Shape Up‘s boasts a catchy, assured first half, but ultimately suffers from too much bloat and poor sequencing.
There’s a solid EP worth of material that’s hiding in plain sight on Leikeli47’s third studio album Shape Up, one that emerges after an active listener takes the required initiative necessary to find it — meaning you just have to do a little digging to find the good stuff, delete one or two (or a few more) tracks that ultimately gunk things up a bit too much, and you’ll end up with a confident-sounding release that’s a tad more to the point, and all the more exciting for it. Which, for a 14-track project, isn’t exactly the type of glowing praise that usually demands much attention — but Leikeli47 has proven herself to be a talent worth watching, one who works too infrequently to garner much media attention (it’s been nearly four years since her last album Acrylic) and comes off a tad unadorned compared to most other rappers (besides the always wearing a face mask thing), but has a consistent track record and seems to only be improving her technical abilities as a rapper. But there’s no denying that Shape Up often makes for strange bedfellows with the radio-friendly R&B market, and genuinely attempts to position Leikeli as something of a more bona fide pop star than what her previous releases seemed to indicate. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of career pivot, but the end results produce some real “jack of all trades, master of none” type music that dilutes what could have been a stronger collection of more sonic coherence. It’s not really a betrayal of what’s come before, but reflective more of a misunderstanding of where to take her career going forward.
As it stands now, the unmarked album is at least assured in its front half: Opener “Chitty Bang,” while undeniably being what InRO Editor-in-Chief Luke Gorham called a “straight-up Run the Jewels song” upon a first listen (this was featured in Madden 2K22 Soundtrack before being given an official release, and carries that particularly virile sports vibe throughout), kicks things off appropriately enough, even managing to segue into the next track (“Secret Service”) with little overt fanfare. A few songs later, you get the nice ambiance of “LL Cool J,” with an even nicer hook stuck to the bridge — specifically, the call and response of “When I walk by / Tell me what do you see?” and the following answer (“You see a young LL Cool J / That means / Ladies love cool jewelry”) — followed by the fast-tempo of “Zoom” keeping the momentum moving right after. But then there’s the boneless “Done Right,” followed by the even blander “Free To Love” (sequencing on albums really is a lost art form these days, huh?), with both tracks entering into sonic territory that’s commendably versatile but not exactly terribly engaging, especially stuck back-to-back. There are a few hot moments coming after this lull — “Carry Anne” and “Instant Classic,” even if the latter attempts to perpetuate “AOTY” talk that’s wholly unearned by the actual music here — which are promptly followed by total duds (“Baseball” and “Hold My Hand”) that make for an uneven, often contradictory listening experience on the whole. There’s admittedly a hint of cosmic irony for a release titled Shape Up being plagued by issues of bloat, but unfortunately for a 45-minute body of work, that’s just not quite good enough
Published as part of Album Roundup — May 2022 | Part 1.