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Victoria Monét had me with the first Jaguar, which I will be referring to as Jaguar I throughout this review. Because, obviously.
With Jaguar I delivering a string of great singles which all had threads, throughlines, which were so well branded and were so charming; how could I not fall for Victoria Monét!?
Victoria Monét wasn’t exactly new on the scene, having released four EPs prior and also making a name for herself via her work with Ariana Grande. (I’mma act like “Monopoly” doesn’t exist). But Jaguar I was different. There was an assuredness and a confidence about it. That Victoria had learned a hell of a lot via watching others from the sidelines, on what not to do, what she should to do and what she wants to do. But with Jaguar I being just an EP which didn’t make as much noise as it deserved to, I wondered if we would ever get an extension of it, even with Victoria saying that we would – because we know how acts in this position be giving us good PR, and telling us a combination of what sounds good, is a manifestation of what they would like and what we would like to hear, versus what the situation actually is. And lo an behold, when the songs “F.U.C.K” and “Coastin’” dropped, it truly seemed that we were done with Jaguar. BUT, NO BITCH. Because here came “Smoke”, kicking down the door with the supersonic pussy in tow. Jaguar II was upon us.
Victoria Monét and producer D’Mile. Back at it again to finish what they started.
I want to talk a bit about Victoria and D’Mile, because their partnership for Jaguar as a whole really is the heart of it and what makes it work on a whole different level.
|Victoria Monét – Jaguar II | RCA
Jaguar I and II is produced almost entirely by Dernst “D’Mile” Emile II, who has been working with Victoria since the days of Nightmares & Lullabies: Act 1, and so much life has happened for the two of them since its release in 2015. Victoria became a studio pen pal for Ariana Grande, having writing credits for each of her albums and her holiday EP, Christmas & Chill. And also writing album standout songs for Chloe x Halle (“Do It”) and Brandy (“Rather Be”). D’Mile continued to make a name for himself separate from Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, for whom he was a protégé. Racking up production credits on albums from Ciara, Usher, Beyoncé & Jay-Z, Lucky Daye, Snoh Allegra, Ty Dolla $ign and even J-pop boy band Arashi. Victoria and D’Mile both took parallel paths which eventually converged and led them back to one another. And together they truly do shine a light on one another. For years, D’Mile has been an exceptional talent. I could hear it back when he was producing under Rodney Jerkins on songs like Tiffany Evans’ “I’m Grown” and Joe’s “E.R. (Emergency Room)”. He was to Rodney, what Danja was to Timbaland. A bolt of lightning which inspired creativity in their sounds following a period where they seemed to have lost their spark.
Jaguar II feels like the culmination of Victoria and D’Mile’s life and work experiences. And as a result of it, Victoria and D’Mile have created this lane for themselves where they’ve not only managed to craft a great body of work in Jaguar II, but they’ve managed to show out creatively in a way which allows you to retroactively listen to their past work for others and hear their traits, signatures and just how much influence they truly had on some of those songs. For instance, I can now hear Victoria pretty distinctly in the songs she wrote for Ariana Grande; especially those on Thank U, Next and Positions. Chloe x Halle’s “Do It” truly does sound like a Victoria Monét song to me now.
Victoria and D’Mile are a great partnership and it’s great to have an artist / songwriter and producer duo in R&B again. We had Michael Jackson and Quincy. Brandy and Darkchild. Aaliyah, Missy Elliott and Timbaland. And now we have Victoria and D’Mile.
The production on Jaguar II is gorgeous. It’s so lush and rich. The whole thing feels classic. Every song on this album sounds like something you have probably heard before. If you’re a Gen Z’er or Gen X’er, the songs may sound reminiscent of something that your parents used to play. And if you’re a Boomer, then there will be familiarities to songs you know and love. But despite all of the homages and references, there is still a sense of Jaguar II having its own sound and Victoria having her own sound. Some may listen to Jaguar II and note similarities in vibe between Silk Sonic’s album, which would be due to D’Mile also producing that. But in terms of Victoria’s execution and songwriting, Jaguar II and Silk Sonic are two different beasts. And smartly, Victoria and D’Mile went about creating a sonic language for Jaguar I and II, which is not just the genre and style of music, but the use of a motif; the horns. They feature in so many of the songs and are played in a certain type of way with similar progressions each time; similar to how they’re played by black marching bands during Majorette performances. It’s so cool and so Black. It’s like the Jaguar calling card, because the seeds of it were planted back on Jaguar I.
