Reviewing Adina Howard’s The Second Coming

This piece was originally written for Epinions.com. An archive version of it can be found here. This is a slight revision.

The Second Coming album coverIt’s perhaps meaningful that it has been a full decade since Adina Howard has released an album. Do You Wanna Ride was a brilliant ode to the need for sex masking a need for love. It was also hampered by a shitty ad campaign that chose to flatten Adina’s image and leave her flailing in the winds of public and media perception about black woman’s sexuality. Despite Adina’s repeated statements that she considered healthy freaky sex to be wonderful in a committed relationship, media and public perception made her out to be a cheap floosy.

This is to be expected however. Assertive sexuality in black women has always been a catch-22 in contemporary times. On one hand, black woman taking control of their bodies is the ultimate subversive move. On the other, it can sometimes be perceived by those who lack the ability to understand (apparently) difficult concepts like context to be playing into mainstream America’s stereotypical ideas about black women as Jezebels.

But what is unacceptable is how Adina’s handlers didn’t allow the strength of her voice to silence some of the doubters. Many people would have been astonished to have heard her gorgeous rendition with gospel singer Michael Speaks on Rene and Angela’s You Don’t Have To Cry. That should have been a nice live performance to give people both sides of what her debut album was about.

Well, it is 10 years later, and The Second Coming was released independently and Adina Howard gets executive producer credit. This album is more varied and more soulful musically than her debut, but it follows closely what seems to be Adina’s main theme: sex.

But remarkably the album chronicles the lifespan of a courtship from meeting Outside (The Club) to separation Missing You. Like Koffee Brown’s outstanding Mars/Venus each song has a context imbedded in the song and one from its placement in relation to other songs. So the sexy songs are not meant to be about casual sex, but about what occurs when two people are committed. This goes a long way toward alleviating criticism that Adina has been subjected to in the past.

The first 3 songs, Outside (The Club)Wannabe, and Don’t Wait Up are the party songs that depict the initial meetings and attraction between two people. Wannabe is the weakest of the three, simply because it is a lil’ hook heavy and cutesy in execution. The other two are fine examples of creative party songs that feature strong vocals, clever lyricism, and sharp arrangements. Don’t Wait Up, in particular, is a prime example of just how expressive Adina’s voice is. The melody percolates while Adina sings purposefully and passionately. This song was perfect for single consideration.

Missy Elliott’s Crank Me Up is a return to the sharp lyricism of the stuff she used to write early in her career for Aaliyah and 702. It’s the continuation of Don’t Wait Up’s anticipation of sex. In this song, it’s about the first time having sex with the person you are feelin’. What You Need then talks about what each person needs for the relationship to work. It’s perhaps a bit too materialistic, but again, this is a common motif in contemporary black pop, so it’s neither here nor there. The song itself is serviceable.

The meat of the album lies in the middle from T-Shirt & Panties to Buttnaked. These songs are highly sexual and they chronicle the different way in which Adina approaches sensuality. T-Shirt & Panties is teasing seduction, Nasty Grind is a confident subversion of gender roles, and Buttnaked is languorous afterglow. Each of these three songs is remarkably different musically and Adina’s vocals carry each one in uniquely compelling ways. Nasty Grind features strong vocals in Adina’s chest voice, while Buttnaked casts her in her lower register. This creates the feeling perfectly in the song of laying with the man you love after sex. It is similar in tone to Janet Jackson’s last movement of Twenty Foreplay; afterglow.

The last half of the album gets more relationship-oriented as the relationship starts to take different turns. It’s Not Over, the album’s gorgeous highlight, is a duet that shows the deterioration of the relationship before it even starts. Ee De plays the cheating man and Adina is the conflicted lover. Adina’s vocal performance is sharp here. She starts her verse angry and then gets confused saying, You’re makin’ it hard for me and starts to doubt her anger. It’s all in the ways she sings and how she alternates her phrasing. The song achieves its brilliance in the bridge by showing the turn where they go from singing It’s Not Over to Adina singing N*gga, it’s over. You hear the moment where Adina regains her composure and where Ee De makes the fatal mistake, I was drinkin’ baby. The song is gorgeously written, the way a duet should be written and rarely is these days, and flawlessly performed.

Let’s Roll is a call to a man to “put up or shut up”. That Man is the only song that doesn’t use sex as a metaphor for relationships. It is just pure happiness at having a good man. Say What You Want is about diggin’ in and feeling confidence in your love when other people are jealous or think they see problems. And finally, Missing You (her nicely fine tuned solo writing job) is about loss and loneliness when your partner is gone.

The production more often than not bolsters Adina’s sharp vocals. On Wannabe and What You Need the music and lyrics are just a tad too generic. But Adina never sounds lost or confused or exploited in her music. It’s hard to pull off sensuality and sexuality on record in a mature way. But Adina has done it.

Buttnaked, in particular, is a wonderful song because it’s about loving the person’s body in its natural state. After sex, spending time watching your man lay about. She sings, I’m sittin here lookin at your body, baby baby baby/I’ve never seen somethin’ so beautiful here lately lately lately/I love the way the candles bringin’ out your skin tone baby baby baby/Don’t ever put your clothes on again, stay buttnaked baby baby baby. It’s romantic in a completely new way. The song never rises above a murmur and that is what makes it work.

Nasty Grind, I swear, is about penetration of a man by a woman and the intimacy (and taboo…the song is called Nasty Grind) of such an act is treated matter of factly. I could be wrong about that interpretation though:

(One), come over
(Two), turn over
(Three), remember
(Four), you’re a freak like me
(Five, I’m on my knees you’re beggin me please
(Six), nobody’s gonna do you like me
My nasty grind. 

If it is what I interpret it to be, it’s the most remarkably subversive song in decades. If not, than it’s a brilliant song about women’s control of being penetrated. Either way, it’s a gorgeous song.

With The Second Coming, Adina uses sex as a conceit to display different aspects of love and relationships. But more important than the lyricism, which is sharp more often than not, is how varied Adina’s voice is on the album. She goes from controlled intensity of It’s Not Over and Say What You Want to genteel calm on Missing Youto throaty seduction and passion on Buttnaked.

4.5 stars

STANDOUTS–It’s Not OverSay What You WantNasty GrindButtnakedDon’t Wait Up and Missing You

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