I grew up in the church. No, I don't think you understand me. I grew up IN the church! I spent nearly as much time in the house of the Lord as I spent in the house of my parents. Bible study, youth choir practice, usher’s meeting. You name it, we were there. And at almost every church function we attended, there was music. Now, some churches have a piano as their primary musical instrument, but ours had an organ. The kind with two manuals (keyboards) and foot pedals. Our organist was young too, so sometimes at choir practice you’d get to hear a couple notes of Jodeci on the church organ. Occasionally you might even hear the keyboard bridge of SWV’s “I'm So In To You" during service! I've said all that to say, I have an affinity for music with a church vibe. It's ingrained in me.
So when I first heard Daniel Caesar's "Hold Me Down" on Pandora (the music streaming choice of washed people everywhere) I can't say that I was immediately drawn in. I definitely dug the vibe of the song. The lyrics weren't exactly “churchy” but still, I was feeling it. But then there was a moment about halfway through the song where the beat switches. The original beat ends with a drumroll, followed by a brief moment of silence, then enter the dulcet tones of acoustic guitar followed by a melodic female voice. Then Caesar's voice follows.
I think to myself, “Wait, this sounds familiar… Did he just interpolate Kirk Franklin's “Hold Me Now?”
Yes. He. Did!
Ok, so now I have to hear the rest of the album. So I cop “Freudian” and what is the sound I hear at the very beginning of of the very first track? A Hammond B3 organ. Bruh. BRUH! If you're not familiar with the B3, check out Ray Charles, Booker T & the MGs, or Bobby Blue Bland. Or better yet, take a drive to a church down south on a Sunday morning where the roads are dirt, the pews are hard, and the cell phone signal is non existent. Chances are they have a Hammond B3 (and one window unit a/c struggling to cool the entire sanctuary). The B3 exudes soul!
Immediately after hooking me with the first track, “Get You", he comes right back with with an acoustic duet with H.E.R. on “Best Part”. The two trade verses, explaining how if life were a movie, the other would be the best part. Yeah, now I'm hooked. And if I wasn't hooked before, he follows “Hold Me Down" with “Neu Roses (Transgressor’s Song) where he carries on the tradition of nayhoo and puts me right into a glass case of 90’s emotion. Another song with a mid track beat change, “Neu Roses" goes from a soothing acapella to a slow driving funky bassline that finds Caesar lamenting a relationship that has lasted too long, yet he still can't pull himself away.
The album is full of piano, organ, and guitar sounds that are a clear reflection of him also growing up in the church, but no other song on the album says church quite like “Loose". You could play the instrumental for “Loose" at altar call and not a single saint would bat an eye. And after listening to the lyrics I even found myself with my head bowed and my hand raised high as I felt the song speak deep truths every young man should abide by:
I mean, he ain't preaching, but he ain't lying either.
Rounding out the album with songs like “We Find Love” (with a hook that seems to lift ever so slightly from “We Fall Down” by Donnie McClurkin), “Blessed”, and “Transform”, it’s clear that Caesar is firmly rooted in a gospel influence but with a new era aesthetic. Where artists from previous generations may have not dared to sing lyrics nearly as suggestive and blunt as Caesar’s, he does so while not seeming to be a glaring contrast to his music.
All things considered, this album leaves me wondering if his next wilhttps://open.spotify.com/album/3xybjP7r2VsWzwvDQipdM0?si=fUFZ0FTATxa8gut3E3C5Hwl hit all of the notes that “Freudian” did. Let us pray that it does.