Victoria and D’Mile manage to do something special on Jaguar II, which is to create their own little pocket in the universe. You got a clear sense of it on Jaguar I, but it expands further for Jaguar II.
|Victoria Monét – Jaguar II | RCA
Musically, Jaguar is such a cool and layered listen which really sticks out at this point in time. And what truly separates this album from Victoria’s earlier work is that there is a clearer sense of identity. And none of it has anything to do with what is hot right now, what the kids are listening to, what’s poppin’ on TikTok. None of it. The entire album is like a love letter to soul and R&B of the 70s. Early Motown. Marvin Gaye (specifically the album What’s Going On?). Earth, Wind & Fire, who amazingly feature on the song “Hollywood”, which coincidentally (or not, as the case could be) is sequenced right before the album-closer “Good Bye”, the outro of which sounds a lot like the chorus of their hit “After the Love Has Gone”. Locking onto this sound makes Jaguar II feel fresh at a time when so many others are either chasing trending sounds or releasing albums which have no sound or sense of identity at all. [Looks over at Chlöe’s In Pieces album].
But Jaguar II is also smart in how it bridges generations. It isn’t just Victoria doing Motown-ey, Earth, Wind & Fire-esque songs and that’s it. She puts spins on these takes lyrically in ways that Marvin, Diana ‘n’ dem wouldn’t have done back in the 70s, even though they have been about that life in a way that Victoria boldly sings about in her songs. “Smoke”, “On My Mama”, “I’m the One” and “Stop (Askin’ Me 4Shyt)” each marry classic sounds from an older generation with lyrics which feel true to the times and the generation of which Victoria is a part of. And this is where Victoria and D’Mile make such a great pairing. Because D’Mile is able to give Victoria the sound and the framework which is true to time period and the genre, for Victoria to then provide the twist lyrically, which creates something which simultaneously feels like a faithful recreation and a reimagining / reinterpretation.
There must be something in the air, because Victoria, Beyoncé, Janelle and Kelela all seemed to have tuned into the same pussy frequency for their most recent albums.
Jaguar II is such a cool album to listen to, because the music does such cool and interesting things in the same way Renaissance, The Age of Pleasure and Raven did, but in different ways. With Renaissance, it was song structures and transitions. With The Age of Pleasure, it’s the vibe. With Raven, it’s the stillness. With Jaguar, it’s in the choices of chords and the progressions within songs. And it really stands out at a time in music when so many of the songs in the mainstream tend not to feature these things with regularity. Funnily enough, I find this to also be the case with J-pop, where songs had far more interesting structures and progressions in the 90s and early 2000s than we tend to get now.
Victoria and D’Mile really did their damn homework, because so many of these musical choices when it comes to melodies, chords, modulations and progressions are straight outta the era of Motown and funk. “How Does It Make You Feel” (this needs to be a damn single), “Stop (Askin’ Me 4Shyt)”, “Hollywood” and “Good Bye” could all be songs yanked straight from Berry Gordy’s tape drawer or Verdine White’s wig closet. But the cool thing is that they also apply these techniques and methods to songs which generally have a whole other sound. Exhibit A, “Party Girls”. A song with a sound which is reggae and dancehall at its core. But it features very specific chord progressions and modulations which are characteristics of soul from 70s. It adds this cool and unique twist to the song, which takes what could have very easily been seen as just a clone of “Baby Boy” (Beyoncé does not own this sound and vibe, but we know how it be with comparisons) and makes it something different. I’ll admit. I was lukewarm on the song until the pre-chorus hit with a modulation. And then I sat up. And before I knew it, my ass was shaking with a lighter in my hand. It’s such a small thing musically, but it has such a big impact, because it truly transforms the sound and vibe of the song and makes it Victoria’s. But it also weaves the thread of the song back to the musical narrative of Jaguar as a whole. And this is what makes Jaguar II such a cool listen, as there are instances of this sprinkled throughout the entire album.
Well, except for one song.
|Victoria Monét – Jaguar II | RCA
There is an outlier on Jaguar II, and it’s “Alright”. This song is to Jaguar II, what “Experience” was to Jaguar I. The only song to not feature the production talents of D’Mile. Although “Experience” at the very least included the Jaguar calling card of the horns. “Alright” is hands down one of the best songs on this album. It is pretty much the electronic sister to “Jaguar”, a song I absolutely adore. Kaytranada’s production is fire (as always) and immediately distinctive. And yet, this song doesn’t completely fit the album because of it. “Alright” doesn’t hurt the album in any way, because the song is so good that it works on the merits of that alone. But it really doesn’t feel like part of the album, despite the effort to add in a transition to the song which follows it. And when you take the song out of the tracklist it actually flows better, sans a transition into “Cadillac (A Pimp’s Anthem)” – a song which would have made more sense being transitioned into from “On My Mama” anyway. But “Alright” is a great song, with some highly quotable lyrics. It’s WAY too short though, and we’re gonna get to that. But still, a great song. Irregardless, I would like to hear more from Victoria and Kaytranada. And fans of Victoria’s earlier work would probably be down for this too, as “Alright” evokes a similar vibe to Victoria’s earlier song “Freak”, which fans liked a great dea;.
