Chrisette Michele’s got a tangy, jazzy voice (reminiscent of ’90s stars Karyn White and Tamia) and delivers her lyrics with effortless womanly grace and precision phrasing. Yet much of that talent is squandered on a debut that could use some oomph. Where it should be potent, I Am is merely pleasant and at times downright sluggish—though that does make the energetic moments more delicious. “Like a Dream” is a giddy, girly shout-out to a crush, while “Your Joy” is a sincere (though creepy) ode to Daddy (as in a biological father, not Big Poppa)—co-written with Babyface, it’s so open and inviting that the ick factor (there’s a line about lying on Dad’s belly) is muted. But even when everything clicks, something’s missing. For all of I Am‘s prettiness and poetry (actually rambling free verse, since Chrisette seems to have misplaced her rhyming dictionary), there’s something vacant and overly earnest about it. Witness “Golden”: The melody is lush and immaculate, but a 23-year-old begging—pleading—for a wedding ring? A little desperate, wouldn’t you say?
Perhaps the problem is that this reserved, cautious, almost chaste approach isn’t what you’d expect from the sassy girl on Def Jam who held her own with Nas and Jay-Z. Then again, when she does try to “get down” on the will.i.am-produced, Run-D.M.C.-sampling “Let’s Rock,” it’s about as groan-inducing as watching your mom breakdance. Note to Chrisette: Any attempt at street cred goes out the window when you’re shouting out Natalie Cole.