2019 is a confusing time for artistic integrity in the music industry. While Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and streaming services have platformed countless independent and talented unknown musicians, many major label artists have abused the format, releasing absurdly drawn out and redundant projects that primarily serve to inflate streaming numbers.
This blatant oversaturation ignores the fact that most people tend to gravitate towards thoughtful albums that don’t overstay their welcome, rather than overblown 35-track triple albums that consist of the same generic bank of filler lyrics and stock trap sounds. Perhaps it’s unfair to callout opportunistic young artists in a cutthroat industry, but the blatant sacrifice of artistry makes it tough to overlook.
Fortunately for disillusioned listeners exhausted of the oft-monotonous sonic landscape of the late 2010’s, virtuosic artists like Mereba are quietly pushing boundaries and fusing genres to create some of the most ambitious art in recent memory. At just 13 tracks and 38 minutes, her debut album The Jungle is The Only Way Out is a subdued and fearless display of R&B brilliance.
Plucked from Atlanta’s seemingly infinite conveyor belt of musical talent, Mereba fills a highly eclectic but necessary niche in modern music. Though her vocal tone and melodic tendencies are firmly rooted in R&B, Mereba’s guitar heavy instrumentation and unorthodox song structures borrow from folk, blues, and country western music. Prior to The Jungle is The Only Way Out it’s difficult to pinpoint an R&B artist who’s effortlessly tied together so many conflicting sounds and styles without losing sight of their musical identity.
From start to finish, Mereba displays her strengths as a rapper, songwriter, and singer with an ear for powerful, often Lauryn Hill-esque, background vocals. While highlights like “Heat Wave,” and “Stay Tru,” lean heavily on Mereba’s melodic creativity and soulful vocal chops, understated cuts like “Kinfolk,” and “Highway 10,” flex an entirely different muscle group, trading in 808s and lively flows for blues guitars and densely layered vocal harmonies.
It’s not often that an R&B artist can incorporate influence from Bon Iver, Lauryn Hill, and Fleetwood Mac on the same album without sounding totally disjointed, but that’s what sets Mereba apart. She’s somehow both completely refreshing and highly reflective of a diverse web of influences.
Compounded with Mereba’s boundless sonic pallet, lyrical themes and concepts throughout The Jungle is The Only Way Out make for a genuine and emotionally holistic listen. Each song feels like a delicately placed cog in a machine, contributing emotional nuance and depth to bolster Mereba’s overarching commentary on love, oppression, and resiliency.
The album’s three spoken word poems, “more,” “dodging the devil,” and “on the rocks,” parse the tracklist into three distinct sections with three distinct moods. The intro track “more,” revolves around Mereba’s persistent dissatisfaction. Lyrically, “more,” reads like an aggravated list of self-improving demands, opening with “Need to write more/ Freedom to fight more/ Seek and sight more/ Ignite more.” As a young and unknown artist still hustling to succeed, Mereba’s fear of complacency fuels her obsession to keep growing.
In the three tracks following “more,” Mereba recontextualizes her frustration, applying it to her futile search for existential purpose on “Kinfolk,” her heartbreak and escapism on “Highway 10,” and her perpetual struggle with inner-demons on “Black Truck.” Despite following separate narratives, the three tracks are intrinsically rooted in Mereba’s lack of fulfillment — each existing as a passing vignette to convey Mereba’s thought processes.
Mereba’s second interlude poem, “dodging the devil,” is about struggling to overcome inner demons. Broadly referring to the various hurdles in life as “the devil,” Mereba personifies her adversity, explaining the hardships that come with succumbing to weakness and temptation. Lyrics like “You stuck dodging the devil the older you get/ youth grants grace, growth grants grit,” perfectly encapsulate Mereba’s prescription of wisdom and mental fortitude to treat internal hardship.
The songs that follow, “Heat Wave,” “Get Free,” and “My One,” cohesively focus on adversity from oppression and resiliency in the face of overwhelming opposition. The first of the three, “Heatwave,” is a hard hitting trap flavored duet with fellow Spillage Village artist, 6LACK. While 6LACK’s feature goes over well and the song fits thematically, “Heat Wave,” sounds somewhat out of place in the track list. The song’s overblown trap ambiance is definitely an outlier. This makes more sense when you consider that Mereba recorded this track months before the rest of the album. The other two tracks “Get Free,” and “My One,” further solidify Mereba as one of the most fascinating R&B vocalists to emerge this generation, seamlessly mixing bluegrass vocals with pop and R&B instrumentals.
The Jungle is the Only Way Out’s third and final chapter begins with the spoken word interlude “on the rocks,” which centers around Mereba’s fond but wistful memories of lost love. Though shorter than the previous two interludes, “on the rocks,” is a poignant moment of introspection for Mereba, as she attempts to find peace in the love she once had, rather than sulk in its current absence from her life.
The final four tracks on the album “Planet U,” “Stay Tru,” “Sandstorm,” and “Souvenir,” give the project a satisfying crescendo and conclusion. While “Planet U,” and “Stay Tru,” serve similar purposes with uptempo R&B production, “Sandstorm,” and “Souvenir,” stray in other directions, opting instead for smooth and lowkey instrumentation. For a more in depth breakdown of Mereba’s gorgeous collaboration with JID on “Sandstorm,” check out this weeks installment of Must Peep Monday. Conceptually, the albums four final tracks add a period to the end of Mereba’s thoughts on “on the rocks,” offering closure for her heartbreak.
The songwriting, production, and performances are stellar on almost every track, leaving Mereba little room for improvement moving forward. Having now heard the full extent of her unparalleled dynamacy as a genreless artist, I’m fully floored by Mereba’s talents and hope to see her dive deeper into musical experimentation. Unexpectedly, The Jungle is the Only Way Out is absolutely an early candidate for album of the year.