Jaymes' big issues revolve mainly around race-mixing.

The musky overtures of "Nasty R&B" and Hott 4 Me" show Jaymes is serious about getting his hardcore jollies on, while on "So Ghetto" (featuring Keak da Sneak), Minneapolis-influenced funk meets the Oakland stroke. But that merely sets the stage for the potent combo of "Miss Taboo" (featuring George Clinton) and "Black Girl/White Girl," wherein Jaymes discusses the relative merits of chocolate vs. vanilla. That these topics still sound outrageous, freaky, and scandalous is a reminder how little society has advanced, but Jaymes' humpin' grooves suggest maybe we can all get along. After all, color doesn't matter when you're naked and sweaty in the dark.

Jaymes may be a bedroom stallion, but he's no one-trick pony -- the second half of Ghetto Retro proves just as engaging as the first. "Ghetto Life" would be textbook neo-soul, except for its edgy lyrics (I get up but I don't feel good/'Cuz I know I have to face this 'hood), but what else would you expect from a product of the Oakland streets? "All I Want" and "Retrolove" could be lost Tony Toni Tone classics, "West Coast Bounce" will make you do just that, and "Soulfinger" lives up to its claim of being "one step ahead" of the R&B game. The production -- equally modern and retro -- is at times raw-sounding, but refreshingly so, which comes as welcome relief to a tired genre that's played it way too safe since the days of "Do Me Baby." Jaymes is no Prince, but he might one day be a king of soul music.

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