Features | Awards

The Aaliyah-Timberlake Award for Progressive R&B/Pop Jam That Demands the Existence of More Progressive R&B/Pop Jams

By Chet Betz | 15 December 2011

Jamie Woon :: “Lady Luck”
from Mirrorwriting
(Polydor; 2011)

There really isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss Aaliyah. Not just for who she was but for the gaping hole in the music canon left where there should be many more collaborations between her and Timbaland. Those tracks that we do have—“We Need a Resolution,” “Are U That Somebody,” “Try Again,” “4 Page Letter,” etc.—showcased Aaliyah’s remarkable ability as a singer to be simultaneously warm and ice cold, smooth and daring, sensual and cerebral, whilst Timbo desconstructed urban pop and R&B tropes to make extra room for electronica and Eastern influences. It was everything R&B can be and more, looking ahead to a future for the genre that the genre has yet to realize. Aaliyah’s best work was without peer and, sadly, still without much of a successor: Kelis will get sorta close every once in a while; Nelly Furtado’s Loose (2006) had some Aaliyah DNA in it but was far more pop than R&B; hipsters better not mention The-Dream or The Weeknd in the same breath as Aaliyah. No, even though he’s a dude, Justin Timberlake’s stuff with the Neptunes and Timbaland is really the only thing in the same ballpark. Until now.

Similar to Timberlake’s “My Love” in that it’s an incredible single that dwarfs its otherwise fine mother album, Jamie Woon’s “Lady Luck” is one of the very best songs of 2011 and a self-contained masterclass on how to push urban pop and R&B forward. Mirrorwriting, Woon’s debut LP, is a record that seeks to mesh a dubstep-inspired sound with the Brit’s understated crooning, and while the results are always slick they aren’t always exciting. “Lady Luck,” though, is very exciting. It possesses a hard-edged, slinky bop, an elusive quality in music that also happens to be one of my favorite qualities and something I can only remember encountering outside of dubstep in those Aaliyah tracks, Timberlake’s “Like I Love You,” and the best of super-chill hip-hop. The genealogy of “Lady Luck” has almost nothing in common with those things and yet the song is family to them. The emphatic BGV chorus is very Timbaland, very “Are U That Somebody” or “Cry Me a River,” and the percolating dub key line that later smudges into synth hums provides an ideal treble counterpoint to the ill drums the way the acoustic riff did for “Like I Love You” or a single piano note can for the RZA. Woon’s controlled lead vocal sounds brilliant over it all and is the bit of human warmth that gives the track its heart. It’s a testament to his delivery and the song’s perfect production that I don’t even find the central melody especially fetching: shit dresses so fly, it doesn’t need a pretty face.

Since it seems like Timberlake may never release another record in lieu of his acting career, I can’t tell you how thankful I am that 2011 brought me this song. I’ll always miss Aaliyah but I can bear it so long as somewhere out there a talented artist like Jamie Woon is sounding like they’re missing her, too.