Syleena Johnson | Chapter 5: Underrated

Syleena Johnson - Chapter 5 Underrated

Syleena Johnson | Chapter 5: Underrated
By Peggy Oliver

If there were ever a singer/songwriter who could write a book on telling it like it is, one Syleena Johnson has perfected this craft to the nines. Performing in classical, gospel and jazz choirs throughout college, Johnson was actually studying to be a psychology major. She eventually ended up graduating with a major in Music. Yet she might as well have utilized what she soaked in from her psychology classes. Never accused of being shy when it comes to laying her feelings on the table, Johnson is well qualified to sing about her frustration of abusive relationships and surviving other bumpy roads of life. Her husky alto can cut like a knife while her lyrics never waste time on getting down to business. And nothing has really changed to this day since Johnson penned several emotional musical chapters to her fans, beginning with Chapter 1: Love, Pain and Forgiveness. Signed to Jive Records in the late nineties, each project was greeted with monster critical acclaim and initial success on the charts. Even though she did crack the top 100 on the U.S. R&B charts on several occasions, only one track made it into the top 30. Most music loyalists are probably familiar with the wail heard around the R&B mainstream world on Kanye West’s All Falls Down in 2004 with Johnson singing portions of Lauryn Hill’s “Mystery of Iniquity.” Despite the minimal chart success, Johnson kept her true musical colors intact with four chapters to her credit: three on Jive and one on her independent company Aneelys.

Then there is Chapter 5: Underrated, a title ironically chosen by her loyal fans on the social media pages. Considering her long-term frustrations with the music industry’s concept of sales over substance and the disconnection with record label executives, naming her latest chapter underrated is not an understatement by any means. With Chapter 5, Johnson is relishing
greater artistic freedom and a greater connection to her bosses at her new label home, Shanachie Entertainment. And true to her artistic self, Johnson’s honesty remains the best policy.

A boxing announcer sets the tone on Underrated’s title track as Johnson proudly declares that through the years personally and professionally that she has strongly survived life’s to become “the underrated champion of the world.” The techno bangin’ first single, “A Boss,” echoes shades of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and is all about the independent woman seeking what is rightfully hers: “I’m just trying to get what I deserve.” There are plenty of mellow moods to experience on Underrated, but Johnson’s lyrics still pack plenty of intensity or intrigue. “Angry Girl” featuring Tweet warns another woman about how resentment can backfire in romantic relationships while “Like Thorns” reveals a woman walking away from a relationship that has already imploded: “You used to be like roses, now you’re just like thorns.” “Label Me” calls out all those who have called out Johnson; complete with a Kanye reference and all tied up with a catchy foot-stomping, hand-clapping bow. Going back to that underrated champion concept, Stone Wall speaks about Johnson’s climb into the music industry ring: “I’ve fought a
thousand battles with my mind my love my soul.”

In a world where most of the current R&B landscape is more superficial than ever focusing on production finesse rather than soulful grit, Chapter 5: Underrated proves that Johnson is a unarguable exception to the norm. Though there is a bit of bravado overkill on a couple of tracks including “Go Head,” Chapter 5 should raise Johnson’s rating as an urban superstar.

Four and a half out of five stars.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene