Tatyana Ali, mostly known as Ashley Banks from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, hasn’t released music since her Will Smith-assisted, Michael Jackson label (MJJ in partnership with the WORK Group) August 1998 debut release, Kiss the Sky. Not that she has not been busy with various acting projects, including the 2009-2010 web series, Buppies, and stints on TV series, the now cancelled one season, Second Generation Wayans and the first three seasons of Love That Girl! that went on to feature Reagan Gomez. But, she finally got back to music earlier this year with the independently released 5-track EP, Hello, in January. Here is a track-by-track review followed by an overview of the whole project.
1. “Wait For It”
A slinky R&B jam that harkens to old school joints with a fun callout at the 2:14 mark. Great and fun song to kick off the EP. Breathy and throaty delivery adds depth. Definitely a ladies’ jam that a group of girlfriends can dance and sing along to at the club or a private party. A groovin’ romp about knowing when the mister and the feeling are just right.
2. “Almost Love”
Nice vocal variety without going over the top on this hip-hop-lite-beat-backed mid-tempo. Anguish, affection, and acceptance are all present in Ali’s voice on this star-crossed love song. The lower background beat that opens the record and drops out and back in again midway through sounds a lot like 50 Cent’s “In Da Club.” The main musical elements are layered over it to nice effect. Noteworthy lyric: love is just a gateway drug…
3. “Last Summer”
Sounds like a modern 2014 update on a Jody Watley track. You’ll be scratching your head to figure out what that Jody sample is, but maybe there isn’t one. Or maybe there’s a similar lyric or two. Whatever the case, “Last Summer,” about another missed opportunity at what could have been true love, is that good and stands on its own. Sometimes the exact repetition of lyrics right after one another can be boring and, well, repetitive. Here the back-to-back repetitions add to the rhythm of the song and glide effortlessly over the groove of the beat. Singsong quality and talking sections add a sexiness.
4. “Worth the Weight”
A play on words in the title leads into this refreshing contemplation on a sister relationship. When most songs by women are about love and men whether good or gone bad, it’s nice to hear something about siblings and how complicated those relationships can be, too. Who can’t relate who doesn’t have a brother or sister? So, kudos on lyrical content that is universally relatable, understandable, and to-the-point. Musically, not the standout track, but not unlistenable, either. Probably the most traditionally R&B song on the EP. Sing-along-in-the-car-worthy with its da-da-das, simple poetic verses, and lush chorus.
Title track seems to serve as intro to the EP with spoken introduction even though it’s last on the tracklist. Uses hello, good morning phrasing reminiscent of the Diddy — Dirty Money song of that title. Nice and strong vocal delivery on the most lyrically ambitious song on the EP. Shows some atypical phrasing that flows like a journal entry or regular conversation. Fitting since the song seems to be about finally accepting yourself and feeling comfortable in your own skin. Smooth mellow groove with soothing not so loud repetitive drumbeat in the background. Soft oohs and ohs add to its soothing nature. Noteworthy lyric: I’m a drop of water in a restless sea.
For someone who was a fan of Kiss the Sky, Tatyana Ali has cultivated a nice new R&B/pop sound for herself 15 years later. The Hello EP is cohesive, but each song is unique. Though the songs on the EP don’t sound like you’re listening to different versions of the same song over and over, they all still sound like Tatyana Ali songs. This is a challenging feat for all artists to achieve and Tatyana Ali has done it! With this EP and sound Ali has, definitely, carved her own lane. She doesn’t sound like anybody else and there isn’t a bad song in the bunch. Though, there are better songs. A fun, bouncy, danceable, more R&B than pop, sing-along-worthy mini-collection with interesting lyrics and contemplations from an artist that should have continued to release music after that initial foray. Here’s to hoping that we don’t have to wait another 15 years to hear new music from Ms. Ali. Standout Track: “Last Summer” If I Were To Skip One Song It Would Be: “Hello”