"Best New Artist": The death sentence to all up-and-coming musicians. This particular Grammy is infamous for foreshadowing a pattern with the artists, who often win said award only to never replicate the prior success. There have been a few outliers, but with one-hit wonders such as Starland Vocal Band, Debby Boone, and Marc Cohn being notable winners, the trend is hard to deny. So when bass prodigy Esperanza Spalding won the award back in 2011, it would be no surprise to never hear from her ever again. In a sense, the Esperanza Spalding that won that Grammy has been forgotten. However, her alter-ego, the incredibly bold Emily featured on Emily’s D+Evolution, has finally come to fruition.
Spalding wastes no time to assert herself as a dominant force on the album, as “Bad Lava” opens with a rocking guitar riff that drives the track. It’s the first sign that we’re dealing with an entirely new monster than her previous efforts. It’s one of the many curveballs that Emily’s D+Evolution throws at the listener, whether they're ready or not. Probably the greatest example of this is “Ebony and Ivy,” which opens with a politically-charged spoken word piece where Esperanza multi-tracks her own voice, creating a powerful experience both sonically and lyrically. The rest of song, while not as lyrically blunt with its topic, features a creeping vocal melody during the socially conscious verses against some satisfying jazzy instrumentation with tight drums and bass. The album ends on two of its most distinctive tracks: “Funk the Fear” and “I Want It Now.” The former, fittingly, is an incredibly funky track with an infectious chanted chorus, as if it’s being sung by a funk army, fighting the opposition with the power of bass. The latter and closer of the album, “I Want It Now,” is possibly the most eccentric cut on the entire album with lyrics depicting a cartoonishly greedy character sung in such an extravagant way, it wouldn’t feel out of place as a musical number in a play in the best way possible.
No matter how many bells and whistles are placed on a record, what matters is if the record’s core is of equal quality to those extra features. This is the one area where the old Esperanza comes into play. If you take a peek into the inner mechanisms of Emily’s D+Evolution, you’ll find that Spalding is still the incredible talent that earned her a Grammy. The bass work on the record is consistently wonderful, bringing a groovy sense to almost every track and making tracks like “Judas” automatic highlights. Equally remarkable are her vocals, which convey an incredible sense of emotion and personality, especially when she reaches into her upper range to deliver a lovely coo. While her jazzy style isn’t incredibly one-of-a-kind, she adds some quirky, though sometimes clunky ad libs to numerous songs to give her performances just a little extra pizzazz. In the trailer for this record, Spalding describes her alter-ego as, “Emily has arrived, has been born, as an expansion/extension of myself…it’s still me in a different distillation.” After listening to the album, the quote is definitely fitting. While she may still be the technically stunning musician who was plagued with the title of Best New Artist, Emily’s D+Evolution sees Esperanza Spalding come into her own as a living, breathing, stereoscopic artist.