“I’m the only thing you should need / You should be addicted to me,” Jorja Smith boldly declares on Be Right Back’s opening track “Addicted.” So far, the 23-year-old’s music career has backed that up, consisting of nothing but euphoric highs: collaborating with Drake on his 2017 album More Life, being featured on the epic, Kendrick Lamar-curated Black Panther soundtrack, receiving her first Grammy nomination back in 2018 for Best New Artist.
Smith’s Mercury Prize-nominated debut album Lost & Found electrified listeners with its languid melodies, as her piercing vocals quickly proved she was a special singer. “Blue Lights” was a viral sensation; tracks like “Lifeboats (Freestyle)” and “The One” gracefully displayed her range and willingness to experiment sonically. On her latest project, Be Right Back, Smith continues to show creative growth while simultaneously leaning into vulnerability more than ever.
The theme of simplicity is palpable from start to finish. From one-word song titles to straightforward arrangements, Smith understands the power of austerity. While “Addicted” exemplifies desperation and yearning, tracks like “Gone” and “Time” celebrate introspection and showcase how naturally she can convey hefty emotion. Smith’s voice is impressively—and deceptively—malleable. One moment, it provides peace and serenity; the next, it’s tumultuous, sonorous and all-encompassing.
The bareness of her vocals is beautifully juxtaposed against electric guitar strums on “Home” and on “Burn,” you can hear the weariness she painfully describes. “Bussdown” initially comes across as an unapologetic, self-indulgent anthem with lyrical references to top-down car rides, scores of diamond-encrusted jewelry and endless parties. However, Smith still acknowledges there’s a sinister side to success. A cameo from British rapper Shaybo adds depth to a song already expansive in how it examines the downsides of fame.
“Digging” is the most enthralling moment on Be Right Back. Strategically nestled between the quiet atmospherics of “Burn” and the sumptuous softness of “Weekend,” “Digging” begins with intriguing reverb and escalates to feel-good, cascading rhythms. Smith gets a bit existential and mentions wanting to be good so she can “go to heaven,” but doesn’t go into any greater detail than that. The chorus (“Get out of my bed / There ain’t enough room in my bed”) doesn’t pinpoint who she is casting off, but she relishes in—and understands the weight of—ambiguity.
The brevity of Be Right Back is misleading. At just eight songs long, the project doesn’t leave much space for Smith to reconnect with fans after Lost & Found. However, she approached the task standing tall in her abilities as a songwriter, a singer and, ultimately, an artist. Smith has embraced the complexity of womanhood, relationships and self-awareness.
As the poetic nature of her lyricism evolves, it makes future albums and EPs even more promising. Hopefully, the singer will experiment even further with more rich and upbeat tunes that will heighten the dynamism of her already-indelible voice. If Smith can do this much with a little, can you imagine what it’ll sound like when she goes big?
Candace McDuffie is a culture writer whose work has appeared in outlets like Rolling Stone, MTV, NBC News, and Entertainment Weekly. You can follow her on Instagram @candace.mcduffie.