S by SZA vs. RockaByeBaby by Cassie

Here, we have two black female artists delivering vocal performances over hip hop and R&B beats (with the electronic music aesthetic that we’ve come to expect these days. The basic elements of both albums are very similar, but Cassie gets a lot of help from a supporting cast of fairly famous featured artists and producers, from Jeremih to Rick Ross to Pusha T—on the production side, there is definitely a Young Chop drop on this mixtape. The production on her album, RockaByeBaby, is sparse, and most of its melodic components come from Cassie’s vocals and harmonies. Also, Cassie seems to be listening to The-Dream these days, very much taking to heart his message in “Slow it Down”—there are not real dance tracks on this album, nothing like her hit “King of Hearts”. Standouts from RockaByeBaby include “Sound of Love (ft. Jeremih)” and “Numb (ft. Rick Ross)”. But ultimately, this Cassie album sounds like a lot of slower Rihanna songs. It’s never bad to be compared to an artist as talented and successful as Rihanna, but it does mean that the sound is a bit stale, as Rihanna has been omnipresent on the radio for years now.

The SZA album is a bit weaker vocally, but that has more to do with the lushness of the production. Various producers sprinkle sounds all over this mixtape, from the Fleetwood Mac sample that Felix Snow weaves into “Castles” to the shotgun sound that WNDRBRD includes shortly before the beat comes in on “Aftermath”. S has a much more alternative feel—it has those tracks without much pop appeal in which SZA’s vocals are buried beneath some more experimental production. But four tracks really carry the eight-track mixtape: “Castles”, “Aftermath”, “Ice.Moon”, and “Wings”. These tracks have a lot of depth, both in terms of production and vocal performance. Again, these are just hip hop and R&B beats at the core, but SZA’s producers let her vocals carry the songs for a while before dropping in the beats. The songs benefit from the gradual addition of layers and extra sounds until they reach a climax of depth before fading out.

The two tracks to listen to are “Sound of Love (ft. Jeremih)” by Cassie and “Aftermath (prod. WNDRBRD)” by SZA. A big part of the song selection from the Cassie mixtape is that Jeremih is killing it with the collaborations these days.

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