“My sunshine has come / and I’m all cried out / and there’s no more rain in this cloud.” Ah, the soulful, sultry pipes of Angie Stone were such a lift and a factor in the now deceased neo-soul movement within R&B. Angie Stone exemplified the sub-genre that sought to keep soul alive and well within contemporary R&B.
Some might argue that contemporary R&B and neo-soul weren’t all that different from one another, but ultimately, neo-soul definitely had a distinct, throwback vibe that contemporary R&B didn’t necessarily claim as a characterization. Neo-soul was special, but now it’s gone. One could even argue that Stone’s best days have passed, even if those days were underrated and under appreciated.
Honestly, has Stone ever received her just due? Sure, she managed two gold albums with Black Diamond (1999) and Mahogany Soul (2001), but neither came easy. Furthermore and perhaps shockingly, Angie Stone has never had a top 10 album. The closest came in 2007 when The Art of Love & War bowed at #11. The reason why the underrated sentiment of Stone is so bothering is her parallels to a classic soul vocalist adored by a legion – Gladys Knight.
Aside from cited lyrics/song “No More Rain In This Cloud” sampling the famed Gladys Knight classic “Neither One of Us,” Stone has the same smooth, yet commanding alto that made Gladys Knight so beloved herself. That isn’t to say that Stone is Knight – Knight is the legend – but it is to say that such a talent as Stone has been considerably overlooked despite what she has to offer.
Being 2014, it has been 10 years since Stone’s third LP, Stone Love was released – 10 years! Stone Love was released July 6, 2004 via now defunct J Records. J Records was especially noted as the ‘urban’ label back in the day, housing numerous artists including Alicia Keys, Fantasia, and Mario. Stone’s album would enter the Billboard 200 at #14, selling 53,000 copies. Back in 2004 when R&B was flourishing, 53,000 copies was incredibly modest. Consider that Usher had dropped the juggernaut Confessions earlier that year.
Despite those small sales totals and the failure to be certified by the RIAA, Stone Love was a superb, hella soulful album. Stone would collaborate with Anthony Hamilton (“Stay For A While”), Betty Wright (“That Kind of Love”), Snoop Dogg (“I Wanna Thank Ya”), and Floetry (“My Man”). Stone would also collaborate with her own flesh and blood, daughter Diamond Stone on “You Gonna Get It.”
The productions are lush, firmly planted in the urban sentiment, and often fueled by soulful samples to establish the old school, traditional vibe. While Stone may have been too old fashioned for the young folks, the critics took notice, nominating Stone for a Grammy for standout single, “U-Haul.” “U-Haul,” arguably was the crowning achievement of Stone Love, showcasing the soul singer at her best. The most memorable line: “I should’ve left your ass long time ago.” It also didn’t hurt that a certain powerhouse rapper, singer, and producer co-wrote, produced, and provided background vocals – Missy Elliott. Also singing background vocals: Tweet, Betty Wright, and Diamond Stone.
Her duet with Anthony Hamilton (“Stay For A While”) was nothing short of powerful, putting two of the movement’s best musicians together on the same track. “My Man” with Floetry grooves like none other (thanks to Warryn Campbell), led by a refrain that women can appreciate everywhere: “Takes me higher, loves me better / holds me closer, my man / I’m talkin’ ‘bout my man / Rocks me gently, kiss me plenty / holds me closer, my man / I’m talkin’ ‘bout my man.”
First single “I Wanna Thank You” isn’t too shabby itself, with two versions issued – one with Snoop Dogg’s rap and one without. Like “My Man,” “I Wanna Thank You” is groovy and feel-good. Things slacken on “You’re Gonna Get It” featuring Diamond Stone, which samples The Delfonics’ “La La Means I Love You.” The vocals continue to impress making the listener question why Stone never broke through in a big way.
While the collaborations are exceptional, Stone Love also has some top-notch solo tracks in addition to the seminal “U-Haul.” “Lover’s Ghetto” and “Come Home (Live With Me)” both rank among the best of Stone Love, thanks to Stone’s poise, soulfulness, and overall investment into the material. “You Don’t Love Me” isn’t second rate either, sigh.
Ultimately, Stone Love, 10 years later, can be likened to flexing one’s muscles; it’s further evidence of Stone’s musical legacy. If Black Diamond and Mahogany Soul are considered more important albums that shape the neo-soul movement, Stone Love is another solid, consistent album there as an exclamation point. Personally, Stone Love continues to be one of my favorite albums of the 00s and certainly eclipses many of today’s R&B efforts – no shade.
Favorites: “I Wanna Thank You,” “My Man,” “U-Haul,” “Stay for A While,” “Lover’s Ghetto,” “Come Home (Live With Me)”
Angie Stone • Stone Love • J Records • US Release Date: July 6, 2004