As is typically the case whenever I’ve undertaken a project of some sort that requires me to carve out a sizable block of time to complete, I try to queue up a few albums that I know I love with high replay value so I don’t have to spend a lot of time skipping tracks.
Whether it’s washing the car, shoveling snow (I almost exclusively listen to Ice Cube Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, Death Certificate or The Predator when shoveling snow; it feels both metaphorical and symbolic), cutting grass, cleaning the kitchen or putting together foreign furniture with unpronounceable names, I spend way more time than I’d like quibbling over what to listen to. For the past four years since it’s release, I’ve probably listened to Frank Ocean’s blond more than any other album. But my other go-tos include A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders, A Best of Jagged Edge playlist I created on Spotify, a best of Phyllis Hyman album or Lucy Pearl’s eponymous album.
Such was the case a few weeks ago when I was gifted the task of erecting a bunk bed set for my two youngest children who promised my wife and I that they’d sleep in their beds instead of sneaking into our bed every night. I put the bed together; they’ve slept in their bunk beds a total of one night since. We’ve been had.
Anyway, as I gathered myself to put the beds together, I landed on Lucy Pearl’s self-titled album, released on May 23, 2000, almost 20 years ago at this point. What I’m about to say is superlative, but I don’t think it’s hyperbolic: this album is perfect.
Lucy Pearl, the group featuring Raphael Saadiq from Toni! Tony! Tone!, Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest and Dawn Robinson from En Vogue, joined up somewhere in the late 90s after having left their respective groups (or in the case of Shaheed, his group disbanding) and decided to make some music. What followed was an album of soul, R&B, dance, rock, funk and hip hop that blended seamlessly. They meshed their musical strengths together and made an album that rides from start to finish; and even throws in a nod to a historically black college, Alabama A&M University, near Huntsville, Ala. for good measure.
If you were a fan of black music in the 90s then you were aware of all three members, but the idea of parts of these groups merging felt like a great musical experiment. The first single, “Dance Tonight,” was originally released on the soundtrack for the movie Love & Basketball in April 2000 and was a hell of an appetizer for the album.
All of the songs are written and produced by Saadiq, with additional production and writing by Muhammad and Robinson, depending on the song. According to an interview with Muhammad, the group came together when Saadiq mentioned to his friend Muhammad, with whom he’d been working on music, that they should head to LA to check in with Dawn Robinson and they started making music almost immediately, eventually turning those early songs into a full-fledged one-off album. Even though they only made one album—Dawn Robinson eventually left and was replaced by Dungeon Family songstress, Joi, on concert dates—the songs they made are timeless. From “Everyday” to “Good Love” to singles “Don’t Mess With My Man” and “You,” the trio truly crafted a unique but familiar and accessible sound.
It’s truly amazing how many different styles they fit onto an album that doesn’t feel out of its depth at any place. The song “Hollywood” has significant elements and follows right into the folksy, “Remember The Time” and it just feels right. That speaks to the artists’ trust in one another’s ability and willingness to try things and see the ideas through to completion. Even as I listen to this album while writing this, I keep getting lost in each song.
At one point in time, there were lots of questions about the group releasing a second album, but honestly, I think the one album they released is enough. As consumers and fans, when you get something that boasts both such high quality you immediately want more of it, but the truth is, the magic in a bottle they created was enough for me.
Saadiq obviously has gone on to create and facilitate as much classic material as one could ask for, even currently serving as the music supervisor on Issa Rae’s Insecure. Muhammad and Robinson have had their own separate projects, but this album, this twenty-year-old is a worthwhile contribution to black music and music in general. The album is dope, it rides, it bangs, it’s smooth and rough. It’s perfect.
And it will still be worth the listen 20 years from now.