I’ve decided that I’m probably gonna write a boilerplate paragraph on song length. Because it feels like every damn review I have written over the past year has mentioned dwindling song lengths. The songs on Jaguar are pretty short. For the most part, this works, because the structures and arrangements of the songs feature enough variation that you’re not immediately aware of the short runtimes. But there is an instance or two where you are like [In LeToya Luckett voice] NO BITCH. “Alright” is too short and that’s all there is to it. I started a slow whine down the second the song started, and the song was over before my knees bent. “How Does It Make You Feel” is beautiful. It’s glorious. It’s a classic. It’s too short. Victoria. Sweetie. Where was the bridge section? Where was the key change!? As great as the production is across every single song, I do wish D’Mile had given us more moments to really relish in it all. No song necessarily feels like it’s missing anything. But there are songs that I get so lost in, that I want to stay in them just a little longer. “Hollywood” should have had an extended outro of strings. “I’m Da One” should’ve had a middle eight followed by an electronic guitar solo. “Alright” needed an additional verse or just a section where Kaytranada is fucking up that beat to get the girls shuffling. “Smoke” should have had a bridge section where it’s all about the horns. Jaguar II is lean, which makes it very easy to listen to. And between how Victoria is able to cut to the chase with her songwriting and how rich and considered the production is, there is never a moment in this album where it will lose you. But I do wish it were just a bit longer.
Victoria’s earlier EP’s showed that she had a vision for herself and her music, but there was also a sense that she was flirting with different ideas of who she should be and was maybe willing to pivot to whatever would work at that, and this isn’t a bad thing. But with Jaguar I, there was a shift. Victoria seemed defiant about who she wanted to be and how she wanted the world to see her and hear her, and I think this is why that EP struck a different chord to her early work. And the fact that she continued through with these things on Jaguar II, shows just how assured Victoria was in her vision for herself and for Jaguar as a whole. Victoria is fully confident and revelling in the artist, the songwriter, the producer and the woman that she is. Jaguar II says so much about her artistry and says it in all of the right ways. So few who make a name for themselves as songwriters are able to transition to being an artist and really deliver on the package of who they are as an artist, but Victoria nails it here. Shit. Some acts with the best A&R’s and a record label willing to develop them aren’t even able to deliver on the package of who they’re supposed to be.
Jaguar II truly presents Victoria as a package. I’m always blown away when an artist comes onto the scene and puts out their debut album with such a clear vision of themselves, their sound and their brand. Not just from a creative perspective, but a business one. Because if I were the president of a record label and Jaguar II sold like shit and went triple aluminium, I would still take a chance on Victoria and green light another album, because the package of Victoria is already there, it’s good and it’s easy to market. It would be clear to me that the package was not the problem. The vision for Victoria based on what she presents with Jaguar II is so incredibly clear. It was clear from Jaguar I. Jaguar II is just Victoria letting us know that she knows, and that other bitches better start to know. If Victoria gets Keri Hilson’d, it’ll be an injustice.
|Victoria Monét – Jaguar II | RCA
Jaguar II also does a great job of showing the facets of being a woman in music. Across the album Victoria sings songs about smoking weed, being a bad bitch who is only after one night stands, being in love, how she feels about her career, feeling undesired, talks her shit, how to love somebody else. Women (especially Black women) have constantly been made to have to subscribe to one way of being, one way of presenting, having their feelings and their image be policed. And for what? Victoria unapologetically displays the different facets of who she is, which is also one of the cool things about Jaguar II’s sound being R&B, soul and funk from the 70s, because whilst women were certainly figureheads of these genres, it was still in a space and a system dominated by men. And women certainly weren’t able to sing about the broad topics that men did. It was love, lust or Jesus, and that was it. And you certainly didn’t have an abundance of Black women being able to write their own material, self fund it and executive produce it. Jaguar II is like a reclamation of the presentation of womanhood. Victoria is choosing her own narratives.
What I’m about to say may sound weird and like backhanded compliments; but a great quality to Jaguar II is that there is still clear room for growth. With Jaguar I, it was like ‘Oh, I just need more of this’. But with Jaguar II, it’s like adoring a section of a wall that’s been beautifully decorated, just for somebody to turn on the lights and for you to realise there’s so much more wall to paint and that it goes on forever. And Victoria did that with Jaguar II. She put this body of work into the world and wanted it to be received with adoration. And in doing that, she’s expanded her artistry and the world in which it exists. Which in turn has expanded the expectations of fans like me, who perhaps didn’t realise on Jaguar I just how much more Victoria had to offer. Jaguar II leaves a lot of room for Victoria and D’Mile to grow and expand further, but not at the expense of feeling like Jaguar II held back or failed to deliver.
True to the album title, Jaguar II felt like Victoria was waiting for her moment to pounce. Victoria seems like she knows herself well enough to know when the time is right for her to show more. So I trust that we’ll get more in her own time. And that when we do, it will be another [Turns and looks into the camera] mothafuckin’ moment.
▪ Smoke (Reprise) 🔥
▪ Alright 🏆
▪ How Does It Make You Feel 🏆
▪ I’m the One
▪ Stop (Askin’ Me 4Shyt) 🔥
▪ Good Bye 🔥