No matter how much Jamie Foxx hopes his first high-profile R&B album, Unpredictable, will be judged on its own terms, comparisons to our checkered memories of Eddie Murphy’s erstwhile singing career are inevitable. From Dietrich to J-Lo, Hollywood habitually tolerates film stars who sing on the side, but how often does the public take them seriously?
After stellar marketing setups like playing Ray Charles in the acclaimed biopic plus various vocal cameos on recent hip-hop hits, Foxx approaches pop radio with more proven musical ability than Murphy ever had. And while the majority of Unpredictable’s 15 tracks are serious bids to compete with modern, hypersexual soul men like R.Kelly, Usher, Ginuwine and their ilk, the title track strategically undercuts that notion with a production full of salacious P. Funk humor and ‘Basketball Jones’-style aural parody. In Jamie Foxx’s universe, sex is not only fun, but intrinsically funny, as is the X-rated commentary by Snoop Dogg, The Game, Twista and Ludacris. Foxx’s producers share his love of 70s jazz-fusion and soul licks, spiked throughout with vocal flavors that owe as much to Marvin Gaye as to Jodeci. Even his duet with Mary J. Blige is an intentionally atavistic cover of Skip Scarborough’s ‘Love Changes’. Timbaland’s signature production on ‘Can I Take You Home’ evokes middle-period Isley Brothers, while Kanye West’s elegiac ‘Extravaganza’ recalls Stevie Wonder circa Songs in the Key of Life. On ‘With You’ Foxx even channels a little Al Green. This respectful mimicry is subtle enough to undercut certain thematic redundancies and keeps the CD sounding unexpectedly fresh.
Overall, the musicianship on Unpredictable is credible and ambitious. After the runaway success of his collaboration with Kanye on ‘Gold Digger’, Foxx could have taken an easier route to platinum sales by emphasizing clever rhymes over melodies, but he took a slightly higher road. If Foxx truly wants his music to be more than a hobby, Unpredictable definitely shows potential for growth beyond the realm of the merely opportunistic.