Cassie Makes A Comeback With Her Star-Studded Mixtape

The “Me & U” star is back with a proper release for the first time in seven years. It’s really good.

1. Seven years after the release of her debut album, Cassie has dropped her first proper follow up with a mixtape called RockaByeBaby.

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You can download it here.

3. The mixtape is filled with features from some major hip hop heavyweights, including Pusha T, Rick Ross, Fabolous, and even Too $hort.

4. But the rappers are an afterthought on RockaByeBaby – this is Cassie’s tape and she proves why she’s still the queen of icy R&B.

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“Numb,” featuring Rick Ross

Numb,” featuring Rick Ross is a gem (no thanks to the Boss, who just phones in a boring and essentially pointless verse), and a reminder that Cassie was dominating icy deadpan well before Rihanna. “I make music to numb your brain (numb…numb…numb),” she sings over dark, rumbly synths made by Toronto producer Ncadastre. Cassie’s crystal-clear monotone is detached but sweet, the perfect counter to the nightmarish, hazy production.

6. Cassie made a video for “Paradise” – featuring Wiz Khalifa – in which she chills in an Impala, and drinks Ciroc with her friends on a stoop.

Video available at: http://vimeo.com/63689486.

“Paradise” is another standout track, produced by Da Internz (who produced RiRi’s “Birthday Cake” and Big Sean’s “Dance A$$”) and Rob Holladay (Drake, “Do It All”). Cassie’s swagger carries lines like “Kissing you is very nice,” and the video reasserts her as a fashion icon, equally comfortable in sweats and Jordans as she is in a glamorous evening gown. Her style isn’t forced, and neither are her vocals – and they don’t have to be.

Cassie hits her stride when her vocals are trance-like, and when she picks beats that are unexpected, twisted and strange (the more haunted, fun-house-like, the better) – it’s what made “Me & U” such an inescapable hit in 2006. On the album-titled “RockaByeBaby,” she raps competently over a menacing, loopy beat before slowing down into a catchy, mellow chorus. Cassie doesn’t need to have Beyoncé’s singing chops in order to make interesting choices, and she pulls that off better than ever here.

There’s a tension between Cassie’s vocals and her production; her songs aren’t melodically accessible like “Super Bass;” you’d probably have a hard time singing along to it in your car. That feeling of distance and unease from the music is part of what makes the record so intriguing – it’s arresting, musically complex.

9. Cassie first announced that she’d begun work on her mixtape and album on Twitter last July, acknowledging the many delays and false starts that her music had endured over the past several years.

But although her second album has been delayed, leaked, and tossed out many times, girl hasn’t been completely out of the game.

12. She hopped on a track with Nicki Minaj last year, called “The Boys.”

The song was on the rapper’s Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded – The Re-Up. In addition to being the most colorful video Cassie’s been in, it showed her having fun with different personalities (well, as much fun as we see the characteristically stoic Cassie having in her videos usually).

14. She also released a (very good!) dance track in early 2012 called “King Of Hearts” that didn’t quite take off.

16. Going back even further, she released a handful of songs while she tried to find her post-“Me & U” sound.

There was “Official Girl” featuring Lil Wayne in 2008.

Must Be Love,” featuring (former?) beau Diddy in 2009.

There was also a song with Akon (“Let’s Get Crazy”) later that year, but the efforts were a more a brand of syrupy-pop that just didn’t feel quite right.

RockaByeBaby finds Cassie returning to her more minimal roots, this time without producer Ryan Leslie, who crafted the majority of her first album and helped create her initial sound. The 13-track record is short and sweet, showing off both Cassie’s taste (picking inventive, exciting producers), and awareness of her strengths: creating hypnotic, pared-back, chilly R&B you can dance to. It’s a solid, welcome comeback from the voice we forgot we were missing.

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