Shine is the second album from West London based rapper/singer Estelle, and the first release from John Legend’s new Homeschool Records imprint, via Atlantic Records. She first came onto the scene with a V2 Records U.K.-only debut called The 18th Day, but never made it’s way stateside (expect that to change with the current level of success she is enjoying). It was here that she first collaborated with Legend, on the tracks “Hey Girl” and “Freedom”, the latter also featuring Talib Kweli. Apparently that collaboration led to bigger and better things, as she now enjoys a comfortable spot under his wing, not to mention a dream team of producers and guests for Shine, including Kanye West, will.i.am, Cee-Lo Green, Mark Ronson, Swizz Beatz, Wyclef Jean, Kardinal Offishal, among others. With a line-up like that, how could anything go wrong?
The album kicks off with the catchy will.i.am produced “Just A Touch”, which lifts the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “I Put A Spell On You”, last heard on the classic Biggie / Preemo collabo, “Kick In The Door”. Here, Estelle taunts her male suitors with breezy sung vocals and teasing rap lyrics. Strangely enough, Estelle switches up styles pretty quickly with the Wyclef/Jerry Wonder produced, Caribbean tinged sounds of “No Substitute Love”, unfortunately interpolating pieces of George Michael’s “Faith” into the mix. The borrowing doesn’t let up anytime soon, as her cute little hit with Kanye West, “American Boy”, kicks in, where will.i.am actually rips himself off, reusing a beat from the Songs About Girls album. (Hey, he might as well make some money off that record…). By the time the groan-indusing Black Moon “How Many Emcee’s (Must Get Dissed)” rip “So Much Out Of The Way” kicks in, most longtime hip-hop listeners will have had enough.
As John Legend’s artist, there is a heavy amount of influence from the multi-Grammy award winning singer on the album. It’s very obvious on songs like “More Than Friends” and “Back In Love” that John Legend had a hand in writing the songs – you can almost hear John singing them as they are done completely in his style. “You Are”, which as a duet with John, fares a little better because he sounds so natural doing him, where on the previously mentioned solo cuts, Estelle sounds so obviously ghost written for. The feel good collabo with Cee-Lo “Love Me (Pretty Please)” also has the Legend ring to it (not as much as the others), but thankfully comes off as one of the best tracks on the album.
She does have better moments on the album, such as the autobiographical “Shine”, backed by a scorching Swizz Beat. Also fairing well is the Mark Ronson / Kardinal Offishal collabo, “Magnificent”. Unfortunately though, Estelle obviously draws her strengths from her collaborators. While she gets points for being ambidextrous – having the ability to sing and rap – she’s no T-Pain-like hit machine.
But maybe we’re being too hard on Estelle – this is what R&B albums are made up of today. It’s just in this case, we were expecting more, especially considering the all-star line-up of collaborating artists. Unfortunately, instead we get an over-abundance of hand-holding and borrowing of other classic records. While by no means an awful LP, the faults that consume it don’t allow Estelle to truly “Shine” as brightly as she has the potential to do so. - Pizzo
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