Liner Notes: 'We Are KING' Is Love Ressurection For The Digital Age


Not too many artists come fully formed into their aesthetic from the get-go, but the arrival of KING in 2011 came as a beautiful exception to the rule. Often artists' first introductions are safe, bursting eager to please, but the ladies of KING delivered an assured and embellished bow-tied present with their debut EP, The Story. The EP only contained three songs, but those three songs were exquisite and crafted so distinctively that even though KING fit in with the transitional period of R&B at the time, they stuck out as curators of a fresh n' new direction. Knew thy self the ladies of KING did, and immediately members Anita Bias, and twin sisters, Paris and Anita Strother, gained fans from high places as neo-soul luminaries Erykah Badu and The Roots?uestlove were quick to co-sign, while his Purple Majesty, Prince was so enamored he had them open for him during a stop in the group's native Los Angeles.

Even with presence and accolades, KING still kept a low-profile, not rushing into their newfound lauding, only quietly dropping a single a year ("In The Meantime" in 2013 and "Mister Chameleon" in 2014 --- both of which are present on We Are KING), and making the occasional guest appearance (on Bilal's A Love Surreal, and jazz pianist Robert Glasper's ethereal Black Radio project). For awhile the group was levitated by just these splashes of existence and a quiet tour schedule, but now with We Are KING, the trio's official full-length debut, it's crystal clear that KING took all the time they needed to expand on the sound they so finely defined for themselves.

In the chaotic maze of R&B and its many personalities, We Are King invites a calmer and languid conversation towards how the genre blends with dream pop and electronic ambiance. While not sounding unlike anybody, their sound has the obvious hallmarks of soulful 1970s and 1980s quiet storm. In some lights, they sprawl out in their songs like Anita Baker did so rapturously, while waxing romantic harmony a la Earth, Wind & Fire. KING are sensuous as they are restrained, courting to spark the candlelit magic Babyface and Secrets-era Toni Braxton supplied the 1990s with. Buttons on the sleeve these influences are, as their nostalgia forms its own memories with modern chillwave in their mix that allows them plenty of breathing room to not float too high from the 21st Century aesthetic.

We Are KING doesn't have a distinct structure. It's sonically suspended in an almost drug-induced, meditative mood where the songs seem to melt into each other as if in a liquid stream-of-consciousness.  Every corner of the album is filled with thick, full, and luscious sound, leaving no white space in its wake, feeling as if we're frolicking in the floral and fauna of a digitized biome. At times chirps of synths and the occasional horn blat slice through the sonic foliage, this a testament to producer Paris (who plays every instrument on the album) and her playfulness to bolster such attributes all while nicely enclosing everything with the supple vocal blending of Anita and Amber. Such a rich structure finds homage on how jazz and old school funk albums riff off suite-like material, playing out less as singular song, but as an atmospheric experience. Even holdovers from The Story are extended, elongated into even more intoxicating affairs, and if you've kept the EP on heavy rotation like I, listening to them here feels like reuniting with old friends.

Of the new material, "Red Eye" seduces the need to explore and discover as it glides in a twilight travelogue of escapism as does "Native Land" which washes ashore on shimmering crystallized synths. Of course, their tribute to boxer Muhammad Ali, "The Greatest" is a distinctive standout that leaps out of a 1980s arcade game, figurative and literally as far the fantastic visual is concerned.


Lounge in love the ladies of KING do as this isn't an album that glorifies one night stands and quickies atop kitchen counters, so Tinder swipers and those who form to the trappings of non-attachment affairs might feel impatient with how KING define their love making. They are searching for love beyond the material tinsel and digital displays, urging for love with depth, kinship with understanding. This a valiant declaration, especially in a time where everybody's Androids are mounted to their hands and depth only amounts if its written in overblown Tumblr format.

Sincere they are when they are about finding unconditional love on "The Right" easing out a song that doesn't hurry love, but keeps it in anticipated, luscious wait. Afraid they are not when they extend wine and roses, setting the right mood with the slow burning "Love Song". Revisiting "Supernatural" (my favorite from The Story) reminds us of how these three celebrate human connection above anything else, as they swoon: "There's magic in everything you do...I'm in love with everything 'bout you". Such candor is a welcomed far cry from the way R&B has framed romance these days...

Even when they aren't in states of bliss, like on "Mister Chameleon" which is about uncovering betrayal and waving smoke from mirrors, KING sound sweet and understanding. Still, letting loose on the bouncy "Oh Please!" shows that KING aren't too caught up in the dewiness of love, as they take time during the hunt to thwart their hazy style with a soft spoken-word "rap" in-between that mirrors an old school technique (I was quite reminded of how Teena Marie interrupted "Ooh La La La" with some sage advice). The song ends on a high note as fanfares of horns and the grind of an electric guitar close it out beautifully.

For the lovers, the dreamers, and those who want some romance and tenderness resurrected in the conversation of modern rhythm n' blues, We Are KING lays out its terms of endearment well, commending being carefree and humane in a digital age, urging us all to take time out to put the phones down and smell the flowers every once in awhile --- you know for old time's sake.

+ We Are KING is available for purchase and download via iTunes, and for streaming via Spotify
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