Grammy-nominated neo-soul singer Mayer Hawthorne and hip-hop producer Jake One team up for a peppy sequel to their debut as the group Tuxedo. Aptly named Tuxedo II, the 11 track album (released on March 24, 2017 by Stones Thrown Records) is a frolicking take on the funk and disco sounds reminiscent of the likes of Zapp, Chic, and more.
As evidenced by the release of Awaken, My Love by Childish Gambino and Ludwig Göransson, the revitalized funk sound requires more than bouncy bass lines, punchy percussion and eloquent synth melodies; In Gambino’s case the lyrical content, which was both personal and impassioned delivered a largely danceable album with the caveat of verses about racial tension, his new born son and more. YG manifested similar roots in a g-funk package on his sophomore album, Still Brazy, just as Thundercat played with those inspirations and created Drunk, a journey through the eyes of a recluse. Each of these releases is vying for a different consumer space than Tuxedo II, though they illustrate the perils of playing with a classic sound: the difficulty in mixing authenticity with innovation. The duo of Hawthorne and Jake One, at surface value, achieve the rudimentary funk sound of yesteryear, though the group is entirely lacking in personality.
Despite the aforementioned album comparisons, Tuxedo II is most comparable to Drake’s whitewashed renditions of dancehall and calypso “riddims,” not sonically so, but in terms of production and market space. On Tuxedo II, Jake One employs what are effectively 11 variations of the same “funk” beat, alternating between horn-led tracks, as on “Back in Town,” and “Scooters Groove” and synth focused beats. Simultaneously, Mayer Hawthorne presents an incredibly uninspired vocal performance, despite coexisting with Jake One’s production phenomenally. The duo’s cohabitation across the album leads to an aurally pleasing, if at times underwhelming, but critically unimaginative album.
Herein lies the problem in preparing such an album review: Tuxedo II is the perfect feel-good, inoffensive soundtrack to a summer cookout or family reunion that invokes memories of hopping around the dance floor, late night block parties and little else. Again, from a purely entertainment standpoint Tuxedo II is wholly enjoyable. Music students could even find teachings amidst Tuxedo’s joyful synths and hums, as the thematic continuity and track organization could exemplify a How to Make Funk Music for Dummies chapter. Each track begins with an increasingly layered melody, either with synths and horns leading the charge and the bass filtering in for backup or vice versa. Similarly each cut has a few measures of a reprise, in which the bass line takes off or listeners get a sweet brass solo. Each time these motifs resurface they are appealing albeit are too quickly expected from track to track.
Of the tracks, the most sonically dissimilar is the outro, “July,” on which Hawthorne croons about a love renewed with his filling and sultry vocals highly tailored to one of the album’s slowest melodies. Despite both of Tuxedo’s contributors playing nicely on the rest of the track list, “July” stands out as closer to Hawthorne’s neo-soul roots, while the energy of tracks like “Fux With The Tux” would be better suited to the energy and delivery of Bruno Mars, as on “Uptown Funk” or “24K Magic.” A guest spot by Snoop Dogg on the intro track fits the Long Beach rapper’s g-funk roots, while supporting vocals by Thundercat on “Rotational” invoke memories of his performance on Drunk. On the whole, Tuxedo II is simultaneously catchy, lively and thematically cohesive while presenting a lyrically colorless set of tracks bound to straddle an infectious line between boredom and elation.