Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Be Right Back, the new EP from Jorja Smith.
We wrote about the varied influences that went into Jorja Smith’s debut back in 2018 and, since then, she has proven to be an influence herself, winning critical acclaim and dedicated fans.
Speaking directly to those fans about Be Right Back, Smith said in a statement: “It’s just something I want my fans to have right now, this isn’t an album and these songs wouldn’t have made it. If I needed to make these songs, then someone needs to hear them too.”
Smith has stayed busy since the release of her debut, with numerous singles and collaborative tracks — from the Blue Note release “Rose Rouge” to the summery seduction “Be Honest (feat. Burna Boy).” Despite the increase in fame, Smith has retained a relatable and humble persona; the pandemic-influenced music video for Be Right Back single “Addicted” was shot entirely with a webcam and gives a close-up of Smith, in the car, at home, making faces, dancing with fireworks going off in the background.
She told i-D that the song “is about not receiving the full attention from someone that you should. Whether that be a partner, a parent or a friend; just someone who should be giving back what you give to them. That person should be addicted to you.” Although it was written years ago, this desire for attention is fitting for a time when most of us are starved for it.
Another timely release, “Gone,” the mournful second single from Be Right Back and the second track on the EP, is a song about loss and seems to be about something heavier, and darker, than what Smith was contemplating on Lost & Found.
The singles already signaled that this EP is going to lean more melancholy and gloomier than her debut, and the whole project is tied together by a more downtempo, somber mood. Lost & Found was far from harsh vocally, but saw Smith proving her range and ability to belt out high notes. Be Right Back spends the majority of its time in her lower register, capitalizing on the effortlessness her voice has always held — and finding the power in restraint.
The third track, “Bussdown,” features Shaybo — a fellow London artist, rapper and self-proclaimed Queen of the South — and feels like a subdued follow up to “Be Honest,” a slowed-down but still-danceable groove. Shaybo’s rapping is a welcoming change of pace as she and Smith trade off in a well-matched exchange about riches and fame. The music video features Smith as a (less-than-believable) mechanic and seems to double-down on the message of the song, warning against getting swindled.
The midpoint of Lost & Found was all climactic choruses and big emotional swings, full of classic R&B ballads. At the center of Be Right Back, the music falls away and there’s a brief spoken interlude, between Smith and someone whose nickname is “Bejoice, like rejoice.” Smith asks, “What’s my pet name?” and is told, “You don’t have any.” They both laugh, and it’s infectious. Both projects are intimate and authentic, but including the silly exchange makes this EP something different: It’s for the fans, and gives listeners a look at Smith outside of the studio, too.
On this song, “Time,” and subsequent tracks “Home” and “Burn,” there’s a more explicit Amy Winehouse-flare, with the focus on Smith’s voice over relatively minimal guitar and drums. “Digging” is still guitar-heavy, but the reverb and more driving drumbeat elevate the drama and make it a standout in the back half of the EP. It feels like a second, stronger iteration of the 2017 Preditah collaboration “On My Mind,” moving beyond the refrain of “Don't want you on my mind,” to the more pointed “Get out of my head / There ain't enough room in my bed.”
The title track of Lost & Found saw Smith musing: “I never thought I would ever find / Something so assured but so fine,” seemingly about a romantic relationship. “Weekend,” at the close of Be Right Back, sees Smith disillusioned, claming, “I lost all that I found inside of you” and “I was young enough to think that you would come back.” These reflections, and the loss of innocence inherent in them, are likely to be crystallized on her sophomore album.
Smith assured The Face magazine that, “In this whole lockdown, I realised who I was and who I am. I feel like you’re going to see growth, a lot of growth. The evolution of Jorja Smith.”
With this EP — albeit a bit disjointed, understandable for what is essentially eight loosies packaged together — Smith has shown range and an experimentation with genre that paves the way for a sophomore album that takes more risks, and hopefully delivers on that promise of evolution.
Theda Berry is a Brooklyn-based writer and the former Editor of VMP. If she had to be a different kind of berry, she’d pick strawberry.