Jorja Smith - Lost & Found

by Tim Sentz Rating:8 Release Date:2018-06-08
Jorja Smith - Lost & Found
Jorja Smith - Lost & Found

While the music world scrambles to digest hip-hop’s biggest star Drake’s new double album, I thought it would be good to highlight a positive from his 2017 mixtape/album/thing “More Life.” Nestled in between the sad-sap-rap he’s known for was an early highlight “Get It Together” featuring upcoming British soul singer Jorja Smith. That same week, rising Columbian pop singer Kali Uchis shared the stage with Tyler, the Creator and Smith on the breakout single “Tyrant.” Smith was arriving quickly.

By the time her debut album “Lost & Found” was released earlier this month, Smith had popped up in several warmly received guest spots – the cream of the crop being standout track “I Am” from the Kendrick Lamar-curated soundtrack for Black Panther, in addition to “Let Me Down” with Stormzy.

Hailing from Walsall, Smith possesses an otherworldly voice; one that’s been classically trained over the years, and at only 21 years old sounds strikingly like Ms. Lauryn Hill, FKA Twigs, Amy Winehouse, and even to some degree Adele. And it’s with those influences that Smith brings a retro vibe to her live shows – she employs a backing band, something that a lot of R&B/Hip Hop artists in the mainstream refuse to do. It adds another dimension to the character of Jorja Smith, and “Lost & Found” is ruled by these traits that define her as a rising star.

The title track opener begs the question “Why do we all fall down with innocence?” Her articulation flips between angelic serenades and pulse-driven raps, as she navigates the answers to her question, recalling her own feelings: doubt, reflection, and declarations on her own motives in this crazy world. She’s young, but she’s not stupid.

“Lost & Found” contains three previous singles released in 2017 intermittently. The first, “Teenage Fantasy,” is a straight-up pop track that recalls the conversations I had in my 20s about dating and pondering the question “wait, do I actually want this?” It may seem an immature question, but the fact that Smith is asking this question to herself when she’s 21 shows great sense of self-awareness that I’m sure we all wish we’d had at the time.

This theme with identity and placement continues through to “Where Did I Go?” another single released in 2017. “Lost & Found” keeps this theme throughout, and each song relates to the accurate album title. “February 3rd” puts Smith over some light guitar strumming and piano as she demands her estranged lover to “lose yourself from playing games.” It’s elegant, despite her essentially telling the person delicately to piss off.

Smith’s journey through “Lost & Found” displays her ability to overcome despair, and the meaning behind these lyrics seems very specific. Is it a break-up record? Definitely. Her break-up? Possibly. She doesn’t get into specifics, even as she’s kicking this unknown soul out of her life during “On Your Own.” It’s refreshing to hear this throwback to 90s R&B, and she’s in good company in her record collection – The Streets, Alicia Keys, Mos Def – all formulating into an album chock full of homage and respect for those genre icons.

 At the midway point, “Wandering Romance” blasts Smith into the stratosphere on the chorus “Take it how you got me down, after breaking down my heart.” She’s done with it all, give it all away, she doesn’t want it anymore. Pushing all the feelings out the door. “Blue Lights” is one of the more well-known Smith tracks from the last year, a call-to-arms about police brutality that finds Smith freestyling a story we’ve heard too often in the news.

There’s only one minor hiccup on “Lost & Found” and that’s with “Lifeboats (Freestyle)” which is, as the name explains, a freestyle rap by Smith about reaching out to those sinking in life’s obstacles. It’s a bit of a detour from the rest of the album, and while not a bad track, it disrupts the flow a bit. As a standalone it’s perfectly serviceable, but here it just feels like an attempt to drastically change the direction of the album.

What may seem odd to some though, is the powerful trifecta at the end of “Lost & Found,” and this is what Smith’s been building to for the last 30 minutes. “Goodbyes,” “Tomorrow,” and closer “Don’t Watch Me Cry” work seamlessly together to close out an album hinged on Smith’s punctual awareness. The three tracks combined display Smith in a vulnerable state, and this is never more present on “Tomorrow” as she contemplates pushing through that last struggle we all have gone through during a break-up – getting out of bed the next morning. It’s inspiring at the same time as being sorrowful. She acknowledges her naivety, her youthful desire to just assume it’s all going to be okay. She might be right, and she might be wrong. Either way, she’s going to do it because she’s firm in her decision.

“Lost & Found” is an album all about loss and perseverance in times of despair. Jorja Smith is a powerful force in modern R&B – she understands and appreciates the pioneers who have influenced her, she’s aware of her surroundings, and she knows what needs to be done to rectify her mistakes moving forward. The album is refreshing to hear, never spiteful, never too off-based, but most importantly a statement on emotion and how each of us can and probably should deal with our feelings.

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