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Rufus, the debut album from the band of the same name, was released on ABC Records in 1973. Critical notices were positive and championed the record for its imaginative mix of R&B and rock. The multi-gendered, multi-racial sextet went on to release several more acclaimed albums up until their disbandment in 1983. Central to Rufus’ enduring appeal was Chaka Khan, one of the group’s two primary vocalists. Khan remained with the band as a mainstay member up until Camouflage (1981); she also briefly returned to the fold for their curtain call, Stompin’ at the Savoy – Live (1983).
Khan is a one of a kind voice. Powerful, yet sensitive, there isn’t any genre she can’t handle and infuse with her own patented soulfulness. Building upon an already formidable foundation laid with Rufus, Khan’s solo debut Chaka (1978) saw her utilize the sonics of the period fearlessly. It was an action that aided Khan’s career through the decades.
With such a legacy in song behind her, Khan had nothing left to prove. This context is central to understanding why her recording schedule had slowed in the last fifteen years. Hello Happiness, Khan’s twelfth album, is a spicy, flirtatious return from the singer and succeeds the acclaimed Funk This (2007). Interestingly, Hello Happiness is Khan’s first set of new material since Come 2 My House (1998).
Much of the impetus for Hello Happiness came out of a creative courtship Khan has enjoyed with the songwriting/production team of David “Switch” Taylor and Sarah Ruba Taylor. Barring a small cache of supporting co-writers and co-producers under their direction—Khan herself features prominently as a co-writer with select production credits too—The Taylors cover the bulk of the construction of Hello Happiness themselves.
This artistic investment is also paired to an important business stake in the singer’s LP as The Taylors join—via their own label Diary Records—in a three-way split with Island Records and Khan’s own iKhan imprint to host and distribute Hello Happiness. Khan’s partnership with her producers is an alliance in the truest sense of the word and that enthusiasm comes through here.
Seven songs deep, technically, Hello Happiness should be classified as an extended play versus a long player. Extended plays are typically comprised of no more than three to seven tracks; however, Khan boldly presents Hello Happiness as a lean, full-length affair. Subsequently, this sets up the project to shoulder the lofty expectations of matching Khan’s past glories while moving her forward.
Of course, Khan delivers and then some.
Sound wise, David Taylor and Sarah Ruba Taylor conjure up an energetic rhythm and blues realm that is equally as contemporary as it is nostalgic, an ideal setting for Khan’s abilities. The production is delectably immersive in its sharp usage of session player instrumentation—guitars, bass, percussion, drums, strings—that the duo excitingly cut, snatch, loop, rewire and blend with digital programming tricks to mesmeric effect. Elsewhere, they evince their collective ear (and skill) for reworking the established art of others within their own framework.
Both Eddie Laing’s “I’m Gonna Make You Eat Those Words” and the Fatback Band’s “Bus Stop”—as heard on the stunning “Too Hot” and “Like Sugar” respectively—are recast as ideal vehicles for Khan whose flavorful voice dispels the notion that Hello Happiness is just a shallow production showcase. Throughout the record, Khan wields her trademark vocal pizazz and verve with some experimental flair.
Whether reviving a classic disco formula indicative of the mid-to-late 1970s (“Hello Happiness”) or revisiting the urban-synth boom of the early 1980s (“Like a Lady”), Khan glides through, above and under these arrangements with ease. Sometimes, she can be ephemeral as heard on the sensuous reggae tides of “Isn’t That Enough.” In other instances, she approaches the listener like a hurricane on the ballsy blues of “Don’t Cha’ Know.” Emboldened by these latest sonic surroundings, Khan’s passion is eloquently communicated, but with an edge that recalls the innovative peaks of Chaka Khan (1982) and I Feel for You (1984).
As always, Khan thrives in the moment, except this time she is armed with a lifetime of her own visionary experience to draw upon. Hello Happiness puts that experience into practice and finds the legend ready to chart new heights once more. One just hopes that audiences won’t have to wait another twelve years for her next offering.
Notable Tracks: "Hello Happiness" | “Isn’t That Enough” | "Like a Lady" | “Like Sugar”