One of the interesting things about being an admirerer of Funk, Soul and Disco in the 21st Century is the layers and layers of musical styles to uncover, from the past five decades. A musical style or effect that began in the ’70s might resonate with a younger listener as more of a musical pillar in a decade like the 1990s, when they were in their music consuming youth. In the case of Jennifer Hudson’s fantastic new R Kelly produced single, “It’s Your World”, J Hud and Kells manage to craft a performance of a track that conjures up both the original disco-funk era of the late 1970s and the Disco homages and creative reengagement of 1990s house music. It’s often been said House Music itself was a reaction to the end of Disco in the early ’80s, with Black underground clubs in Chicago (Chi Town) and Detroit continuing to play R&B disco rarities, eventually leading to the creation of their own low budget, electronic disco dance records. The Disco inflected House and Garage genres ended up finding their way into huge mainstream records, such as Lisa Stansfield’s Barry White love letter, “All Around the World”, and Whitney Houston’s smash interpretation of Chaka Khan’s 1977 classic “I’m Every Woman.” Jennifer Hudson manages to combine both eras in a combustible song that stands tall on its own as a true dance floor devotional.
“It’s Your World” begins with a “Boom. Tap…ta-be-di-be Boom. Tap” drum roll, sampled straight off one of this writers favorite records, Roy Ayers Ubiquity’s 1977 disco in the jungle masterpiece “Running Away.” “Running Away” is not the first song most people think of when it comes to disco, but it was a huge hit among hard core dancers, particularly in cities that would keep the flag of disco waving in the ’80s and ’90s, like New York, Paris, London, and Chicago. The drum roll sets the scene for a furiously funky disco/House music track.
The track is a mix of the actual disco thing and ’90s House. The drumming is the basic disco drum beat, amped up and on steroids, delivered from a drum machine, with sizzling open hi hats, a true ’90s house sound. A single note muted guitar riff helps protect the rhythm, in the manner of a rhythm guitar part such as the one found on Evelyn Champagne King’s “Shame.” The bass line is prominent in the mix but not dominant, though it does dominate musically, laying down a nimble, syncopated part with a somewhat disembodied sound. The bass line clearly sets the edges of the music. Very prominent Fender Rhodes chords also feature here, which might have been buried under the horns and strings of a ’70s disco record, but have much more room to breathe in the ’90s house approach. Percussion sizzles, and bits of synth strings and brass are inserted on the choruses.
J Hud delivers a powerful, soulfully excellent vocal performance in the tradition of Soul Disco diva’s like Loleatta Halloway and Martha Wash. Her part is full of melisma, and sung with a bluesy, chesty tone. The lyrics speak of an old school topic, straight up 100% devotion, “I’ll be your servant/your slave/your everything/you ever wanted.” Hudson’s ennunciation is sharp and soulful at the same time (‘and every THANG in it”, “if you ask it, it SHALL be given.”) Hudson belts out at the top of her vocal range, beautifully soulful notes. The lyrics and vocals speak to the excess of a blissful relationship.
R Kelly’s track evolves, adding and subtracting layers until it reaches a breakdown voiced by the man himself. The breakdown takes out the drums, leaving behind percussion shakers to carry the rhythm. The Rhodes is more prominent with the extra space, revealing it’s bell toned intracacies. Kelly sings a super soulful response, promising the exact same things J Hud promised her man. He hits some stunningly powerul low notes when he sings the line, “Everything your heart desires baby.” The structure of the song itself is unique and reminiscent of the disco era, as J Hud sings along for two and a half minutes or so before Kelly gets the spotlight. After Kelly’s breakdown, he trades lines with Hudson. Over the climax of the track, the two soul singers belt out some serious, bone chilling romantic screams. R Kelly understands as a producer that, coming from the gospel tradition, an uptempo dance song is just as much a format for gymnastic vocals as a slow burn ballad. The way Hudson works the melismatic chorus of “Its Your World” reminds me of Stevie Wonders vocal stylings at the high point of the 1976 classic “I Wish”, and Hudson promises similar religous devotion to her lover as Wonder did on that song.
“It’s Your World” is a wonderful dance record, beautifully sung and constructed. The track transcends it’s ’70s and ’90s influences to become something of its own, building on Kelly’s solid work in classic sounds, from his work with Charlie Wilson and the Isley Brothers, to his “steppers music” like “Happy People”, to his recent old school albums, 2010’s “Love Letter”, and 2012’s “Write Me Back.” Hudson builds on her performances in “Dreamgirls”, and her hot boogie funk, Evelyn Champagne King influenced single “I Can’t Describe” from last year. The result is a record that stands tall besides it’s influences as a great example of how a dance song can serve as a love devotional. I hope Hudson has much success with it as well as the upcoming album its taken from.