Do you understand how incredible Jamie Foxx’ story is? Do you really? Let’s review. Foxx started his musical career in church choirs and, in retrospect, a group hilariously called Leather and Lace, and ended up a Grammy winner with multiple number one singles and millions of albums sold. Foxx started his acting career as a comedian whose best known character involved him dressing in drag, and ended up the only actor besides Al Pacino to be nominated for two different Oscars in the same year. Hell, even his aborted career as an athlete worked out when he was cast as Willie Beamen in Any Given Sunday. Yes sir, for the last few years Jamie Foxx has been on one hell of a roll. Until now.
Every so often a label will go all old-school-Nintendo playbook and hit the reset button, and that’s exactly what happened to Jamie. After months of buildup Foxx’ fourth studio album, Body, was in more trouble than a cab driver with Tom Cruise in the back seat. Body’s lead single, Speak French, flopped, and even when they called in the big guns (T.I. and JT), I’m a Winner didn’t hit as expected. For a man who had the entire world blaming it on the alcohol just a few months ago, it must have been cause for concern. Cue the reset button. Speak French? Never happened. Body? Don’t know what you’re talking about, you must mean Best Night of My Life. All those old guys? Quick, go get some young stars.
Jamie Foxx is far too good and far too famous to put out a bad album, but considering the circumstances of its creation, it’s no wonder that Best Night of My Life is a solid but disjointed album without a true core. In fact, it sometimes feels more like market research than music. Just take the title track, the kind of romantically inclined jam that Foxx has perfected that features….Wiz Khalifa? Wiz does fine, but musically speaking the Black & Yellow emcee is an odd casting choice for such a sparkling mid-tempo jam. (Of course, popularly speaking, it’s brilliant.) And since Soulja Boy’s only barely allowed to touch Yep Dat’s Me’s hook, his inclusion feels purely like an effort to hit the teen demographic. Of course the young artist guest feature that really works is Drake on Fall For Your Type, but that’s mostly because it’s sounds like more of a Drake song he allowed Jamie to get in on than vice-versa (Noah “40” Shebib’s beat could have easily ended up on Thank Me Later). Not an auspicious start.
Oddly (or transparently), every guest feature on Best Night of My Life is loaded into the first half of the album. Literally. Seven of the first eight songs have a guest, but starting with track nine the album is solely a Foxx affair, and in many ways, this is the better half of the album. Apparently freed from the demands to make a hit single, Jamie lets his true intentions shine, intentions that consist almost entirely of atmospheric, slow jam r&b. Although I’m sure he uttered a curse or two under his breath when Kanye’s Gorgeous came out, Jamie’s song of the same name reveals an artist with an expert grasp of grown and sexy r&b, while the minimalist Sleeping Pill lets Foxx’s impressive voice take center stage. True, Pill is no Freak in Me, the Marsha Ambrosius babymaker off his previous album (which belongs in the babymaker Hall of Fame), but I still won’t be surprised if we’re hearing the pitter patter of little foxes in nine months. I mean, even the quickie-advocating 15 Minutes is guaranteed to set the mood thanks to his carefully restrained vocals and undeniable charisma. Now this is more like the Jamie Foxx we know and love.
So how do we reconcile these two halves of Best Night of My Life? Frankly, it’s hard to. Add up the release delays, the title change, the guest features and the divided nature of the album and it’s hard not to hear Jamie in the background of every song saying, “Enough is enough. Let’s just drop this thing and move on.” And while many won’t care about such behind-the-scenes maneuverings, the result’s the same – the weakest album of Foxx’ career. But knowing him, this is only a temporary setback. I’m sure in a couple years he’ll become the first person to have a number one movie and album at the same time. If history has taught us anything, it’s Jamie Foxx always wins.