A little over a year ago, Rich Jones was onstage at North Coast Music Festival performing amazing track after amazing track. Along with a cavalcade of local artists and friends, Jones made the small side stage feel like the place to be. The impressive crowd that came to see his set included Chance the Rapper, bopping along with everyone else. Everyone was enamored with Jones’ unwavering confidence and swagger that beamed right off the stage. It as sight to behold and one that resolidified his rapping talents.
However, this year he has changed up his game. Drifting away from the straight up hip hop and rap flows that have become associated with his music, Jones has found himself mostly singing and crooning on his latest release The Shoulder You Lean On. Make no mistake, this is still the same Jones that released weirdly infectious bangers like “Dean Ween” and “Mothman”; he’s just grown up a bit and leveled out his sound with marvelous results.
The Shoulder You Lean On is an interesting collection of styles that come together quite well. The musical style shifts from track to track, but maintains a nice chill aesthetic. The album opener “Coin Toss” is a modern day soul song contemplating the uncertainty of one’s decisions, complete with line after line that will get stuck in your head. The following song, “I’m in Deep”, switches out Jones’ tender delivery for a more laid back and nonchalant mumble that is accompanied by pulsing synths and Kiara Lanier‘s vibrant vocals. Later, “Rolling Stoned” turns the R&B vibes up and mixes them with an almost indescribable mellow coming from Jones’ elongated take on the songs’ chorus.
Despite how different everything sounds, there is still a touch of Jones’ hip hop history felt throughout the album. The instrumentals of “I’m in Deep” and “Drone Kids” feel primed for Jones to drop a few bars over. His cadence on “On My Own” relies on his hip hop tendencies while “Dreamin“, another song lamenting on the road not taken, has Jones and Nnamdi Ogbonnaya bringing more noticeable rap rhythms to the album. Thankfully these little touches don’t feel out of place with the rest of the soulful tracks. If anything, “Dreamin” is the perfect primer for fans of Jones’ older work to jump into this more introspective and meditative sound.
The Shoulder You Lean On is a worthwhile step forward for Rich Jones, taking everything he’s done up to know and turning it up on it’s head to create something different and magnetic. The album ends by underlining the theme of “what if I did something different” with the bright “Step into You”. “Feels like I’m running away from a future that I won’t get again” sings Jones on the track before accepting to follow along. It’s a perfect closer that echoes Jones decision to take new direction and finishes the album of on a satisfying note.
The Shoulder You Lean On comes out on November 2nd. You can catch Rich Jones at the album release show this Saturday, November 3rd, at Sleeping Village. He will be joined by an amazing lineup of local artists: Leaf Set, Shawnee Dez, and Mmuso.