Lyfe Jennings has had a pretty epic musical journey. Learning to play the guitar and piano while serving a felony arson bid, he exited the prison system, and within a month he was performing successfully on Showtime in Harlem. Since then, Jennings has released three successful LPs becoming a constant on the radio airwaves. One of the few artists of his generation that has built a career on making music that wasn’t dispensable, the fact that I Still Believe is Lyfe’s last project is hard to comprehend. Like any of his projects, he puts his heart into every song, and the fans are rewarded with a very personal project.
The album begins with the first single “Statistics.” It’s almost a self-help track for women with a lines like “Rule number one, don’t be a booty call / If he don’t respect you girl, he gonna forget you girl.” It’s nice lead single and seems to flow more naturally than previous singles like “S.E.X.” It’s ironic that in a culture that is obsessed with looking hard, that a felon who lived that life, is the beacon of positivity. The next three cuts on the album tail off in quality. The album comes back alive with “Busy” and from that point on Lyfe is in his element.
“Learn From This” is quite simply perfect. It’s the type of track that garnered Lyfe such a devoted fan-base. Only the acoustic version of the track included on some versions of the release increases the tracks value. “Done Crying” showcases the emotive qualities of Lyfe’s voice. He and Anthony Hamilton are in a league of their own. “Done Crying” drives the listener to the brink of tears, similar to the way “Crying” or “Goodbye” did on past releases. He doesn’t have the technical abilities of some of his peers, but many of them would sacrifice that control for the ability to convey emotion like Lyfe does.
“Mama” is a heart-jerking duet with the talented Anthony Hamilton, and is absolutely flawless. The artists are able to harmonize perfectly and the content seems natural for both. It’s duet that works from style to delivery. The artists thankfully weren’t content just to be in the studio together and brought forth a beautiful effort. “If I Knew Then, What I Know Now” is but another solid track, while the album closes with a good effort on “If Tomorrow Never Comes.”
The title track has all the potential to be included on the sure-to-be-released Lyfe Jennings Greatest Hits collection, but it is plagued by questionable lyricism. The mere mention of believing in breast-feeding might make fans out of a pregnant women but few others. “It Could Have Been Worse” has all the makings of a Yolanda Adams single. The verses are stellar but the track is plagued by an unimaginative chorus. “Love” suffers from weak production, an annoying hook and just all around iffy content. Besides Lyfe trying his hat on rapping and not showing off his tenor as much as previous albums, the album has few other sub-par moments.
I Still Believe demonstrates the evolution of Lyfe Jennings the artist. The singer who began his career with a guitar and a microphone apparently leaves with big production and lyrics that seem to have strayed from the deeply personal narratives he sang. The evolution is one of a maturity, with a man who seems to have found his niche to get spins. As his recording career appears to be over, Lyfe is leaving at the crossroads. Unable to find a balance between the stripped-down work that stole fans’ hearts and the bigger production that is almost always required to get spins, Lyfe leaves without fulfilling his potential as an artist. With a one-of-a-kind voice and range, he’ll be remembered as an artist that defied the odds but ultimately hung it up before he reached the mountain top.