When her official debut 1021 was released in 2014, Rochelle Jordan was a budding alt-R&B star with a penchant for crafting music that mixed the feel of late-'90s R&B with futuristic sounds inspired by the likes of The Neptunes and Timbaland. Though her influences were easy to pinpoint, her style was still unique and cutting edge. That's why her seven-year absence following the album's release was baffling. Yes, she popped up with a single or feature every once in a while during the interim, but she otherwise kept a low profile. This often prompted many, including this writer, to ask, "Where is Rochelle Jordan?" The short answer? She is back and ready to show us the woman she has become with her latest album Play With The Changes.
In a lot of ways, the project reveals a woman who has shaken off the dreamy optimism that comes with youth and has done the work to rediscover herself. She taps frequent collaborators KLSH and Machinedrum (along with Jimmy Edgar and SEPALCURE) to provide her with the soundscapes to tell the story of this new chapter of her life. The producers lace her with trippy, future-leaning production that plays with genres like garage, broken beat, house, R&B, New Jack Swing and hip-hop as she nimbly utilizes her feathery vocals to boldly assert herself and her viewpoint.
Oftentimes, that viewpoint can come off as jaded — especially in the romance department. Rather than be bitter, though, the singer takes her frustrations and turns them into bangers. "Count It," with its skittering hi-hats and droning synths, finds her telling her man frankly that she's been stacking funds just in case they end things. Then there's "Already," where a down-tempo house groove becomes a kiss-off in which she tells another fella that his cries of "shoulda coulda woulda" are falling on deaf ears (it also features a quick verse where RoJo channels her inner Azealia Banks to fantastic results). "Dancing Elephants," however, is the highlight of these songs, with dizzying production from KLSH and Machinedrum creating a hazy dance track about dancing around major issues in a relationship.
It's not all steely exteriors and hardened hearts. In fact, Play With The Changes gets very vulnerable at multiple points. "Why do you think I'm always strong / And always so turned up?" she sings along to the sparse bump of "Broken Steel." "Expectations of me lay so skin deep / As if I can take anything / But who's here to protect me?" She also relays the anxieties of loving a Black man in this day and age on ballad "Lay." "The world is so cruel / Then I think about you / That's why I can't watch the news / Ain't nothing new," she sings wearily on the verse. "Your head is always on a swivel / I like it better on my pillow / I like it better when you don't go."
Heartfelt and brutally honest, Play With The Changes takes a lot of risks, but they all pay off and then some. The album never bores or disappoints — whether it's with singles "Got Em," "SOMETHING," "Next 2 You" and "All Along" or the set's diverse album cuts. Rather, it keeps the listener guessing as it moves along, proving that Rochelle Jordan is and always has been an innovator. And now that she's tapped even further into her artistic freedom, there's no stopping her.