Stokley – Introducing Stokley (2017)

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Since way back in the early ’90s, Stokley Williams has been the face of Mint Condition, one of the most renowned acts in R&B history. Mint Condition became the definition of a band, using their fresh, live instrumentation to craft some of the most memorable tracks of the 90s.

And while Stokley’s matchless vocals became synonymous with Mint Condition’s hits, he always resisted the urge to drop the seemingly inevitable solo album.

That is, until now. Introducing Stokley is an album more that two decades in the making and don’t worry, Stokley does not disappoint.

A word of warning to those expecting this album to be Mint Condition light – don’t get your hopes up. “Level,” the album’s first single and brightest gem, certainly is crafted in the mold of Mint Condition’s biggest hits. Stokley’s flawless vocals and the feel-good vibe put this one in the conversation for best R&B track of 2017. But the song – and the album itself – is more about progression than imitation.

Stokley celebrates natural beauty on “Organic,” shunning “girls that’s quick to show off everything” in favor of women who embrace the simple things. The track’s groovy, no-frills production accentuates that message. The lyrics of “Think About U” are just as poignant, with Stokely coping with a long distance love with doting maturity: “Unlock my phone, you’re picture’s there to soothe my ‘I miss you’s.’”

While the album starts off with the midtempo grooves that have long been his hallmark, Stokley spends the rest of album cycling through various musical stylings. Seriously, the man swaps beats like Rihanna swaps wigs. But in most cases, Stokley doesn’t miss a step.

A heavy electric guitar brings the thunder on “Forecast” to help Stokley lament rainy days – “all love leaves an aftermath … our love needs an epitaph.” “Art in Motion” is sheer elegance, thanks to maestro Robert Glasper’s score. Stokley teams with Estelle for “U & I” a gentle duet with just enough hip-hop edge to spice up the proceedings. Meanwhile, “Cross the Line” gives the tempo a dose of adrenaline, feeling a bit like the sort of track Michael Jackson would deliver if he was still with us.

Stokley acclimates himself well on the Latin-tinged “Victoria,” though his ad-libs get a little too silly by track’s end. The lustful “Hold My Breath” also gets a bit too cute for its own good but the songs aren’t total losses. In fact, the album’s only misfires are “Way Up,” which woefully tries to wedge Stokley’s vocals into the urban playlists, and the unnecessary “Wheels Up,” which just feels like a lesser version of the vastly superior “We/Me.” The latter is introspection at its best: “Scared to drive and frightened to fly/afraid to fail so you won’t even try … I’m not complaining, just contemplating.”

In many ways, Introducing Stokley isn’t the album many of us were expecting. It’s not the vocal showcase we know Stokley is capable of, nor is it a 45 minute nostalgia act. Instead, it plays out more like an exhibition of Stokley’s musical diversity – heights that could only be achieved by decades of experience.