Jill Scott and Anthony Hamilton have bulletproof reps in the modern soul and R&B arena as artists of great talent as well as integrity. Those reputations both help sell records as well as limit those sales to those who still have some appreciation for “artistic integrity.” 2011’s funky spring to summer hit, “So In Love” provided both of them with something different, a #1 R&B smash that rocked barbecues, dance classes, parades, wedding receptions, lounges and karaoke bars. Scott and Hamilton successfully transfered their heartfelt earnesty and top notch vocal skills to a fun dance groove. Hamilton in particular has a reputation for singing about the downs of love perhaps a tad more enthusiastically than he sings about the ups, but “So in Love” finds him luxuriating in a groove both aesthetic and practical.
The song begins with an acoustic guitar playing an arpeggiated suspended pattern with a sound very reminiscent of a harp. The guitar is supported y a Rhodes tone. Percussion backs this harmony setting intro as A Hamilton vocalizes soulfully, with syllables sans words. After 4 seemingly quick bars of this breeze by, we’re introduced to what is in my opinion, one of the best funky soul bass lines of the past 15 years. It’s a descending pattern built off funky eight notes, sharp, funky and short. It’s the type of pattern that would be essential for a younger player just beginning to learn, in terms of its lack of complexity but maximum groove factor. The drums are also bare bones funky, a funky disco era drum beat replete with backyard hand claps. At the end of the cycle, the drummer plays huge gated orchestral sounding drum fills, a la Stevie Wonder’s drumming on the chorus of 1982’s “That Girl.”
Hamilton’s verse is filled with working man earnesty. He sings a tale in the manner of a hardworking man, delighted to see his special lady for the value she adds to his being. After a chorus of “So in Love with you”, Miss Jill Scott makes her grand entrance, her bright alto providing a sharp conrast with Anthony Hamilon’s molasses dripping baritone. I was always impressed by the thought Scott expressed in her vocal, a thought of a woman admiring her man from afar, watching him and his interactions with his male friends and colleagues. It reminded me of a woman looking at you from across the room and smiling, and if you were inexperienced, you might not know why, but Jill spills the beans on what that smile is about here, “I see you cross the room/talking to some men/I love your mannerisms baby/the way you handle them.”
The bridge hits at around 1:35 into the song, and it shifts textures a bit to a solid, steady rhythm, with the bass line playing stern quarter notes lined up with the drums, and the hi hats of the drums playing the classic disco hi hat pattern. And this section does give us a soulful disco vibe, with much in common with the feel of R&B inflected late ’70s smooth disco, like the sound of Scott’s hometown of Philadelphia. Following the bridge is a drumless breakdown with Jill putting her spoken word skills to use, describing the beneficiary of her affection as a “breath of fresh air”, among other things.
From here, quite uniquely and in an obvious funky soul throwback, the song ends out on a long vamp, without another verse of lyrics from Scott and Hamilton. Instead, backed up by choruses of “So in Love with You”, Scott and Hamilton work their vocal magic, ad libbing, as the bass also has more room to stretch out and try different patterns, and the drummer adds in fills to keep the groove moving. At one point, Jill lets out a sexy, playful giggle. The song breaks downs and ends on a vamp without drums, a long vamp backed by percussion and finger snaps, with the guitar playing it’s broken chord pattern. The deletion of the drums in particular allows you to hear the movement of the guitarists hands across the strings. Jill sings in a cool after glow, terms of endearment for her love, also backing herself with a track of high vocals, with Hamilton riffing along soulfully.
With the passage of Maya Angelou earlier this month and Ruby Dee yesterday, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about who is going to replace them in our current generation, who’s going to carry their legacies on. This would be not merely in terms of talent, but also moral authority and inspiration. Of course, we all have to live our own courses, but Jill Scott has always been one of my top choices since she came on the scene in 2000. Her albums with songs such as “Golden” and “Is it the Way”, and other hits, and her acting roles such as her Mama Rowatse in “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency”, as well as her poetry have always presented her as a woman of depth and class, with the sparkling ability to make sense of her experineces, whether they be ecstacies, agonies, ponderings or actions.
The video for “So in Love” is also special and captures the music perfectly. “So in Love” basically has an old school groove, that is in a ’70s style but actually reminds you of any time period from the ’60s to now. A backyard barbecue, family reunion, parents having a party downstairs type of vibe. The video focuses on Hamilton and Scott as a couple, Hamilton getting off work to go see Scott. But it also has a multi generational vibe, as they seem to be present at a renewal of vows for possibly, Scott’s mother. Seeing the older couple energizes Scott and Hamilton to keep going on along the vibrant romantic path they find themselves on. There is also a cool dancing scene that features different generations, sons dancing with moms, getting down with aunts, daughters cutting a rug with fathers, older and younger people all together under a groove.
One of the reasons this song is so refreshing for me is that at times I think about current black music and I wonder how you could ever play it for your children. I remember when I was a kid and the “Bad” video debuted and our whole family watching it together, as well as my dad who was 55 at the time playing that album just as much as he played his Jimmy Smith or Crusaders, along with Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross and other artists of the ’80s. There was always music that was off limits as well, such as certain Prince songs, but there was a lot to choose from that could be enjoyed as a family. I hate to think of the same thing being done with Lil Wayne’s music. “So in Love” is a definite throwback to that feel good family music. It’s not corny, because the emotions and sentiments are not easily understood by children either, but the groove is something that’s uplifting, as is the intent. It’s one they can groove to now and appreciate more later, as was much of the music I grew up on. The video’s dance scenes reminds me that the kids have grown up and are dancing (living, working, moving, being responsible) with the parents now. Scott and Hamilton also have a great deal of fun, with Hamilton doing some playful, goofy popping moves. So as we lose artists and entertainers who have stood tall as luminaries of human feeling, responsibility and positive action, I celebrate those among us today like Jill Scott and Anthony Hamilton, and I’m sure they will be remebered as great artists often are, with even more love and appreciation in the future than they are currently, after the cream rises to the top that is.