It’s difficult to imagine R&B breakout star, Elle Varner, going on any other career path than music. Born from musical parents Mikelyn Roderick (backup vocalist for Barry White) and Jimmy Varner (songwriting and production credits include Kool & the Gang and The Temptations), Elle was destined to follow suit.
2012 proved to be a very busy year for this new kid on the block, releasing the flawless mixtape Conversational Lush and her RCA release Perfectly Imperfect. Varner’s first official single, “Only Wanna Give It To You,” started making waves last fall while TheBoomBox included her on their list, ’15 Artists to Watch’.
Ms. Varner wasted no time and struck while the iron was hot by releasing Conversational Lush, a mixtape that bridges nostalgic soul grooves with a fresh new R&B sound the genre so desperately needed. “WTF” is a hilarious sendup that follows Varner’s terrible day of misadventures while boasting her fluid story telling capability. Two stepping ahead, Elle’s effortless coos glide over a beat that could have easily been placed on Common’s Electric Circus with the noteworthy “Go.”
A medium tempo ditty called “Ghosts” brings some serious jazz undertones. This lush groove gives Varner a chance to flow in a way most rappers would envy, soaring right into, “I don’t wanna be in love, I just wanna be invisible, like a ghost in the living room” backed by a lonesome saxophone. Lush goes on to sample Jay-Z, Bill Withers and even Ani Difranco uncovering various genres that have influenced Varner over the years.
In Spring of 2012, after Varner teased us with an interlude version of her second single, “Refill,” she released the official album version of the fiddle-infused soul burner. “Can I get a refill?” Varner implores her suitor, not for a drink but for more quality time. Perhaps this is where Varner truly sets herself apart from many others in the industry. Instead of giving into the substandard of getting wasted, stripping or having the new Gucci bag, she reaches for substance. What a perfect segue to “I Don’t Care,” Imperfect’s 3rd single. Varner delves into a relationship that is looked down upon but instead of giving in to society, she chooses her heart with a simple, “I don’t care”.
It’s not all serious moving forward to the rapid fire chorus of “SoundProof Room,” which sees Varner telling her beau where they’re going to need to go when she gets them alone. “Oh What a Night” illustrates Varner’s fun side of having way too good of a time and paying the consequences the next day. “Stop the Clock” calls out an unfaithful lover over a simple hand clap chorus and bass lines mimicking a wrist watch.
Imperfect is a closely calculated step from the risk taking, sonically diverse Lush but I believe this will help solidify Varner as the artist she is most at home with. Her voice is reminiscent of Chrisette Michele with a dash of Jazmine Sullivan here and there over the two releases, while still maintaining individuality with her rich tone and control. Elle’s unwavering vocals definitely sparkle but it’s hard to really pinpoint where the magic originates, as the entire collection is a perfect storm of exquisite production, songwriting, and vocal melisma. Elle Varner delivers a consistent debut album and catapults herself in the race with the likes of Miguel, Melanie Fiona and Frank Ocean hoping to resurge a new generation of love for Rhythm and Blues.
Check out the mixtape Conversational Lush or RCA release Perfectly Imperfect both out now by Soul Train’s Best New Artist of 2012, Elle Varner.
– Submitted by Tristan Bolden, Music Design