The singer, reality star, and social-media icon is joyous, projecting realness and flaunting considerable vocal chops.
As the Billboard Hot 100 becomes, thanks to Cardi B and Camila Cabello, more receptive to women of color who aren’t cooing support on a rapper’s tuff-love track, KIMBERLY: The People I Used to Know won’t get Michelle into the singles Top 10. Hell, at this point it won’t make many year-end top 10s either; a 21-track album may leave listeners winded. But she gives fewer fucks than she ever did, which results in a vocal commitment that makes her three previous albums look like warm-ups.
Joyous in its command, “Kim K” is the album’s centerpiece. Besides her considerable vocal chops, a large part of her appeal is the projection of realness. “Black girl who’s angry/Media can’t stand me,” she sings over chopped-up piano chords. And it’s for those feelings that black women like Michelle are dismissed while, in her reckoning, black men pull the same shit yet are awarded Grammys. As usual with Michelle, she eschews psychobabble for blunt talk; there’s little trace of Mary J. Blige’s influence on this Memphis native, whose cadences evince a deeper affinity for hip-hop. Keyed to a beat mimicking submarine sonar, opening track “Alert” makes those affinities clear, with “clarity” always her lodestar.
If a Chris Brown collaboration will get her streams and urban radio play, then she’ll do it: “I may never get this Grammy/But I’mma feed my family.” And she enjoys the perks, which include “Sleeping good at night, in the morning eating eggs and steak.”
Bawdy, courting foolishness, K. Michelle is a throwback to an earlier era of R&B and an ideal social media personality. Her voice is the unguent. KIMBERLY: The People I Used to Know may lack a thumper like “V.S.O.P.” or a slow jam as urgent as “Drake Would Love Me,” still her greatest performance, but it continues a remarkable four-album streak. And we need her as much as she needs us.