112 were part of the flagship of Bad Boy Records for quite some time. Many thought them to be the ‘urban’ counterparts to the much more successful boy bands that were populating the airwaves at the time. There were also thought to be the next generation of the legendary ‘urban’ boy bands that preceded them (New Edition, Jodeci, Boyz II Men, etc.). They were 4 smooth dudes with tight harmonies, tight choreography, and a surprisingly self-contained group, writing and producing quite a bit of their own material. They helped make Bad Boy Records what it was.
But Bad Boy Records ain’t what it used to be. It ain’t the moneymaking hit machine that it once was, with many of their artists either lying dormant (Black Rob), being criminally underrated (Carl Thomas), criminally overrated (Mario Winans), or just plain whack (Ma$e). But after a somewhat tense tug of war, 112 finally abandoned ship over to Def Soul Records lock, stock & barrel for the release of their 5th album, Pleasure & Pain.
But with the adage “bite the hand that feeds you and it’ll be the last bite you ever take” proving to be more than true for quite a number of artists who decided to transplant their roots, us fans are left wondering if 112 still has it or if they’re close to being banished to the land of has-beens.
Funny how the album’s title track was actually featured on 112’s eponymous debut. Instead of re-recording it, 112 lifted the hook and pasted it into the airy Intro of this album, proving that at least their harmonies are intact. But 112 commented on “Everyday”, from their flop of a last record, Hot & Wet, that not many people know that the group was a self-contained songwriting/producing bunch. And with the group penning, and Daron producing, 10 of the album’s 17 tracks, most of the album’s auditory success depends on their capabilities.
With Let This Go, things don’t look too promising. Daron’s production is a little too economical and seems to be lacking that certainÃ¢Â?Â¦oomph and the lyricism is a bit too wordy, making the song sound like it’s taking too long to get to the point. Although that could be symbolic for wanting to postpone the inevitable, having to realize that compatibility is no longer alive in the relationship. A possibility but one I highly doubt.
Then things take a huge turn for the better and out comes my personal favorite, What If. I always find it a bit disheartening when my favorite track comes along so early on the album because it means the album won’t, in my eyes, live up to the caliber I feel my favorite track possesses. Thankfully, I’ve made room for more than one favorite. Produced by Ghettopop, it does prove that 112 is sometimes better off in the hands of other songwriter/producers and it also proved to me that Slim is a better singer than I once gave him credit for. I used to think he was just a whining cat with gas but his whining voice is what really made this song work. The production is mellow and smooth, the lyricism is a bit redundant on the hook but otherwise, adds a nice flavor to the usually predictable “what if” scenarios, but Slim’s voice, which really brings the right amount of pain and emotion to the song, is what made me such a fan of it.
I’m still not a huge fan of lead single, U Already Know. The melody is sweet and smooth with the twinkling keys and fingersnap percussion, but the overused sex-you-up concept, with an conceited 3-way proposed on the second verse, does the song much more harm than good.
Things don’t get much better with Damn. Daron’s production still sounds a bit too economical for its own good and the overall lyricism and concept seems to meander to a pointless resolution of “damn, I didn’t mean to break your heart but I did anyway.” A straight-up yawn. And I’ve been a fan of Jermaine Dupri’s ballad production as of late, probably since they all seemed to run in the same vein.
But Nowhere has yet to really tickle my fancy. The same ticking percussion loop is implemented but the overall sound tries to be a bit more distinct from the rest of Jermaine’s recent work and it kinda falls flat. It’s devoid of catchiness, save for the bridge, and 112 kinda seems bored with the record, sans either Q or Mike who attempts to save it with the bridge, only to hit a painful off-key falsetto note at the end of it. Eh, even Jermaine’s allowed a mistake or two once in a while.
Mario Winans’ production I can spot from a mile away. He has a signature sound, which really isn’t a good thing, since all his productions sound like recycle rehashes of the last record he’s done. Let Me Know isn’t much of an exception sans for a toy piano line and a couple oddball sound effects thrown in. And to be an Usher reject of all things (his name’s in the writing credits). I guess Usher realizes just how sub-par this record is and didn’t want to endure the shame of recording it. Not a bad record, with the boys begging not to be the last to know their relationship is over and Mike doing a great job on the bridge, just a pretty averagely OK one.
