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Big Poppa G
April 26, 2015: BIG POPPA G: I Believe (Pyramid City) Two Stars ** Dubious Debut by a New Male Vocalist.
Solo act Big Poppa G arrived in 2014 via his duet with the late Floyd Taylor, "Be There." The song was also given the prestigious opening track on Ecko Records' latest southern soul sampler, Blues Mix Vol. 15: Down Home Soul, giving the first-time solo artist instant credibility. Despite Floyd Taylor's star power, however, "Be There" never caught on in a big way with southern soul deejays, and your Daddy B. Nice found the ballad a little too cloying and pop-oriented to chart on Southern Soul's Top 10 Singles Review.
The debut CD, Big Poppa G's I BELIEVE, is just as puzzling, and your Daddy B. Nice has spent a couple of months sitting on the fence, trying to make out an opinion. There are some tremendous songs on this CD, for example the ballad "It Should Have Been Me," written by Lee Gibbs and previously recorded by O.B. Buchana on his Pop Yo Bottle album.
"If I Didn't Have You," another Lee Gibbs mid-tempo gem and potential classic, and Big Poppa G's showcase dance jam and bid for a signature song, "Call My Name," are so inherently infectious you wonder why they don't reverberate with more passion and power.
In Southern Soul music we're so used to gospel-forged vocalists with lungs of steel that we're almost blase' about it. In southern soul it's the material, or the arrangements, that are often lacking. So when we're confronted with a vocalist of limited means and pristine material, a reversal of the usual case, it's disorienting--like standing on one's head--but that, I believe, is the case here.
The liner credits extol "BPG" as reminiscent of the likes of Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, Lenny Williams, David Ruffin, Al Green and Freddy Jackson. No way. Any of those legends would immediately peg Big Poppa G as a background singer.
It's true that Lee Gibbs, the dominant creative force behind this album, bears some of the blame. The arrangements--keyboard horns, the usual southern-soul financial limitations--could be better. But the fault with the album lies with the singer, not the writer/producer.
Big Poppa G sings in tune. There's a nice, novel tone to his ascending notes (probably the quality that brought him the recording opportunity). But he seems to be singing through an invisible scrim of phlegm, once commonly called smoker's throat. He can neither hone in on a note with surgical intensity nor amplify beyond a pallid, mid-range volume. Only think of what someone like Jaye Hammer would have done with this album's bounty of music.
Instead, perfectly wonderful songs, compositions most recording artists would die for, result in a panorama of wasted opportunities, lacking emotional depth and climax. In the end, I BELIEVE is more of a coming-out party for its estimable writer, Lee Gibbs, than it is for the performer on the jacket, Big Poppa G.
--Daddy B. Nice
Sample/Buy Big Poppa G's I BELIEVE CD at CD BABY.
--Daddy B. Nice