The rap world seems to be divided more or less squarely into two camps: those who can tolerate radio R&B and rap, and those who cannot. The people who struggle with the notion of the Clear Channel and the music it brings the masses have well-founded opinions, but their justified skepticism towards so-called “pop rap” frequently closes their minds permanently from this type of music. In the same way that Ja Rule fans dismiss the underground, purists doubt the quality of anything that is played on the radio multiple times every day without actually examining it. As a dedicated listener of rap music, I have the same problem, which I would like to believe is more in the interest of time than anything else. Rap-influenced R&B, though I do get occasional exposure to it, is quite distant to me as a genre, though I don’t actually hold anything against it. Needless to say, the arrival of Nivea’s “Complicated” in the mail required me to examine the music in a way I had never critically done before.

Nivea is strictly an R&B singer, despite the heavy influence of rap on her music and the presence of certain rap artists on this album. She sings quite well, but there is something missing from the formula. Her voice is not at all moving, despite the attractive sound, because she seems to be singing within the confines of what she believes to be the norm. Occasionally she shows her range, but these touches are far too subtle to make a difference. Even the briefest description of this record would do it justice. As expected, Lil’ Jon’s contribution on the originally titled “Okay” helps a bit, but the production still manages to blend in with that of the rest of the record. I don’t even listen to this type of music very much, but it immediately sounded very familiar to me.

From start to finish, there is nothing terribly notable about “Complicated.” The title cut opens things up, and the production is nice and mellow. This ends up being one of the high points of the album, because the music and words mesh well together in an inconspicuous fashion. The depressingly commercial “Parking Lot” appears to be an extensive advertisement for McDonalds. I have no idea why an artist would compromise the craft in such blatant fashion, but Nivea manages quite nicely:

“Meet me at the McDonalds parking lot
Before it gets too late, I can’t wait
It’s just around my way so
Meet me at the McDonalds parking lot
Just over the hill, at the light, take a right
Hang a left on Harris drive
Meet me at the McDonalds parking lot
So what you waiting for? Hit the door
Put the pedal to the floor
Meet me at the McDonalds parking lot
I’m at the drive thru, right beside you
Ready to take your order
Take you right here in the parking lot”

Maybe it’s a metaphor for something and I’m missing the point, but I sincerely doubt that. I don’t even want to know how much she got paid for the product placement, but I’m sure it filled her pockets nicely. It is very difficult to take her seriously after this blatant and terrible display, especially since she wastes a perfectly good beat from Jermaine Dupri in the process.

Recovering from such an insult is tough, and Nivea tries but ultimately fails. There isn’t much on “Complicated” to separate it from the rest of the pack, and Nivea, though obviously qualified to have her own record, doesn’t seem to have come very far since assisting Mystikal on “Danger (Been So Long).” I just can’t hold my attention to something that sounds so much like the other music of its type. It is professionally made and fairly easy on the ears, but also quite mediocre.

From here to the end, there are no great songs and only a couple of good ones. One of the biggest problems is that every song fits the blueprint for what one might expect from Nivea, with smooth and slightly edgy poppy rap production and vocals that never surprise. The collaboration with R. Kelly, “Gangsta Girl,” has more energy than the tracks that surround it, so it stands out a bit, but it still could have been far better. The R&B that I have enjoyed is catchy above all, and Nivea’s vocals hardly ever accomplish that. The record just starts, has a few higher points along the way, and reaches its conclusion. The bottom line is that this music is static, it doesn’t feel alive. There are distinct elements, none of which explores the space of R&B enough, that combine for something that we’ve all heard before, and probably better. The irony of it all is that Nivea may be very “Complicated” as an artist, but she doesn’t act like it here, and her music is certainly anything but. This record might satisfy true fans of this type of music, but non-believers will definitely not be swayed.

Nivea :: Complicated