When Skylar Grey started popping up on hip-hop records like Dr. Dre and Eminem’s “I Need A Doctor” and Lupe Fiasco’s “Words I Never Said,” I figured this was a new artist. She seemed more suited for pop, but fit in well singing the choruses of the songs she appeared on. She accrued a bit of buzz for herself from co-writing Eminem’s “Love The Way You Lie,” so I decided that when her debut album released, that I would give it a try. Giving ‘Don’t Look Down’ a listen for the first time, I took a look at some of the liner notes and was pretty stunned at what I saw and heard.
Skylar Grey’s real name is Holly Brook Hafermann. She recorded an album in 2006 by the name Holly Brook called ‘Like Blood Like Honey.’ I would’ve never guessed this was the same person from the music alone. Her debut album is far more subdued than ‘Don’t Look Down.’ A lot of ‘Like Blood Like Honey’ features her own guitar and piano playing and she sounds a bit like Shania Twain while singing. Post name change, she’s gone to full-blown hip-hop production and her songwriting has become more edgy…I’m talking Amy Winehouse edgy. It’s a night and day difference, to the point that I really couldn’t make the connection without reading the song credits. I guess this is where Eminem’s grooming her for Interscope Records (and the new name) comes into play.
The album begins with “Back From The Dead,” which features rapper Big Sean and producer/drummer Travis Barker. Like the hip-hop records she was previously featured on, Skylar Grey seems comfortable here, though Big Sean’s verse is nothing special and the song could do without it. Things like this pop up a bit from time to time on ‘Don’t Look Down’: not forgettable verses from rappers, but things in general that take away from Skylar herself and make the album sound a bit too busy. The production for example, though a large majority of it is hip-hop influenced, is all over the place. It sounds like one or two too many producers had a hand in this record, but there are actually only five producers working over this album’s twelve tracks. The main one, Alex da Kid, seems to want to show off his own versatility as opposed to showcasing the star’s stronger points. It’s disjointed to an extent, but I wouldn’t say that it’s the fault of Ms. Grey.
‘Don’t Look Down’s’ high points come from Skylar’s lyricism. She very well could be a rapper with the way she manipulates words, and the interesting thing is that she’s been able to make engaging songs on both sides of the spectrum based on that alone. On “Sunshine,” she sings about being content with the simple things in life: “When that old drunk living on the street is laughing louder than me, I know something’s wrong / And I start to see that this sweet sunshine is all the gold I need.” My personal favorite, “White Suburban,” deals with trying to get over a first love: “I still remember you in that big, old, white Suburban / And although you look right past me with disregard, the first won’t happen twice.”
‘Don’t Look Down’ is at its best when dealing with life in this way, and most of it plays out in this fashion on Skylar’s end. Unfortunately, there seems to be too much outside interference when others lend a hand. I was also expecting something different from the collaboration with Eminem, “C’mon Let Me Ride.” It’s a fun song (a bit raunchy, but fun), it just sticks out like a sore thumb if you generally listen to albums from front to back like I do. It would have been better suited for Eminem’s album.
So aside from the mind-blowing realization that Skylar Grey performed both ‘Like Blood Like Honey’ and ‘Don’t Look Down,’ on its own merits, this new album could have been better. It’s above average, but next time I would prefer her to have more control over her work. She has the talent to largely do this on her own, but Interscope Records is known for putting their two cents in. It generally works out (and makes them plenty of money), but they’re dealing with an artist better suited for doing her own thing here.