After bouncing around for nearly 20 years in the industry, from writing for Six Feet Deep to playing funk to collaborating with the Roots, Cody ChesnuTT has managed to create a follow-up to his solo debut, The Headphone Masterpiece, and above all else, another easy-to-like record. It’s a simple formula that only few have mastered. It’s one where simple ideas of identity — whether based around spiritually, ethnically or socio-politically based roots — are the guiding force, not melody or voice; there’s reason to feel emotionally stronger after listening to this record.
There’s a freedom exerted on Landing on a Hundred, which at times could even be taken for arrogance — for example, the chorus of “I’ve Been Life,” which asserts, “since my birth / I’ve been the greatest / attraction on the earth / I’ve been / so much more than all the world and its worth” — but really, it’s self-empowerment, it’s belief in one’s ability to be great. Actually, it’s a self-assured tone not too far from the late ’90s, when, in the wake of a bloodied gangsta rap scene, Erykah Badu, Sade, India.Arie and even Lauryn Hill made sure that authenticity and an artists’ roots were all that mattered, were all that needed to be expressed to make something beautiful.
True to the form of most of those artists’ work, Landing on a Hundred is not hard to follow; the recipe that makes up most of these tracks is a chorus of horns and/or disco strings, a funky guitar and a simple backbone from the rhythm section. The ingenuity of the album comes from its eclecticism; from one track to the next, you can parse through a number of influences. The subtly melodic grooves of Marvin Gaye stand out most. None of these songs carry a strong melody, yet they all float along as if this is the only possible way they could be heard. Beyond that, there are flares of funky instrumentation reminiscent of Toots & the Maytals, the near-demonic energy of TV on the Radio (particularly on “Don’t Wanna Go the Other Way”) and soulful musings at the mic that should make Jamie Liddell blush. The only rule is no virtuosity; that’s an exclusionary tactic that leads listeners to think more technically than emotionally.
But while it succeeds greatly in an aesthetic sense, there’s weakness in its authenticity; you may feel it, but do you believe it? When ChesnuTT repeats that he’s the greatest attraction on this earth, does he actually believe it, or is it a platitude? Or maybe he is trying to inspire himself in ways he feels he should be, but really isn’t. This interrogation of thought is a roundabout way of questioning ChesnuTT’s passion. On Gaye’s most inimitable work — What’s Going On and Here, My Dear — the emotional intensity is palpable, undeniable, if it weren’t so compelling and beautifully composed, it would probably be awkward to listen to.
Don’t get me wrong: the record is very good, and his sound is even more refreshingly nostalgic given the recent resurgence of soul and R&B in the form of electronically trained composers and singers like The Weeknd and Frank Ocean. I’m merely pointing out that he hasn’t reached his creative summit yet. Now he just needs to become inspired, to embody uninhibited passion, for better or worse. On this record, he runs the gamut, scraping the surfaces of politics (“Where Is All The Money Going,” “Under the Spell of a Handout”) and nationalism (“I’ve Been Life”) and love (“Love Is More Than a Wedding Day”) and unity (“Scroll Call”) while simultaneously indulging in more shallow subject matter (“What Kind of Cool Will We Think of Next”); whereas Gaye explored a single topic until it was exposed in full color and detail, ChesnuTT moves on long before allowing his message to become truly affecting.