Syleena Johnson – ChapterV: Underrated [Review]


It took me a while…ok, we’re well beyond a while now…to figure out how I wanted to approach this review. As she stated in her interview, the fans really named this album based on them feeling she was underrated. Syleena doesn’t have the commercial success to match her live show or vocal power, so it’s fitting. That said, do I go back and review her previous projects and use that as a comparison for this review, or review this like the average music listener may…as the first time I heard her? Well, I eventually chose the latter but you should def check those albums out as well. Anyway, let’s see what Chapter V: Underrated is all about.

1. Underrated
Featuring AK of Do Or Die
The Chicago native grabs 1/2 of the hip hop duo to provide a few bars for the first song of the album. I said “a” few bars because Syleena is more or less rapping on this song herself. In today’s hybrid music industry and the current sing-song cadence of most rap songs, Syleena proves that she can hold her own. This track serves as the opening round of the album which is scheduled for 12 rounds. She carries that boxing theme throughout the song and stakes her claim to the title of this album with a solid intro.

2. A Boss
This lead single follows the lead of a great year in women’s bangers. This song is sassy, strong, dismissive, assertive, and defiant in the face of a male dominated world. Where guys tend to dictate the actual working rules of relationships and women end up tailoring their expectations, this song is about setting the rules, finding someone that will fit within the rules, and accepting nothing short of her demands. “I’m sick of going out of my mind falling in love with the wrong guy” is a line from the song that, I know from my friendships with women, resonates with women. The musical attitude of the track is the Siamese twin to this anthem.

3. Fade Away
Sounding like the musical relative to the previous song in attitude and tempo, “Fade Away” isn’t about making demands but it makes a statement nonetheless. Syleena talks about being dedicated and loving that special someone and assuring them that her love will never fade away. It sounds so simple, but the way it’s done is the magic here.

4. Angry Girl
Featuring Tweet
I posted this video because when I first heard this song, it really not only mellowed out the album, but was a favorite when I first heard it. That hasn’t changed at all and if you’ve viewed the video, you should understand where I’m coming from…and yes, I am biased because I love Tweet, but it just so happens that this song is dope too.

5. Like Thorns
The appreciation in this song is in the writing. The track is pretty conventional in method, but that’s because the strength is in the song itself. Where the track provides for some great transitions on the bridge and hook with it’s moody piano movements and dramatic drums, it’s when Syleena quips “You just need to get out, because I can’t do this anymore. The things that you do I can’t ignore, we used to be like roses, but now we’re just like thorns.”

6. Little Things
Featuring Malone
Malone is the feature on this track and he’s part of a group named Melissa Malone which I hope to hear from soon. He’s got a great sound and proves to be a perfect balance to Syleena on this soulful ballad. This is my favorite song on the album due to it’s sincerity and throwback feel. I can’t think of anything bad to say about this song. I suspect that anyone that listens to this album and loves soul music will put this on repeat on first listen.

7. My Shoes
My Shoes is a great song asking the question of what if we switched places, me the mistreated lover and you the stone hand that is breaking me down…could you be here and deal with what I deal with? It’s an interesting song and a concept that more people need to embrace when dealing with others, not just in romantic relationships, but ESPECIALLY in romantic relationships. The music to this one is a good partner to this understated song.

8. Label Me
Track 8 is a fun feeling songs that feels like it was recorded over the claps from “Hey Mickey” from the 80′s. It’s very uptempo, fun and light-hearted. Syleena provides another attitude track similar to the first 2 songs on the album as she embraces Jimmy Chu, Gucci,  and a whole lot of other women’s fashion items that I can’t spell or afford.  It’s a fun song, but you can’t expect me to bang this joint.

9. Go Head
Featuring Na’tee
I really like the arrangement of this project so far. From the uptempo Hip Hop tracks, then the R&B songs, then back to the upbeat dance friendly songs. For this one we hear from Na’tee, a female rapper from Louisiana who I also hope to hear more from soon. The song talks about sayin that if you can’t handle me and what I require from a relationship, then you can “go head and play.” If I was a chick, this would be my ringtone…as it stands, I may crop out that hook and the dope drums and make a ringtone.

10. Bad Person
While I can appreciate the lyrics of this song, what man can’t appreciate a song that has a woman confessing to wanting to get physical with no strings, something about it seems mismatched. I don’t know if it’s the overly mellow track and melody that sound a bit too angelic for what’s being suggested or what. Either way, I still dig the song.

11. The Champ
WOW. I’m not even going to write long about this one at all, she says it best in the intro, “Some say I’m underrated…but at this one thing, I’m not….” Yeah, we all need to hear this song, damn reading what I’m trying to type here.  This is the female version of R.Kelly’s “12 Play.”

12. Stone Wall
Syleena decides to end this song with a very dramatic song that sounds and feels like it was taken from a play. “I’m still standing like a stone wall” is the resounding hook that speaks to her strength after enduring trials and tribulations. It’s a very appropriate way to end the album and make a statement about her career at the same time. I can see anyone being able to appreciate this song and grasp it’s universal subject.


Bottom Line:
This album, like most of her albums, will slip through the gaping commercial cracks while those that support her will have a new favorite. The sad part is that this albums limitations are not in the album itself, but in the lack of radio play and support at the register. Syleena has given us one of the best translations or updates of Mary J. Blige’s classic album What’s the 411 that I’ve ever heard. There is something here for everyone from the dance and Hip Hop tracks, to slower more deliberate sexy love songs.  You need to do yourself a favor and pick it up. At the end of this 5th album, Chapter V: Underrated isn’t just a title, it’s unfortunately the truth…but I don’t know for how much longer.


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