The debut solo album from the unmistakable voice of Mint Condition, Stokley Williams was digitally released on June 23rd 2017. Long-time Mint Condition fans obviously felt like they already knew the man, so calling it “Introducing Stokley” was a bit of a head-scratcher for them, but it still worked out, as this seemed to be Stokley introducing himself a solo artist. Unfortunately the actual disc never came out internationally. However, it just so happens that an Australian retailer on eBay had a copy that was shipped with the quickness. So, then, what else have ya got, Mr Wanna Be Album Reviewer? Nothing? Well just get into the review then, sucka! Oh, actually, there IS something else: The artwork for this album was designed by a fellow named Troy Gua, who also designed a series of very life-like Prince dolls. Surely, he could’ve come up with a better album cover than this one! Onto the review… 4 real this time! And please keep in mind, it’s just one man’s personal opinion:
Level: There’s no other way to put it: Stokley is in love. And he’s all shook up. Or rather, he’s found somebody who’s on his level and he’s so glad that he’s finally done so. It is therefore presumed that the song is about his wife. It’s a great meshing of “old school” and “new school” sounds, comprising of a much more modern sounding beat, slapped bass lines and of course, some “futuristic” vocals. “Our volumes in stereo.” Quite a creative lyric there from Mr Williams. If memory serves one correctly, this would’ve been the first single from the album. It says in the credits that Ledisi is on backing vocals. Cool.
Organic: Next up is a straight-up ballad, which is quite reminiscent of his band Mint Condition’s style. He’s talking about meting his woman for the first time & being impressed by her self confidence. “You don’t gotta try just do,” he croons in the chorus, encouraging her to just be herself, which is of course a very vital message. He compares her love to a plant that is growing organically. At the end of the song, he goes off into a Prince-styled spoken word piece where he tells his girl that he hasn’t got any coffee or sugar. Instead, he has organic tea. Specifically, he has Turmeric. He then takes a sip from his mug and illustrates his point that: “It’s hot!” He certainly likes to make things humorous. More on that later.
Think About U: The first song on the album, which features Stokley on Steel Pan Drums, which is definitely something different from him, despite the song still having a very “Mint” flavour. It’s a little more upbeat this time as well. And it’s yet another love song about Stokley not having to think about his woman, it just happens naturally for him. Yes, the man is officially smitten. And that’s how it should be.
Cross the Line: The next time you go out to a club and you see a girl you like, try approaching her by scatting the phrase: “I wanna dance.” There’s a pretty good chance you wouldn’t be able to pull it off, but Stokley does and he’s absolutely incredible. Other than that, this song has a very Jacksons/Latin staccato type of vibe that obviously makes you want to get up and shake something. And that’s the whole point. This song is funky. ‘Nuff said.
Art In Motion (feat. Robert Glasper): Here comes another love ballad, in which Stokley compares his woman to, among other things, a classical piece of music by Beethoven, a ballet dance by Misty Copeland and a jazz session orchestrated by Quincy Jones. It’s interesting that he mentions Misty, as the song has a very Prince-styled beat behind it and she was one of his dancers later in his career. What more needs to be said? It’s a great tune.
Hold My Breath: Starting off with a vocoder and then moving off into a very Michael Jackson “Rock With You”/“Off The Wall” era type of sound. Stokley sings of “diving in” while Tsunamis wash over his head. He asks: “How many licks will it take to get you to climax?” It doesn’t exactly take a rocket scientist to figure out what he’s talking about, which is clearly of a very adult nature. He played all the instruments on this one and played them well. Very talented dude. Again, you could say that this one is great for dancing. Well… maybe if you ignore the lyrics, which are still nothing compared to the songs that would normally be blaring out of a club.
