Single Review: Kendrick Lamar’s ‘i’

Kendrick Lamar
“The Voice” is back with fresh meat. And it’s not the contestants, but instead two new coaches.

Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams took their seats alongside mainstay coaches Blake Shelton and Adam Levine for season 7 of the singing competition.

They quickly showed that while they may be rookies on “The Voice,” they are veterans in the music game.

All four joined on stage to perform Stefani's “Keep on Dancin’” before the competition got underway.

First up Luke Wade, 31, from Dublin, Texas. His childhood consisted of dancing at his mother’s dance studio. Eventually his love for musical expression led him to sing.

Despite being blind in one eye after a friend shot him accidentally when he was 13, Wade persevered. 

On Monday night he sang “That’s How Strong My Love Is” by Otis Redding to attract the coaches and it worked. Within seconds the soul singer had the attention of all four, who watched attentively before giving him a standing ovation.

“We did it, we won ‘The Voice,’” Levine said.

“None of these guys have really done what I’ve done,” Stefani said.

“All I want to do is be your amplifier,” Williams added.

Shelton simply named the last three vocalists he took all the way to the win -- Jermaine Paul, Cassadee Pope, and Danielle Bradbery -- in order to entice Wade to choose him. It didn’t work for the country chart topper as the Texas vocalist chose Team Pharrell.

Clara Hong, 22, from Atlanta, Ga. by way of South Korea brought a voice to the stage that surprised all the coaches. After acquiring English by listening to American music, she left school behind to pursue a musical career full time.

The banquet server by day and singer by night chose to sing “Chuck E’s in Love” by Rickie Lee Jones for her 90-second blind audition. Levine turned first followed by Stefani and Williams while Shelton stayed put.

“You have three of the best people in music fighting over you right now,” Shelton said. “So I’m just going to sit back and watch it happen.”

When Williams described her tone as “silk,” the young vocalist responded, “You’re silk,” and the “Happy” singer appeared to blush.

Stefani jumped right into coaching Hong even before she made her final team selection. The “I’m Just a Girl” singer grabbed a mic, jumped on stage, and demonstrated how to get the audience on her side.

Levine greeted Hong in her native tongue before reading a silly poem. His prose worked like a charm and Hong became the first member of Team Adam.

Bryana Salaz, 16, from San Antonio, Texas continued night one of the blinds. The military kid moved around a lot, but along her travels she found music.

The teen chose to sing “Problem” by Ariana Grande and attracted the attention of Stefani, Shelton, and Levine.

“You’re already so much better at singing than Blake is,” Levine quipped.

Stefani described her as a “little sparkly princess girl” and shared her excitement at the prospect of coaching her. She also pulled the “girl” card.

Williams didn’t turn but sided with Stefani because “she’s my boo.”

“I’m just trying to figure out what a boo is,” Shelton said confused.

While Shelton remained in a bewildered state, Salaz became Stefani’s first vocalist.

Mansfield, La. native, 52-year-old Dennis Bell began singing at the age of four, but never pursued it professionally. He gave up music to run the family business after his father suffered a heart attack.

“You never give up on a dream, you never know when it’s gonna show back up,” he said.

The country singer strummed his guitar while singing “She Used to Be Mine” by Brooks & Dunn. Shelton hesitated to push his red button and eventually decided not to turn around.

“All it was is that you’re out of practice a little bit,” he told Bell.

Levine expressed regret for not going with his heart and turning his chair for Bell.

Damien, 35, from Monroe, La. went without a last name. The LAX employee was working the day a gunman opened fired at the airport in November of last year. He watched one co-worker get seriously injured and another passed away.

He sang “It’s so Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” by Boyz II Men in their honor and it immediately touched Stefani, Williams, and Levine. Shelton joined soon after.

“I could learn a lot from you,” Stefani said.

“You really deserved four chairs,” Williams added.

Team Levine recruited another vocalist as Damien chose to go with the Maroon 5 front man.

Allison Bray, 16, from Louisville, Ky. was no stranger to “The Voice” as she had previously auditioned in season 6.

She started a band since the last audition and returned to the show with more experience under her singing belt.

Staying true to her country roots she sang “Merry Go’ Round” by Kacey Musgraves. Shelton and Stefani were all too happy to turn around and watch her performance. By the song’s hook, Levine turned too.

“We know you,” Shelton said. “Your voice is a breath of fresh air.”

Unlike last season, Shelton felt her pitch was right on point. When Williams encouraged Bray to choose Shelton the longtime "Voice" coach turned to him and said, “You’re my boo.”

Bray chose Team Blake.

Megg, 23, from Redondo Beach, Calif. was also a one-named vocalist. Her musical theater background prepared her to reach for the victory on “The Voice.”

She sang “Celebrity Skin” by Hole with the hope that Stefani, her idol, would turn. No one turned citing how she needed to have more control over her vocals.

Pop folk singer, Taylor John Williams, 23, from Portland, Or. works at a dog hotel in order to support himself while pursuing music.

Selecting the Kanye West track “Heartless," he put a soulful spin on it, which was something Levine liked right off the back. Stefani was eventually intrigued enough to turn her red chair as well.

“That was so rad,” Stefani said.

“That dudes the real deal right there,” Levine added.

Much to Levine’s disappointment, Williams chose to be on Team Gwen.

“I picked Gwen because she understood me,” he explained.

The blind auditions moved on with Elyjuh Rene, 18, from Long Beach, Calif. The R&B-Pop singer's career has been supported by his momager, who is also his biggest fan.

Rene chose to sing Beyonce’s “XO” in order to display his true vocal abilities in the hopes of joining the competition.

Levine turned first and Williams followed. Shelton was shocked when the song was over because he thought Rene was a girl.

“The first word that came to my mind when I heard your voice was anointed,” Williams said.

“It was blissful. I want in,” Levine said.

The young crooner chose to go with Team Pharrell.

Next up was Bianca Espinal, 21, from New York City, who was heavily influenced by her father, a Dominican Republic-native that sings merengue. They often perform together in the city subways, but now she appeared on the stage solo to sing “Foolish Games” by Jewel.

None of the judges turned their chairs and while her disappointment was obvious, she admitted she could have done better.

Williams consoled her as she exited and encouraged her to audition again.

Wrapping up the first night of auditions was James David Carter, 34, from Atlanta, Ga. He thought football was going to be his future until a career-ending injury turned his attention to music.

He's opened for some of country music’s biggest stars, including Shelton, but came to “The Voice” to seek out his big break.

Carter sang “Nobody Knows,” grabbing Levine’s attention first before getting a four-chair turnaround.

The excitement in Shelton’s eyes was undeniable as Levine stood up on his chair.

“As a coach, this is what you dream for. You are a total package,” Williams said.

“I can’t stand on chairs, mostly because I’ve been drinking too much today,” Shelton began although he didn't remember when Carter opened him years before. “That may be the best country audition that I have ever heard of.”

“I guarantee victory if you choose me,” Levine said. “My claws are out.”

Carter went with his gut and joined Team Blake.

Night two of the blind auditions begin Tuesday.

At least Lamar’s flow in the song impresses. He builds up a head of steam by the middle, which leads to the best part of the single, revealed in the final minute. Here, the Isley sample takes a back seat while the bass takes over, offering a fusion-style jazz solo that gives the song a freedom nowhere evident before.

Even with this last-minute save, the song ranks as disappointingly flighty from someone like Lamar. He arose as the most promising rapper of 2012 when he released his major label debut that year, “good kid, m.A.A.d. city.”

Let’s hope there’s more substance in his follow-up album, slated for release later this year.