Musiq Soulchild

Feel the Real

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Just a year and a half after Taalib Johnson released the Warryn Campbell collaboration Life on Earth, he delivered 24 songs -- nearly 100 minutes' worth of material -- this time recorded with almost a dozen mostly new production associates. Increased song quantity and credits length aren't the only details that differentiate Feel the Real from the preceding album. This combines fresh material created following the 2016 release with a touched-up backlog of tracks written during the previous few years. Though that might seem like more stitch-work than what's displayed on the cover, Feel the Real is uncommonly steady for a double album, consisting mostly of midtempo hip-hop soul productions with Johnson's dependably easygoing yet heartfelt vocal technique. A couple booming trap-styled diversions and a flashy band-oriented section in "Sooner or Later" aside, Feel the Real isn't particularly indulgent, tending to stay in the Musiq Soulchild comfort zone. Johnson's lyrical approach is likewise focused. He directly addresses a lover -- potential, long-term, departing -- convincing her to take it to the next level on the gliding "Benefits" (like a more aggressive "Just Friends"), pressing reset on the early-'70s throwback "Start Over," and praising her generosity on "Fact of Love." Marsha Ambrosius contributes the opening title song, a coasting/bobbing highlight. In the intro to "The Moon," which really should be the finale, Neil deGrasse Tyson is so into dropping science that he sounds like he's about to break from script and launch into "You Are My Starship." These songs and a few others add up to 40 minutes of standouts amid a greater amount of uniformly adequate -- never poor -- material. For anyone who can't get enough of Johnson's light grooves and graceful hooks, teasing out the gems should be worth the effort.

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