By Mackenzie Akin
Artist: Jay Cue
Album: Don’t Pick Sides
Release Date: January 11, 2019
Alternative R&B/hip-hop artist Jay Cue shows incredible potential and great versatility with his newest EP Don’t Pick Sides. The latest release takes listeners on a smooth, guitar heavy ride accompanied with rich vocals from Cue himself. The EP has a feeling of classic R&B funk and groove with just the right amount of rap to give it a fresh and punchy feel. Unlike past projects, Don’t Pick Sides steers away from the more computer generated, electronic sounding beats and explores a more raw and natural sound. Long time listeners of Cue may find themselves blindsided by the drastic change in style, but will learn to fall in love with the dream-like feelings and nostalgia Don’t Pick Sides is wrapped in.
The EP starts off with “Rollercoaster,” a song that speaks on the struggles Cue goes through in life, revealing the message that life goes up and down and can be unpredictable. “Rollercoaster” gives the listener a slow and hazy sound with reggae style guitar strokes and slow, carefully placed beats. “Rollercoaster” has the lazy feeling of a hot summer day and reminds the listener to relax. Cue uses his producing talents to match his sound perfectly to his lyrics. The song combines soothing reggae sounds with less than optimistic lyrics almost as if to tell the listener to enjoy the ride, even if life does feel like a rollercoaster.
The EP continues with “Colors,” a social commentary on the inequalities that exist within American society. The lyrics are clever and flow smoothly, giving the listener a satisfying “ah-ha” moment when the realization of what Cue is trying to say hits. The lyrics for this song aren’t as poetic as other artist’s lyrics might be, but the listener can come to appreciate that Cue isn’t trying to overcomplicate things. “Colors” has a message and conveys it well while still continuing the feeling of easiness that was introduced in the first track.
The general haziness of the EP is interrupted by “Don’t Pick Sides” and “System Overload.” The two tracks feel energetic while still keeping a smooth R&B flow. The tracks snap the listener out of the calming haze of the other songs in the EP. Listening to the two tracks give the listener no choice but to tap their feet and nod their head. “Don’t Pick Sides” has Cue singing in charming falsetto accompanied by kicky drums and staccato guitar strums. In an interview with blog Throwback Thursdays, Cue mentions that Pharrell Williams is a big influence in his music and it definitely shows in “Don’t Pick Sides” when that familiar falsetto kicks in. In “System Overload,” the listener hears Cue rap without layers of vocals for first time. This small segment induces excitement and seems to tease at what could come in the next album.
Some may be familiar with Cue’s former rap collective Nobody Really Knows (NRK), a group loosely signed by Odd Future. While it’s easy to find many influences from other artists signed to Odd Future in his work, Cue proves his creativity and originality as a solo artist and is able to showcase not only his rapping talents, but his singing and producing talents as well. It’s obvious that Cue has come a long way from his first studio album released in 2011, Pyramid Life. Yet, even in his earliest works, it’s easy to see the production quality that goes into his music. Don’t Pick Sides is meticulously put together. Every beat, vocal and guitar note come together in perfect harmony. Cue has put together an EP that can be best described as handmade. There is no spot that goes untouched and everything is made in a specific way in order to fit together and it all comes from Cue’s hands. Jay Cue truly shows off by producing, rapping and singing his music in a way that keeps the listener interested and excited for more of what is to come.