Last year, Georgia teenager Raury burst onto the scene with a kaleidoscopic debut project, Indigo Child, a batch of tunes with roots in folk, soul, hip-hop, and rock. The album art showed half of Raury’s vibrantly illustrated face, looking skyward; we were just getting to know him, but there were promising flashes of color, hints that he could ascend to the heights he was eyeing. The cover to his debut studio LP, All We Need, features a photo of the vocalist, shoulders up. We have a much better idea of who Raury is now: As the photo suggests, he’s still very young (19 to be exact), wide-eyed, ready to say something, eager to make a connection. Unfortunately, much like its predecessor, All We Need’s unflinching sincerity and positivity come with an equal portion of inconsistent, scattered focus.
From the onset, Raury is clearly biting off quite a bit. “Who’s going to save the dying man from his hunger?” he croons before putting even more on his plate. “Who’s going to take from the rich and give to the ones who never had a chance?/ Who’s going to wipe the tears?/ Are we ever going to overcome the fear?” The thing that we all need, his chorus insists, is love — but nearly 50 years after “All You Need Is Love”, the Lennon-y message rings a bit flat. Plus, the song opens on a synth burn, builds through a near-Neutral Milk Hotel acoustic guitar build, makes a stop at a trumpet solo, adds soulful harmonies, and closes only after a rap verse. Most of the pieces are pleasant, but they don’t really fit together. These two hitches continue to dog All We Need despite its charm.
“Lord save this burning earth,” Raury leads on the chanting “Revolution” over hand drums and 808 bass. “Rotting from the inside out, blood yet clout and clot the jugular of the insipid motherfucker called ‘humanity’ raping and damaging everything in its way, its daughter will be raised on McDonald’s and gasoline water.” The album’s primarily driven by a sincere wish for change and acknowledgment of the world’s ills, but it’s delivered in the near-slam poetry style of a teenager who has learned that things are shitty and wants desperately for them to change. But that style is typically coupled with a lack of a precise issue or solution to focus on, instead shouting about everything all at once. That said, the deep burn of the instrumental on “Revolution” is the kind of thing to inspire action to even vague demands for change.
Raury’s simple, yet passionate rap delivery doesn’t fare all that well when forced into shared space with established stars of the genre. “CPU” pairs him with RZA, wisely delivering lines through a gorgeous Auto-Tuned croon, but that just means that RZA’s stuck sleepwalking through some lines about reruns of Diff’rent Strokes. On “Forbidden Knowledge”, Raury drops lines in a skittering, unmodulated flow befitting the swaggering beat, which sets up far better for Big K.R.I.T., who nimbly dips and dives. The 19-year-old actively identifies as a Millenial on one track and jumps actively between genres like scrolling through a Facebook wall full of videos, but his delivery isn’t developed to the point that he can do the same with his voice.
Though he doesn’t always have something fascinating to say, All We Need shows Raury as a largely likable guy, whether he’s bragging about his dual MLK-Juicy J potential on the intense “Devil’s Whisper” or focusing on lovelorn R&B on “Her”. Many have likened Raury to Andre 3000 (and there are hints of Outkast’s influence, as when the bounce of “The Whole World” propels “Crystal Express”), but that’s just one of the constellation of stars that light his polymathic sky: Prince, Frank Ocean, N.E.R.D., jazz, folk, trap. Heck, he even mentions (and has previously covered) the Plain White T’s on “Peace Prevail”. It’s telling, though, that one of the most arresting performances of the album is “Mama”. It’s a saccharine R&B ballad to be sure, but hearing Raury promise his mother he won’t wind up like his father over a string glissando beats any number of vague shouts for change. Raury always sounds like he feels what he’s saying, but when he covers more personal territory, he sounds like he’s living what he’s saying too.
Essential Tracks: “Revolution”, “Devil’s Whisper”, and “Mama”