Even after 2014's Mali Is… earned him two Grammy nominations, Mali Music is still humble enough to overtly reintroduce himself mid-song. It may be the Savannah, Georgia artist's fourth album (second on a major label), but Kortney Jamaal Pollard knowingly carries the burden of still needing to familiarize himself to a larger audience. The Transition of Mali is just the sort of complete work to significantly ease that task.
Unsurprisingly, the Salaam Remi-produced lead single "Gonna Be Alright" is a standout with its brooding piano, crunchy drum break and soul-baring performance. The rest of the album was largely handled by Mali Music himself, with only two brief features from Jhené Aiko and Jazmine Sullivan. Vocally, Mali falls somewhere in a Venn diagram of John Legend, Elle Varner and J. Cole (there is rapping here, too).
Much is covered in the album's 46-minute runtime. "Bow Out" is an honest reflection on love's dissolution, "Dolla" features obvious nods to "Fu-Gee-La" and the Detroit Orchestra-backed "Still" will have you convinced Mali Music is married to Chrissy Teigen. "Sit Down For This" is a particularly heavy conversation between Mali and God while an emergency room doctor delivers bad news over the phone.
While I found the detuned piano of "I Will" overly distracting, there really aren't any giant missteps across the album's dozen tracks. The songs are varied enough to avoid stagnation, and passionate enough to make picking standouts a difficult endeavour.
So what exactly is The Transition of Mali? This isn't a complete reinvention of the former church music director by any means ("What You Done" in particular reaffirms that faith), nor is this album a complete left-turn from what we've come to expect from the artist. But one can't draw any meaningful conclusions of progression through snapshots. In order to get a sense of what this transition entails, we will have to see where Mali Music ends up next. (Bystorm Entertainment/RCA)