Normani gives the first dose of her solo music career with her debut album DOPAMINE

by Bella Carbone

Normani gives the first dose of her solo music career with her debut album DOPAMINE

Do·pa·mine (dōpəˌmēn)


a chemical messenger that acts on areas of the brain to give you feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation.

DOPAMINE is Normani’s highly-anticipated debut album since splitting from Fifth Harmonyin 2018. Since then she has had many hit singles including “Love Lies” with Khalid, “Dancing with a Stranger” with Sam Smith, and “Motivation,” one of my all-time favorites. Her previous singles left a memorable impression on fans that seemed hard to live up to. Yet as the title implies, this R&B-pop album delivers a pleasureful punch that delighted listeners can dance to, cry to, jam to, and indulge in just in time for the summer!

I excitedly awaited this album and consumed every lead-up single release each ‘New Music Friday’ they dropped. I obsessed over “1:59,” her first single which included a feature by Gunna. This song follows what I believe to be one of the best formulas for a song: a catchy R&B vocalist chorus, a palatable rap verse, and a chemistry-filled back-and-forth exchange between the two. After my initial listen, some of the songs felt a bit on the safer side and met what you would expect from a formulaic R&B song. Others immediately exceeded expectations and truly stood out amongst the influx of new music that had come out. Since then, I have begun to appreciate how cohesive this album is. Not only do the songs flow well into each other, but they also have quite a bit of variety in the style of the songs, so the album does not feel too repetitive or reductive. Yes, this is a majority pop and R&B album, but it goes deeper and plays with subgenres like hip-hop and hyperpop.

“Take My Time” is an infectious, upbeat track that has become one of my top songs off the album. It evokes the vibe of blasting music as you're driving home from a beach trip with your best friends as all the windows are down and the warm wind is blowing through your hair. One of the catchiest tracks “Still” exhibits Normani in her baddie era emphasized by a trap-infused beat that samples “Still Tippin’” by Mike Jones, Paul Wall, and Slim Thug. Normani’s sound gets sultry and seductive with some of her sensual tracks like “Grip,” “Candy Paint,” and “Lights On” which distance her from her girl group days.

Speaking of Fifth Harmony, Normani’s album came out just two weeks before her former group member Camilla Cabello’s album. The tracklist for Cabello’s album contains a star-studded features list including JT from the City Girls, Lil Nas X, Drake, and Playboi Carti. It is obvious why Normani’s features lack the same fame level as Cabello’s, yet I would have liked to see someone I was excited for when Normani dropped the tracklist for her album. I am also disappointed by the lack of female collaborations besides “Big Boy” which features a verse and adlibs from her songwriter Brittany Talia Hazzard, aka Starrah, who is heavily autotuned, and “Wild Side,” her collaboration with Cardi B which was originally released just shy of two years ago. I understand why Normani added “Wild Side” – it is recognizable, it matches the album’s vibe, and it is still arguably one of its strongest songs. But it does not bring anything fresh or special. Starrah is credited with writing some of the album's most popular hits including “Wild Side,” “1:59,” and “Candy Paint,” but I am left wondering the potential “Big Boy” would have had if it featured someone like Megan Thee Stallion or Missy Elliott. As a big fan of the R&B genre, I did geek out over “Insomnia” having both Brandy and Victoria Monét credits. The fact that it was inspired by Brandy’s song “A Capella (Something’s Missing)” made the song so special for me. I love when a specific song directly inspires or influences the creation of another, similar to Beyoncé’s “Rocket” with D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel).” If Brandy and Victoria Monét had been actual features on the song rather than background vocals, I would have liked it even more.

This album is a great starting point for Normani’s career, as it leaves space for improvement and growth but it still showcases her talent and musical abilities. At times it is daring and refreshing, while also what you would have envisioned from Normani. It’s an album she could top, which is why it's the perfect introduction to what her career can look like if she continues to experiment with her sound. Overall, I am extremely satisfied with this album and I see it growing even more on me with each listen.

Best Songs: Take My Time, Still, Grip, 1:59 and Insomnia