Trey Songz has good people. An hour before his scheduled arrival at Wire Road Studios -- quite a cutting-edge, modern music chamber, considering the humble neighborhood living around it -- to join about 20 hip-hop heads, hype men, helpers and hangers-on for an intimate listening party for his upcoming album, Chapter V, his Atlantic Records entourage scurried to and fro, making the studio setting as romantic (and private) as possible.
"No photos, no flash photography, no interviews, no electrical recording of any type," announced Kenny Mahone, Atlantic's co-national director of urban promotions, to the crowd (and us) before Songz's arrival.
With blooming white roses and burning white candles on the table in front of us, the task was nearly accomplished, save for the explicit R&B -- "You ain't gotta pull 'em off, girl. Just pull 'em to the side" ("Dive In") -- and the booty shorts-clad women sashaying by.
Later, the Grey Goose poured and passed liberally by these barely dressed ladies would seem ironic; Songz's current club banger, "Two Reasons," talks about being present only for "the ladies and the drinks" -- or "the bitches and the drinks," as the uncensored version matter-of-factly asserts.
After showing video footage of his last tour, Songz crept in, making a super-short introduction before hooking up his iPhone to the studio's speaker system and blasting all 18 tracks.
He wasn't the only celebrity there. Rapper Bun B stood to our left, amusing and mildly confusing the intimate group with his SAT-level vocabulary.
"I called her a curmudgeon," he said about his wife, who sat on the other side of the room, grinning.
"What does curmudgeon mean?" asked Slim Thug to our right between graciously accepting compliments about his just-released self-help audio book, "How to Survive In a Recession."
Paul Wall leaned casually against the wall adjacent to us; his partner-in-bling, Johnny Dang, sat near him at the table of roses, showing off his 20-carat pinky ring to all who came near.
Yes. It was that kind of crowd.
"I brought y'all here to play something very special to me," Songz said before pressing play. The crowd was certainly pleased. The entire room looked like a collection of life-size bobblehead dolls as everyone nodded their heads ferociously, Songz and Co. included. "I feel like this is the best album I've made."
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Is Chapter V his best? It's certainly a good album, but it also feels like a trip down memory lane. Chapter V is a casserole of all Songz's previous projects, layered one-by-one and then all mashed together in his usual order of sex, love, party, sex again -- with a lot of cursing thrown in. For example, it's an odd juxtaposition to pair a four-letter word inside of the chorus of a heartbreak anthem ("Heart Attack"), but what's done is done.
Also, except for being bookended by the T.I.-assisted (and aforementioned) "Two Reasons" and Meek Mill and Diddy-hyped closer, "Check Me Out," Chapter V is track-after-track of similarly sounding love/sex songs. After a while, they seem to merge into one another.
And as for being transformative -- "It starts off as that passionate, sensual, sexual Trey Songz...that you know, and then it expands," he said -- Songz reveals himself to be the same frolicking playboy that he let loose on previous albums Ready and Passion, Pain and Pleasure.
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Chapter V will be released August 21. Below is the album's tracklisting.
1. "Chapter V" (Intro) 2. "Dive In" 3. "Panty Wetter" 4. "Heart Attack" 5. "Playin' Hard" 6. "2 Reasons" feat. T.I. 7. "Hail Mary" feat. Lil Wayne & Young Jeezy 8. "Don't Be Scared" 9. "Pretty Girl's Life" 10. "Bad Decisions" 11. "Forever Yours" 12. "Inside Enterlude" 13. "Fumble" 14. "Without a Woman" 15. "Interlude 4 U" (Interlude) 16. "Simply Amazing" 17. "Never Again" 18. "Check Me Out" feat. Meek Mill & Diddy