Victoria: Seems as though this is some kind of break-up song, in which Stokley has been “left for dead,” by a woman that he’s decided to dub “Victoria,” who is played by Terry Ellis from En Vogue. If Stokley was trying to go for something very off-beat and quirky, then he’s hit the nail on the head. He’s also given the tune a very Caribbean flavour, as he’s once again featured playing a set of Steel Drums and even imitating a very bad Caribbean accent: “Thank you, Clifford!” Whether or not that was intentional, we’ll never know. Actually it even sounds like he’s trying to do an old English type of accent as well. It’s hard to see where he was going with this one. Greg Boyer from Parliament/Funkadelic and a much later incarnation of Prince’s band, The New Power Generation is featured on Trombone.
U & I (feat. Estelle): Taking its tempo from the Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes tune “Pretty Flower,” this duet with British soul singer, Estelle is yet another love song, which is clearly a bit more Hip-Hop based. It isn’t all that deep, it’s just about two people who are clearly smitten with each other. There seems to be something about it that’s kinda playful as well. It’s nice to listen to, as it’s very light and breezy. Surprisingly, it’s quite similar to its original sample as well.
Way Up (feat. Wale): The hip-hop vibe continues on this next one, in which Stokley sings about being uplifted by his woman, which he compares to walking on the moon. He collaborates with a rapper named Wale, who drops a particular rhyme that was clearly winking right at Stokley: “Mint condition her outfit, give me pretty brown agenda!” But we could’ve done without the other line about panties dropping while he’s “harder than trigonometry.” All right then, what’s next?
Be With U: “Contrary to rumour, Gigolos get lonely, too.” Oh, wait, I thought I had the wrong CD in my changer for a second there. Ha! Anyway, Stokley’s back on the steel drums on this one and… obviously it’s kinda reminiscent of a certain ballad by The Time in certain places. Whoa! He breaks out his bass and he THUMPS on it. Stokley is funky…. wit’ a O. He’s definitely jamming on this one. It’s pretty cool, especially when he asks his woman if she likes his playing. Again, very Princely of him.
Forecast: For Stokley to be saying that his love needs an epitaph and that the sun is never going to shine, he must have really had his heart broken. But, you never really know with these songwriters, it could all be fiction for all we know. Still, the song is, once again slightly Prince-inspired, especially with the beat and guitar riff. He’s definitely keeping the old soul tradition alive here, as he compares the demise of his relationship to “stormy weather.”
Victoria (Reprise): A much jazzier version this time around, so the horns are a lot more prominent on the track. Clearly, this is just a bit of fun, because whomever it is that’s on vocals (they are uncredited) is imitating Louis Armstrong… or is that the Cookie Monster? I don’t think so. Actually, it should also be noted that “Victoria” was not written by Stokley, it was a hip-hop producer named Sam Dew.
We/Me: Stokley tries his hand at a bit of reggae. And he doesn’t do a bad job. Essentially, this song is about wanting to change the world and the first thing to start with is yourself. Says it all, really. Definitely an encouraging message that must be heard. The live instrumentation is on point here and Stokley absolutely sings his ass off towards the end. Technically he’s warbling, but he’s not annoying!
Now: Essentially, this is a song about, well… intimacy, put it that way. Stokley makes a reference to wearing “God’s underwear,” which could also be interpreted as not wearing anything at all. It features him imitating some kind of wah-wah guitar riff, which, funnily enough Raphael Saadiq did on his first solo album as well. There always was a comparison between Tony Toni Tone & Mint Condition, after all. Other than that, it certainly has a more modern twist to it, especially towards the end.
Wheels Up (feat. Omi): Yes, Stokley has collaborated with the guy who does that “Cheerleader” song and even though Omi doesn’t consider himself a reggae or dance hall artist, it sounds like they’ve come up with something along those lines regardless. Again, he has the steel drums happening. It’s probably the most commercial sounding song on the album. Not a bad track, though.
Verdict: Overall, Stokley has managed to deliver a mostly very solid debut album: He has some great dance tunes, some heartfelt ballads and yes even the odd experimental tune that makes wonder what the funk is going on. In short, it’s typical Stokley…. with a much more futuristic vibe. Hopefully he will continue to release new music under his own name and with his band, Mint Condition as well. Of course, only time will tell.