R&B singer, songwriter, & actress Ledisi, also known as Ledisi Young, released her ninth studio album last Friday. Let Love Rule opens with an audio clip of words of wisdom from inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant. “I choose today. Tomorrow is not promised, today is where everything is happening.”
This message resonates throughout the album, a message that implores listeners to celebrate love and appreciating the moment (“Let Love Rule”, “Give You More”, “Us 4Ever”) despite challenges and injustices past, present, and future (“Shot Down”, “Hello”). Ledisi takes the listener along on her emotional journey of moving through dark times and into the light with earnest lyrics and a voice that’s as expressive as it is powerful. The choice to intersperse the album with short inspirational interludes from Iyanla Vanzant and CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien is creative but seems to stilt the effortless flow of the album as a whole. Though the clips provide a guide for the listener through the album, most of Ledisi’s music has no problem speaking for itself.
“Shot Down” tackles a heavy subject (“education is a loaded gun, shot down before I even had a chance to run, the system says we matter but the black lives only matter certain days”) tucked between bass and guitar grooves. The smooth, classic R&B instrumentation lifts some of the weightiness of the song’s content, allowing “Shot Down” to remain cohesive with the rest of the optimistic album despite its message. Ledisi keeps her vocals light on “Shot Down”, allowing the emotional power of the track to come from the words.
Similar to “Shot Down”, the album’s title track addresses a broad audience, but “Add to Me” sees Ledisi shift the narrative back to her personal journey. In “Add to Me”, which was the second single released in advance of Let Love Rule, Ledisi challenges her suitors to provide her with love beyond material items, asserting her own power (“paying all my bills on my own, can you handle me”) and asking what a man can contribute to her already rich life (“what can you add to me”).
“Hello”, another deeply personal track, is about discovering the dark side of someone you thought you knew, instrumentally darker and less melodic than the other tracks on the album.
“Forgiveness” sees Ledisi pouring her emotions into an outstanding vocal performance that slowly builds over looping fingerpicked electric guitars. The last notes finish abruptly, but Ledisi’s melancholy lingers into the next track, “Here.” More traditionally produced, “Here” is less of a lamentation and more of a request to her lover for support.
“Give You More” features superstar John Legend, pulling him away from pop and back to R&B. The two sing separately at first, then in unison, before they split off into harmony. The duet feels effortless, a wonderful addition to the album and one of the only tracks to feature a male vocalist (in addition to “Us 4ever” with BJ The Chicago Kid).
She showcases more of her vocal power and emotion on “High”, a song about a love that transcends past hardships. Trap-influenced percussive elements weave their way into classic R&B basslines and rhythms to create an updated sound and backing vocals create a beautiful texture of precise harmonies for Ledisi to riff effortlessly over.
“If You Don’t Mind” opens simply, with a thick bassline and simple beat. Around a minute in, the song blossoms into one of the most sumptuously produced tracks of the record. Ledisi’s soaring vocals quickly take center stage, providing a decisive conclusion to the hopeful record.
With 9 Grammy nominations, Let Love Rule shows Ledisi as an artist happy with where she is, appreciative of the positivity in her life. Ledisi has proven herself again and again, and it’s only a matter of time until a Grammy lands in her hands- perhaps with Let Love Rule engraved into the plate.