Choosing an album track to highlight from the Playa catalog is stupid hard. They literally have not recorded a single thing that I haven't loved. I initially wanted to highlight an unreleased song, LUST, which surfaced on Black's 2004 solo debut. Then I thought about the obvious, I-65 or Buggin' Over You, or the less obvious, I Gotta Know (which, trust me, knocks).
But, in the end, I chose this song, Birthday, which appears on the Tim's Bio album, because it highlights a point I've been making for a while: No one makes better use of a Timbaland track than Playa, Ginuwine, Missy and Aaliyah. Part of the reason for this is that the uniqueness of the track was matched by the uniqueness of the songwriting, the singing, and the vocal arrangements, which is all but missing from Tim's post-Ginuwine production.
Here Playa literally ride this Tim track hard. The track gives the song a rhythmic element that is often missing from romantic music of this type. Each vocalist takes time with the words, opening the phrasing up. Black, in particular, sings the second verse with a restrained intensity that we just don't hear enough these days. Playa are vocalists who understand intrinsically how to evoke a feeling with every element of a song from the lead vocal, to the arrangements, to the track. That has never been more evident than on Birthday, which does so much with so very very little.
I could go on and on because – with full disclosure – I don't think there's been a better self-contained vocal group over the last 30 years than Playa. Such thoughts lead one to gush…but just listen.