I have to make a confession; I am a self-professed underachiever. I am a hard worker and I do believe in hard work but I am well aware of the fact that, in most things, I don’t work as hard as I know I could or should. I do not live up to my full potential. Call me a slacker if you must but I am well aware of the fact that I, in a sense, sell myself short.
Nivea is an underachiever as well. The sad thing is that she doesn’t realize it. Her claim to fame is singing the hook on Mystikal’s hit, “Danger”. It led to a record deal and the release of her failed debut single, “Don’t Mess With The Radio.” Almost a year later, she re-launched herself with the Grammy-nominated smash hit, “Don’t Mess With My Man”, followed by the release of her near-gold, self-titled debut album.
A flawed release, it did manage to showcase Nivea’s talent in a positive light and hint at her unfulfilled potential. Potential and promise that many were anxious to see her live up to on her sophomore release. She had the looks, the vocals, the lyricist skills, even some of the moves; she seemed to have the whole package that was just waiting to be put to good use. 3 years, label drama, management drama, relationship drama, a husband and a baby later, Nivea poises to take her career to the next level with Complicated. Her formula for getting there, however, is far from that.
Intros are usually pointless but Rain actually serves some entertainment purpose. Nivea’s lovely vocals harmonize well against the sound of the falling rain as she recites a self-penned poem of how rain only brings about the sunshine in one’s life. A little corny but sweet and heartfelt.
It segues into the album’s only true ballad and title track, Complicated. Against slow, pensive production that creates a hushed, atmospheric vibe, Nivea utilizes a clipped vocal cadence well as she ponders how love and relationships aren’t complicated but how we complicate them. The guitar solo in the middle is pure genius and enhances the track’s genuine appeal.
Lead single Okay! tries to capitalize on the overnight success of crunk&B while also capitalizing on Lil’ Jon’s spastic ad-lib of choice. The animated calliope beat has almost a minimalist feel to it but has enough spunk and spark to transfer well on the dance floor. Nivea’s coquettish vocals, the catchy, anthemic chorus, and an anemic YoungBloodz cameo all blend well together to create one of the better generic club anthems of the year.
Yet as corny and juvenile as it might be, I feel second single, Parking Lot, is a stroke of genius in its own right. Produced by Jermaine Dupri, aside from the ticking drum loop, the song has a different sound and flair that doesn’t make it such an obvious JD production. The naughty innocence of Nivea’s vocals flirt well with the beat and works the concept of secretive infidelity well. Some might be turned off by Nivea’s adamancy about meeting at the “McDonald’s parking lot” but listening to the track and taking it for what it is, it’s easy to realize it made its point quite well and is the first true sign of Nivea fulfilling her potential.
I Can’t Mess With You is the album’s first true sign of weakness and highlights its biggest flaw; the generic quality of most of the material. Weakly sampling “You Are Everything”, the backing production sounds cheap and bargain-basement while the subject matter of not wanting to be involved with a trifling man is overused and ill-thought out here. Nivea’s husband/exec. producer Dream makes a cameo appearance here and proves that husband/wife recording teams aren’t always a good thing. It’s not a bad record, it’s just completely forgettable.
Breathe (Let It Go) manages to somewhat rectify things. The production has a refreshing, airy quality about it that melds well with Nivea’s clipped vocal cadence. The lyricism is on-point and once again, Nivea’s potential is momentarily fulfilled.
And right back down the generic highway we go with Quickie. The record has quite a few levels but works on none. The production tries to have a clubbish, Dirty South sound to it and it only comes together momentarily on the bridge. Nivea tries to get her grown woman on by proclaiming how she wants to be broken off quick – no fuss, no mess – and gives one unbelievable performance. And Rasheeda’s cameo appearance is just a little too rough and rugged for the overall track.
Indian Dance doesn’t fare any better. Nivea’s hubby tries his hardest to create a hard-hitting club beat, with an Indian vibe, but never really finds his proper footing with it. The overall concept of her seductive powers having the ability to make dudes sing like Indians, complete with laughable faux-Indian chants on the hook, is worthy of one big eye-roll and a quick push of the skip button.
Thankfully, Nivea decides to take a more introspective route and hits us with the autobiographical No More. For a brief 3:39, Nivea drops all the gimmicks and clichÃ?Â©s and gives an in-depth look inside her many trials and tribulations, from her manager stealing money and her boyfriend (Lil’ Wayne) dumping her for his baby mama to not having enough money to help support her struggling family. I realize it’s not heartrending poetry but when the surrounding material is pretty much clichÃ?Â©d, shallow and generic, you appreciate the realer moments like these. Nivea’s passionate vocal performance sells the song even more (the soulful rasp is a nice touch) and makes for the album’s biggest highlight.
But I guess Nivea’s emotionally drained after the previous track and needs to unwind on the dance floor. Her and Kellz had chemistry in the past and they try to recreate it with Gangsta Girl. The thumping percussion kicks and staccato guitar strums do have an infectious quality but the lyrics are as dense and generic as one can get; especially the admittedly catchy but still absurd bridge where Nivea turns her suitors into her personal lapdogs. But out of all the generic, shallow, clichÃ?Â©d tracks, this one’s the best (not saying much).
Then there’s the added treat that is the Okay! Red-Cup Remix. Completely abandoning the calliope, crunk&B sound of the original and opting for a laidback, west-coast swagger, it’s not as commercial nor catchy as the original but is a fresh twist upon it. Borrowing the vocal arrangements from Mariah’s “Breakdown” was a nice touch and makes Nivea sound even more in her element.
Nivea hits another creative stride with the mellow So Far. The syncopated rhythms and hypnotic production really create a lush and soothing backdrop for her to express her anguish on. The lyricism is on-point, suggesting she should maybe leave that aspect to the experts a little more often, as she states her feelings of loss as her and her man drift further apart. Well-articulated verses, a catchy hook, and Nivea’s expressive vocals prove that when Nivea hits her creative stride, she’s somewhat of a force to be reckoned with.
Quite a fitting close to an otherwise spotty album is the anthemic It’s All Good. Nivea’s husband finally got on the right production track and constructed a lighthearted, fun, carefree backdrop that doesn’t take itself too seriously and really complements the theme well. Nivea’s carefree vocals work well too as she proclaims that despite her many ups and downs, she’s been made a better woman for it all and she’s come off triumphant.
The most frustrating thing about this album is listening to it and hearing Nivea’s talent and potential repeatedly go to waste. There are a few glimpses where she hits creative strides and her potential is fulfilled but for the most part, she seems to dumb down her material and cheapen her sound for accessibility and airplay. Instead of taking the substantial material and constructing a solid album, she seems complacent with occasionally recording substantial material and interspersing it with the sounds of the week and production flavors of the month.
Sadly, Nivea’s desire to be popular, relevant and successful all at once will be her biggest downfall. She’s got the skills but mostly puts them to poor use and her overall material doesn’t carry enough weight to avoid getting lost in the shuffle. Her constant underachievement negates the album’s supposed complex premise. Complicated is easy like Sunday morning. The only problem is by Sunday night, you’ll probably have forgotten who Nivea is.