August Alsina

Testimony

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For those who didn't get around to checking the brief 2013 release Downtown: Life Under the Gun, August Alsina opens his first full-length with "Testify," a ballad that, with grim elegance, lays out the New Orleans native's background. Within a matter of four minutes, he sings of abandonment, envy, poverty, desperation, survival, and the death of his brother. When he confesses, "Didn't graduate, I'm thinkin' damn, I gotta deal," it's as if he is confronting a reality that coping and selling drugs -- "just to get a meal" -- are one and the same. Alsina begins the following "Make It Home" with "I don't always do what I should, but I do what I gotta do" like he has lived through what no young man -- or any other human -- should ever experience. He's not strictly wrapped up in his world, however, devoting the sweet trunk rattler "You Deserve" to "the girl down the hall, misused and abused." There are a couple slips into material that's beneath him, like "Porn Star," which somewhat amusingly leads to a track titled "FML" that is, ironically, less dreary in color. "Benediction" closes the album proper in a grounded but triumphant manner, where the singer beams, "Now I'm in a place where I ain't gotta scheme no more," like that means much more to him than any material possession. Throughout, Alsina is joined by the likes of Young Jeezy, Pusha T, Fabolous, and Rick Ross, and though he's a natural match with most of them, he could have carried the whole album on his own with ease. This is a gratifying second step from one of the most exciting contemporary R&B artists to appear during the 2010s. ["Ghetto," a Downtown standout, is present in shorter form with Yo Gotti in place of Rich Homie Quan. The Top 15 R&B/Hip-Hop hit "I Luv This Shit" is thrown in as one of two standard-edition bonus tracks, while the deluxe edition adds two additional cuts, including the version of "I Luv This Shit" that features Trey Songz and Chris Brown.]

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