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Normani ‘Dopamine’ | Album Review

From the initial baseline on track "Big Boy," Normani's debut album Dopamine promises an unforgettable journey, showcasing her growth and offering listeners a treat, reflecting the experiences she's overcome since Fifth Harmony.

From the initial baseline on “Big Boy” on Normani’s debut album Dopamine, you already know the audience is in for a treat. The highly anticipated album has been in the works since the former Fifth Harmony released her debut single, “Motivation.”

As you take in the album, you can see the journey that Normani has been on ever since she embarked on her solo career after being part of the X-Factor-formed girl group Fifth Harmony. Her first solo release, “Love Lies”, which saw her team up with Khalid, was just a small piece of what she has to offer. Since that moment, she has had to overcome many experiences, all of which have allowed her to arrive at this moment.

After a few false starts, it wasn’t until February 21st, when the album artwork was revealed and website www.wheresthedamnalbum.com went live, that the Dopamine era well and truly began. Now that we have arrived, it is clear that the wait and anticipation were truly worth it.

The anticipation and hype for the project began with the release of her 2019 single “Motivation”, the infectious pop track alongside its music video that was a heavy ode to the 2000s, and the VMA performance put Normani on the minds of everyone as someone to not play around with. A string singles, which she has been featured on and presented solo, has given a sneak peek and glimpse of what was expected of her debut offering.

Arriving at this moment, the 13-track album presents Normani as a 28-year-old grown woman who is stepping into her femininity, embracing her sexuality, and speaking the truth in every way possible. The album moves between R&B, Pop, Dance, and Hip-hop and is a multi-layered offering from Normani.

The sonic journey the album takes you on starts with a bang in a hard-hitting nature with “Big Boy”, a celebration and ode to the south and Normani’s roots with mentions of the legendary Pimp C and Big Boi and a heavy hip-hop infused baseline that flows throughout the track. It continues into “Still”, the Mike Jones sampled track, which comes in with a heavy trap-infused beat, before moving on to “All Yours”, a standout of mine which had to be repeated multiple times, before moving on to “Lights On”, a dark, sensual Janet Jackson-influenced track which feels like a descent of Janet Jackson’s Nasty’ era. It’s no stranger that Normani has always been able to channel her musical influences, and that representation is always shown through her artistry whilst offering something new and exciting in the current musical landscape.  “Insomnia” is another standout, and there is no surprise that the track penned by pop duo StarGate, Victoria Monét, Tommy Parker, Lydia Asrat and Brandy Norwood caught my ears due to the vocal performance. The layering and vocal harmonies Brandy and Victoria Monét presented celebrate Brandy’s vocal abilities, which have touched and inspired many artists. The performance on this one catches you from the start, is a celebration in your ears, and will be a standout moment once performed live.

The previously released singles “1:59” and “Candy Paint” felt flat and didn’t do more than expected in the album’s context. Where most of the album has seen Normani speaking confidently and openly about her love experiences figuratively and literally, “Distance” introduces the note of Vulnerability about a love which has gone south and separated from said love. The production seems much more straightforward and allows her vocals to shine on the track as she addresses the situation of distancing herself from said love. The James Blake featured track “Tantrum” is probably the track audiences may be the most curious about. When it was announced that Blake would appear on the album, there was intrigue in what that would sound like, and Tantrum delivers something that compliments both artists very welcome. Blake’s darker, moody edge compliments Normani’s velvet vocals and the tone of the song and delivers a darker tone to the album as it speaks of two sides of a relationship that no longer addresses both sides of the situation. The album closes out on “Little Secrets”, brings back that edge, and closes Normani knowing she is that girl.

Overall, Dopamine is a stunning offering that has been well and truly worth the wait for. Normani, alongside her collaborators, put her vocal talent front and centre across the album. Working alongside executive producer Starrah, they were able to present a body of work that will be on repeat all summer, joining the strong string of albums already released over the past few weeks and will no doubt be a source of social media conversations for weeks to come.

Dopamine is out now

Words by Seneo Mwamba

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