The ten year gap between Cody ChesnuTT‘s first and second albums were not for naught. ‘Landing on a Hundred’, ChesnuTT’s new record, sounds nothing like his brilliant 2002 debut ‘The Headphone Masterpiece’. Instead of lo-fi R&B gems composed by a horny 20-something-year-old, ‘Landing on a Hundred’ sounds mature, well-produced, and steeped in classic soul and R&B.
The entire album is backed by a powerful horn section that could give the Dap Kings a run for their money, with the instrumentation being antithetical to the bare bones production of his debut. ChesnuTT’s subject matter has also changed in the decade since we’ve had a full-length record from him. Instead of brash declarations of sexual prowess, he sings tributes to Africa (“I’ve Been Life”), commentaries on inner-city life (“Under the Spell of the Handout” and “Everybody’s Brother”), expressions of religious awakening (“Til I Met Thee”) and songs about long-term committed love (“Love is More than a Wedding Day”). Long-gone are the days in which he used to sing about how good he looks in leather and how he can “fuck better than you” (his words, not mine).
This is not to say that the Cody ChesnuTT of old is completely absent from this album. On his panegyric to Africa, “I’ve Been Life,” he subtly (and not very humbly) interjects that the he has “been the greatest attraction on the earth” since his birth. However, the fact that he expresses his braggadocio in a slightly veiled (and very geographical) manner demonstrates how with age Cody ChesnuTT has adapted a more worldly and less direct approach to his lyrics.
Cody ChestnuTT’s “That’s Still Mama”
ChesnuTT is clearly not an artist trying to recapture his more youthful self. In fact, his recent concerts feature ZERO songs from his acclaimed debut album (a bold move considering that ‘The Headphone Masterpiece’ was 36 songs long and his non-
Headphone Masterpiece catalogue is only 18 songs deep). As such, it’s clear that Cody Chesnutt has left his lo-fi R&B sound behind and is now positioning himself in the ranks of retro-soul artist like Lee Fields, Aloe Blacc, and Sharon Jones.
And even though ‘Landing on a Hundred’ is a very good retro-soul record, what makes ChesnuTT’s change in his sound somewhat disappointing is the fact that ‘The Headphone Masterpiece’ was actually foreshadowing what modern R&B artists like Frank Ocean are doing now – i.e., relying on familiar R&B themes and sonics, but doing so in a way that sounds of the moment, of this moment, not a moment in the 1970s.
So Chesnutt’s return is both satisfying and frustrating. Satisfying in that ‘Landing on a Hundred’ features an artist who has grown and matured and isn’t trying to cling to a younger version of himself. But frustrating in that Cody ChesnuTT used to represent a potentially new and exciting direction for R&B, a direction that Chesnutt is no longer trailblazing and that has now been ceded to younger (and arguably more relevant) artists like the aforementioned Frank Ocean.
So welcome back Cody ChesnuTT — you’re a role model in aging gracefully, but it’s a shame we couldn’t get at least one more record out of the Cody ChesnuTT from a decade ago.
Written by Miguel Unzueta
OurVinyl | Contributor