José James is reborn as a powerful voice in contemporary R&B on Love in a Time of Madness, his vibrant new Blue Note Records album. Even for an artist as creatively restless as James, Love in a Time of Madness is something new: an R&B focused foray into moody soul, electronic pop, and trap-addled beats, with the occasional influence of African folk, American gospel and Minneapolitan funk. And though James' voice is no less agile and his ear no less adventurous, this is also his most relatable, daresay sexiest work yet, detailing love's ups and downs without holding back an ounce of emotion.
James initially planned on Love in a Time of Madness being a double album. One side would be about love, and the other about societal madness – a response to the systemic and often physical violence perpetrated on U.S. citizens of color. But as he worked on the music, he recalls, "The madness part was getting way more out of control. The murders kept happening and it became overwhelming and depressing." So instead of rehashing the pain, James doubled down on the part of the album that could provide healing. That's not to say James' take on love is all so rosy. This is an album where romance isn't always romantic. James wanted to tell love's whole story.
Sonically, James was inspired by modern approaches to pop identity and songwriting – the holistic vision of Grimes, the creative engine of Kanye West, the curated image of FKA Twigs, the genre-mashing of The Internet, the sonic space of Bryson Tiller, and even the savvy studio choices of Ellie Goulding. He left behind the bands of his previous albums to instead work with topline writers and producers – Miguel collaborator Tario holds down most of Love in a Time of Madness alongside Likeminds (Pharoahe Monch, Anthony Hamilton).
"There's a resurgence of something I haven't seen since the '90s or '00s, when hip-hop, R&B, and pop were converging in really thrilling ways through folks like Tribe, Erykah Badu, or D'Angelo," James adds. "There's a whole new generation now that's unafraid to blend it all together. The world is ready for this kind of thing again."