Current-day rap and R&B is full of woozy 3am heartbreak, maudlin poetry and embarrassing #TMI set to hazy burbling beats that — after 10 or 20 or 82 radio plays — all start to sound the same.
Rayana Jay could have ridden that wave: Xanax, introversion, passive-aggressive pleading. Instead, she dropped “Magic,” one of the single-most liberating and joyous songs ever to sprout from Bay Area soil, right in the middle of the harrowing claustrophobia of 2017.
Releasing a shameless love song with a buoyant melody amidst so much quasi-moody “push me to the edge / all my friends are dead” pap on the airwaves would be enough to win me over. But the driving, unflinching eighth-note bass riff that carries the song and the playful call-and-response of the chorus is the stuff true hits are made of.
A similar optimism carries Morning After’s other single, “Everything,” a confession of love over a lithe bounce and a weaving, buzzy sub-bass. Most of Morning After could be a classic beat tape on its own. In fact, Jay has always had a knack for finding great producers. And though there are some familiar faces in the production credits here (Drew Banga, Mikos tha Gawd, Kev Choice), “Magic” (produced by ROMderful) and “Everything” (Gabriel Lambirth) come from relatively obscure names.
But there’s discovering a great beat, and there’s knowing what to do with it. Morning After is filled with Jay’s little, rhythmic vocal mini-hooks (especially in the verses of “Sunkissed” — a celebratory ode “about how much I love my people, how much I love black people,” as she told me in July). She plays in and around the beat with a jazz singer’s gift — more Sarah than Ella — and makes her imagination sound like canon. Her melodies feel like they’ve always been there, in the air, before she captured them and put them in a song.
Imagination, optimism, playfulness — these are sensations that were all too foreign in 2017. With Morning After, Rayana Jay reminded us that love and happiness aren’t dead yet.
We’ll be posting our top ten local albums of 2017 everyday through Dec. 22. Check back here to see which other albums made our list.