I’m Sorry is just a throwaway interlude that’s actually better that the next track it’s meant to set up. My Mistakes grates for the simple fact that TrackBoyz’ production sounds like an economic recycle of the last 2 records Daron produced. Thankfully, the production fills out a little more as the song progresses. Doesn’t mean the song gets better as the guys pitifully beg for forgiveness and redemption from a woman who’s being subjected to their pathological infidelity. Yet again, a pretty much straight-up yawn.
And then the inevitable happens?? does a club record. You knew it was gonna happen. What might be worse is that Mario W. produced it. Even worse than that might be T.I.’s guest appearance. Even worse than that? I actually enjoy it. Bring on the flak! I just got through criticizing Mario’s production, and his formula pretty much stays the same here, but those catchy handclaps, twanging bassline, and buzzing synths are infectious and make If I Hit catchy as heck. And the lyricism, while clichÃ?Â©d and mundane, and speaks on a one-night stand with no strings attached, has one unforgettable hook. Slim’s whinnying all over it is a bit of a turn-off but the production, and T.I.’s contagious guest appearance makes for my guilty pleasure of the year thus far. But if I may plead my case, it’s the only club record on the album I enjoy.
JD’s The Way is about as bad as you think it is. He starts off by ripping Jigger’s “Change The Game” beat and diluting it down to mindless club drivel standards. Then he adds on a personal guest appearance that’s embarrassing and implements forgettable lyricism. Something about 112 asking their respective prospects if they like them as much as they do. Thankfully, it’s a short record and almost painlessÃ¢Â?Â¦if you skip it.
112’s sowed their wild oats and return to stellar material with the wonderfully soulful interlude that is We Gon’ Be Alright. With nothing but fingersnaps and their harmony, Daron tears it up as he pledges unconditional devotion to his girl as long as she promises to not let other’s negativity get the best of her. Only 1:35 but 1:35 where 112’s true talented colors shine bright.
And Why Can’t We Get Along sounds the most like classic 112. The smooth production, with understated percussion and piano, is a perfect bed for the guys’ tight harmonies and soulful performances to lie on. The lyricism is on-point, especially Mike’s killer bridge, and the overall song is indicative of the sound, style, and shape that this album should’ve taken overall.
That’s How Close We Are supports that even further. The soulful backdrop is a perfect complement to their voices as they all tear it up in an understated manner trying to describe the unity between them and their loves. Once again, as a unified front, inject the song with the perfect amount of emotion and really showcase just how truly talented they are, and that they can exhibit this talent extremely wellÃ¢Â?Â¦when they want to.
But they just couldn’t help themselves. They just had to go back to the club one last time. And they had to bring Three 6 Mafia along for the ride. Closing The Club is the most inane club trite in recent memory. Daron’s pitiful excuse for a club beat is narcoleptic and laughable! The lyrics are just dumb! Three 6’s cameo is dumb! The whole concept is dumb and frankly infuriating at this point!
But the redemption for ALL of the frivolous mediocrity can be found on the should’ve-been finale What The Hell Do You Want? Being Daron’s solo record, he finally got it all on-point. The production actually sounds like thought was injected into it. The lyricism is actually creative and Daron’s vocal performance is perfect; injected with the right amount of anger, pain, frustration and exasperation. Such a climactic and emotionally draining song, it would’ve been the album’s perfect finaleÃ¢Â?Â¦with a possible outro to round it all out.
But I guess 112 thought it best to end on a positive note, and so we have God Knows. But after the showstopper that was its predecessor, it’s kinda forgettable. It is a sweet and heartfelt song, with Daron and Slim telling the loves of their lives how only God knows just how much they love them. Daron’s production is on-point again, the lyricism is genuine and it probably is the better way to end the album but it’s just not as good considering what it followed.
So what’s the verdict? Does 112 really need Diddy or can they make it own their own? They don’t really need Diddy and they can succeed on their own if they use their noggin. The boys are talented singers and songwriters but they still haven’t learned how to fully maximize their capabilities 100% of the time. They seem very comfortable in the middle of the road and they spend a bit too much time meandering, trying to find their comfort zone.
And it’s a hit or miss affair. Either they hit the nail on the head or miss the target altogether. They either pull all their resources together and really allow their talent to shine or they scrape the bottom of the generic R&B gene pool, which makes for them and their album’s most infuriating quality; inconsistency. A quality that will do them more harm than good in the long run. If they tighten it up now, they still stand a chance. If not, they’ve got a spotty career, and inevitably a spotty fan base and sales pattern, ahead. As for now, take the title as is; their pain is our pleasure and their pleasure our pain.