Chaka Khan is an icon. The Queen of Funk has just released Hello Happiness, her first studio album in a decade, on Diary Records/Island Records. The work follows 2007’s Funk This, an LP that won two Grammys, including Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group (“Disrespectful” featuring Mary J. Blige).
Going into this new era, Khan didn’t look at past checkmates while recording this new material. Instead, she settled on a sound that she unintentionally inherited over the years — dance.
“DJs have been playing me in the clubs since I began my career,” she told Billboard about the direction of her latest album. “But this is the only time that I went in with the intent of working with dance people who do dance music. I didn’t want to go deep on any of this. I wanted to keep it light and noncerebral. The tracks are the stars.”
For Hello Happiness, which she recorded in two weeks in Los Angeles, Khan called on the likes of producer Switch and singer/songwriter Sara Ruba Taylor for creative inspiration. Their collaboration resulted in 27 minutes of uptempo tunes and polished vocal attacks that are engrossed in high spirits.
The title track begins the sprightly parade and spots Khan prowling through and waving farewell to unwanted blues. As the pulsating art takes over her troubles, she uses her high octaves to form a shrewd alliance of stress-free revelers. “Like a Lady,” a soul-snatching testimonial, features Khan discovering a love that’s longed for a while. Driven by a sonically unifying sound that draws from a glorious drum pattern and wired synths, her well-textured notes intertwine brilliantly in the pockets of this lively track.
An electric guitar, bending beats and a roaring crowd is at the forefront of “Don’t Cha Know,” while Khan’s funky vocal imprint plays wingman. Whereas “Too Hot,” she uses her fiery edge to ask burning love questions and challenges potential suitors who are walking the thin line to her desirable inferno.
“Like Sugar,” the album’s saccharine lead single, smashes even more as it mixes tastefully with the full LP. On “Isn’t That Enough,” an evocative track that echoes the charismatic meter of her days in Rufus, Khan strides dauntlessly with her enormous and euphonious vocal arrangements. Perhaps her experienced ear as a veteran has a hand in making those precise vocal injections sound effortless. “Ladylike,” the LP’s finishing track, illustrates Khan’s most graceful vocal performance as she, at age 65, gets turned upside down after picturing herself falling madly in love.
Unsurprisingly, Hello Happiness fulfills the unwise musical objective that Khan set for herself ahead of the LP’s release. The tracks, or Switch’s progressive production, are indeed the marvels of this work. Sure, Khan sought out fresh creatives to recharge her ageless sound for this time in music, but it didn’t exalt her glorious pipes well in the end. If Khan had curated this album during the songwriting peak of Sam Smith and Disclosure and aced the soul-rooted age of house music, we wouldn’t be having this drivel conversation. On the flip side, Khan and her light-hearted teamwork with modern-dance contributors Switch and Taylor will subscribe to this year’s summer soundtrack and for years to come. But at this point, with an illustrious career that includes 10 Grammys and gold and platinum success, who can actually critique the Queen of Funk?
Stream Hello Happiness below. Additionally, make sure to check out summer dates for her co-headlining tour with Michael McDonald.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Standout Tracks: “Too Hot” and “Isn’t That Enough”
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