On 2020’s ‘Jaguar’, Victoria Monét first explored the motif of the furtive black jaguar as both an impermanent and immediate distinction of the roles she’s played in her decade-long career; as a musical architect and songwriter for pop’s elite, and a solo artist using all the tools in her arsenal to distill soft, sultry RnB to the masses. It’s also an accurate summation of Monét and close collaborator D’Mile’s toned-down, interior world-building. On ‘Jaguar II’, Monét’s debut album out on RCA/Lovett Music, she’s no longer an underground prospect but one embracing the accessibility that a major label system affords. Thankfully Monet and D’Mile’s winning formula continues, as the pair sidestep verboseness in favour of restraint and gauzy nostalgia.
The first half of ‘Jaguar II’ carries more momentum and motion than the second. The sole interlude, ‘Smoke Reprise’, is Monét and D’Mile at the peak of their powers – a billowy expression of fine-tuned rapture where guitar spells lock in and out in a psych-soul special. The rest of ‘Jaguar II’ honours Monét’s Black Southern roots, blending the classic and the contemporary, criss-crossing genres and generations. It faithfully weaves in brassy notes and live instrumentation – horns, bass guitar, drums, string sections – whilst making a one-off Kaytra-assisted hybrid-house detour to remind listeners Monét can render in digital and is as pliable as they come.
‘Cadillac’ is a metallic-dipped funk highlight, marrying The Isley Brothers grandeur with mid-noughties RnB-Rap phraseology. Breakout single ‘On My Mama’ showcases Monét’s mastery of mid-tempo grooves; sampling Chalie Boy’s 2009 hit ‘I Look Good’, Monét and producers Deputy, D’Mile and Jeff Gitelman, take functional 808s and transform it into a HBCU All-Star parade. The accompanying visual is a slick mnemonic device bridging originators with new gen thriftiness. If there’s anyone in music who understands the cyclical nature of era-appropriate iconography, it’s Monét.
On ‘Jaguar II’, Monét soundtracks a hero’s journey to self-definition. She revealed in an exclusive Clash cover interview, “That this album is a death to the old version of myself. It’s about the dualities of existence; being human, feeling everything and embracing the unknown. It’s me saying women are not one dimensional.” The album closes with two emotionally-charged moments, ‘Hollywood’ and ‘Goodbye’. On the former, Monét ropes in musical idols Earth, Wind & Fire for a wistful rumination on dreams and destinations. It’s a sobering finale as Monét cross-examines the sacrifices she’s made, noting the trappings of “the machine” and the need to safeguard autonomy in an extractive industry.
In an era that rewards direct-to-consumer optics in music – Monét herself has embraced the permeable nature of social media – ‘Jaguar II’ preserves an almost anti-algorithmic approach in sound; it draws on musical touchstones but is a poetically a modern enterprise. ‘Jaguar II’ is a compressed listen with only 11 tracks but still packs in dimensionality and texture. It marks a new pinnacle and a denouement of an era for a once clandestine figure now dancing under the prismatic light of a disco ball.
Words: Shahzaib Hussain