Does Angie Stone’s ‘Black Diamond’ Album Stand the Test of Time?
When it comes to describing longevity, Angie Stone serves as a good example.
Getting her start in the music industry as founder of '80s rap group The Sequence -- noted as the first female rap group to chart -- Stone is no rookie, with over 30 years in the business to her credit. After The Sequence's time had passed, she took to showcasing her vocal talents on projects by Mantronix and Lenny Kravitz before deciding to pursue a solo career as an R&B artist.
Finding a recording home with Clive Davis' Arista Records, Stone released her soul-filled debut album, 'Black Diamond,' on Sept. 28, 1999. Dedicated to her daughter, Diamond Ti'ara, the album featured production from the likes of Gerry DeVeaux, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and DJ U-Neek, among others. The project would go on to be a mild hit, certified gold by the RIAA and serve as the first "stone" cast in Angie's musical rebirth.
On the 15-year anniversary of the album's release, The Boombox gives it a spin to see if this 'Black Diamond' truly stands the test of time.
Following a short introductory track, 'Black Diamond' opens up with the serene 'No More Rain.' Co-produced by Angie Stone and B. William's and written by legendary songwriter Gordon Chambers, Stone wastes no time showcasing her refined vocal abilities over a sample of Gladys Knight & The Pips' 'Neither One of Us Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye.' She laments the process of overcoming love lost. The first single released from 'Black Diamond,' the song was a hit on contemporary R&B airwaves, scoring Stone her first solo hit and a signature track in her catalog.
Angie Stone follows up 'No More Rain' with the hazy 'Green Grass Vapors.' Lyrics like "Green grass vapors running through my head, I'm feeling higher than a thunderdome" are blunt, and highlights Stone's love for the sticky icky, even during a night of love-making. Produced by Aaron Burns-Lyles and written by Stephanie Bolton, the track plays perfect as a selection for the red-eyed sect to get their freak on to.
Stone collaborates with fellow funky soul singer (and the father of her son) D'Angelo on the smoked out 'Everyday,' and the finished product is as good as you would predict coming from two such talents. D'Angelo implements his sonic trademarks and superb instrumentation, while Angie is steady as ever on the vocals and impresses with her catchy songwriting. Crooning "Tell me how you wanna get something all you gain from is nothing / Everyday, everyday, everyday, baby / You've twisted my heart / Tell me, why is it that I'm bugging now that I've got everything / Everyday, every way, you're gonna pay, baby / For dissing my love," she drops emotional dead weight by saying good riddance to a former lover and comes out with a great song in the process.
'Coulda Been You' sees Angie turning up the heat on her philandering soon-to-be ex. Featuring Sekou Aiken on guest vocals, scathing lines like "You thought the grass was greener on the other side / You didn't know your ass was color blind / Now, you're feeling like I did you wrong / But you had me, baby, all along," gets Angie's point across clearly. But when all is said and done, she decides to grant her mate with a second chance and patch things up. Not the plot twist many listeners were expecting, but at least the suspense makes for good music.
The tempo picks up with the DJ U-Neek-produced jam 'Visions.' Featuring an '80s-esque vibe and oodles of swag from Stone, this track is nothing short of a treat and was so nice we even had to play it twice while reviewing it.
Produced by Gerry Deveaux and written by Craig Ross, 'Life Story' is the second single released off 'Black Diamond.' The track is serviceable as a whole, but pales in comparison to the album's other two singles ('No More Rain' and 'Everyday').
Another Burns-Lyles/Stephanie Bolton exclusive, 'Just A Pimp' slows the tempo, with Angie singing about a money-hungry man preying on innocent women. Although far from a flat-out clunker, the song strays closer to underwhelming than memorable and serves a slight misstep.
Paying homage to Marvin Gaye, Angie Stone tackles the icon's classic number, 'Trouble Man.' The original could never be duplicated, but Stone does the song justice with her powerhouse vocals and feisty demeanor.
A Tribe Called Quest member Ali Shaheed Muhammad pops up behind the boards for 'Bone to Pic (Wit U).' On this number, Angie speaks out to a love that has gone on to find success and left her behind in the cold. Singing "Now, baby I tried my best to see / Stacking the odds at one to three / Giving the benefit to you / Meanwhile, I'm losing all access to you / And baby, you played me like a flute / Caressing me softly with the boo / You feeding me love and lies for food / I'm waiting for one moment of truth," the hurt in Stone's tone is evident. Nonetheless, Angie delivers once again with this track.
The singer compares her lust for a man to his desire for for the almighty dollar on 'Man Loves His Money.' Produced by Aaron Burns-Lyles and written by Stephanie Bolton, this groovy track is a win and continues 'Black Diamond's hot streak.
The songstress does all the heavy lifting on 'Love Junkie,' writing and producing the track herself, and the end product isn't shabby at all. While comparing love to addiction is far from original, Angie tackles the concept well, with the catchy chorus "Love junkie, so damn funky, stone cold monkey I can't get off my back" nearly impossible to get out of your head after listening. Job well done, Miss Stone.
"We set up a jade of color / For the darker shade of skin / Set us up to never win / But we stifling one another, slamming doors / Pushin' and shovin' each other." Those lyrics comprise a huge part of the soul-stirring interlude 'Black Diamonds & Blue Pearls.' Produced and written by Stone herself, while some interlude cuts can bog down an album, that cannot be said for this one, as it serves as a welcome addition.
Angie Stone ends the proceedings on a sentimental note via the Gerry Deveaux-produced 'Heaven Knows.' Written by Terry Britten, the song finds the songstress praying for an open heart, as she has "decided that she's ready for love," completing the musical journey that is 'Black Diamond.'
Playing the background for the better part of a decade, 'Black Diamond' introduced Angie Stone to the public as a soulful vocalist with powerful pipes and an innate nuance for musicality. Tracks like the hit single 'No More Rain (In This Cloud),' 'Everyda,' and 'Visions' have grown finer over time like wine and the project flows seamlessly with few missteps or bland efforts to speak of. It may not be heralded as a landmark album or undisputed classic, but make no mistake, Angie's debut definitely prove that diamonds are forever.