OneGunn’s “Why”

OneGunn’s “Why” is a smoldering modern soul single from one of the foremost practitioners of the style. He delivers what OneGunn dubs “the Minneapolis Experience” which, for him, means a blend of neo-soul, pop, funk, rock, and R&B. Funk and rock are noticeably absent from the new single, however, as OneGunn focuses instead on emphasizing his soul and R&B chops with a smattering of pop added and conjures up one of the year’s most impressive R&B/soul performances. It doesn’t go on too long, it’s highlighted by an outstanding vocal, and every second of the track testifies to the time-tested talent behind it all.

He has a Grammy on his shelf that he shares with Prince as the original lead singer of co-collaborator on Prince’s late 1980s #1 hit “Kiss”. The iconic guitar-driven funk masterpiece still enjoys considerable popularity today, particularly following Prince’s untimely death, and doesn’t appear to be heading for obscurity anytime soon. Less popular but no less successful at its time of release, his later appearance as MC Skat Kat in the Paula Abdul chart-topper “Opposites Attract” further enhanced OneGunn’s already considerable reputation.

He’s kept at ever since, plugging away, and even expanding his artistic goals with serious forays into acting. His first love, however, always remains music. He’s putting his proverbial best foot forward with the new single and you can hear its absolute sincerity at all times despite his customary stylization. We’re in familiar territory with this song; the interplay of percussion, keyboards, bass, vocals, and so forth recalls a bevy of past music without ever sounding like a skilled mimic.

He is far from that. You hear it in his voice, if nowhere else. OneGunn’s approach to “Why” is dyed in the wool soul without ever falling prey to its cliches. His idiosyncratic phrasing is the key. Placing emphasis on the words in slightly different places than others is a small thing, seemingly, but taken in over the duration of a song, it has a transformative effect. He has sensitivity, sensuality, and atmospherics to burn singing for us here and it never descends to heavy-handed obviousness.

The running time is ideal, particularly when taking the instrumentation into account. A steady beat and keyboards/synths are dominant during the song, but it’s far from a cookie-cutter arrangement. It owes much to OneGunn’s formative period, consciously so, but there’s melody in the music and substantive layers. It is far more than just an empty placeholder for OneGunn’s vocal performance.

He’s too steeped in tradition for that. He is able to keep one foot in today, however, as it isn’t even really a retro sound that we’re hearing. The sound he’s promoting with releases such as this has never really dimmed in their mass appeal. Cultural shifts and deaths, such as Prince’s, have contributed to a refocused love for this style, but there’s no sense of ruthless exploitation here. Instead, OneGunn is as authentic as it comes, and “Why” pops and crackles with his deep love for the style. 

Michael Rand

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