Jennifer Lopez’s ‘A.K.A.’: Track-By-Track Album Review

Mike Wass | June 3, 2014 5:30 am
It’s a shame Jennifer Lopez called her 2005 LP Rebirth because the title suits this brilliantly executed urban-pop album a lot better. A.K.A. is a career-best offering that takes the ultimate triple threat full circle. The uneven dance-pop of 2011’s Love? has been replaced by a lush, R&B-centric sound that harks back to her first three albums — albeit with a very modern perspective.

J.Lo doesn’t get enough credit for helping bridge the gap between hip-hop and pop with turn-of-the-millennium gems On The 6, J.Lo and This Is Me… Then. She incorporated rap features before it was common (let alone standard) practice and sparked the trend of remixing tracks for specific radio formats. As such, it’s only fitting that the rejuvenated pop diva revisit the hybrid genre she helped create with the intention of broadening it even further by incorporating club beats and tender balladry.

The end result is an unusually ambitious and eclectic pop album that is held together by sizzling beats, surprisingly personal lyrics and Jenny’s inimitable swag. It would have been a lot easier to churn out an album full of “On The Floor” reboots but A.K.A. packs a much heavier creative punch and proves that the flawless 44-year-old is, indeed, the same girl we fell in love with all those years ago. Follow my track-by-track review after the jump.

1. “A.K.A.” (featuring T.I.)

“This is not the girl you used to know,” is the first full sentence Jennifer sings on the LP’s title track, which is both true and false. The diva returns to her urban roots on the blistering opener but the old J.Lo never rode a beat this colossal. Produced by Roccstar, the bone-rattling banger is a statement of intent.

It’s a warning to ditch the pre-conceptions you have about the world’s most beautiful woman or get out of her fucking way. It also doubles as killer kiss-off anthem about an ex (it’s pretty easy to work out which one if you read between the lines). “A.K.A.” took a couple of listens to click for me but once it did, the monster chorus refused to leave my brain for days.

2. “First Love”

While there are several club-friendly tracks on A.K.A. (“Booty” and “Tens” spring to mind), “First Love” is the set’s only pure-pop moment. Which makes it stand out like a sore thumb. There’s so much to love about Max Martin‘s giddy bop that you can forgive it for misrepresenting the rest of the album. At least production-wise.

The concept of finding love further down the track and being adult enough to know it’s real is a surprisingly mature theme for what could be written off as (a hugely enjoyable) bubblegum pop song. Enjoy the sugar rush of “First Love” while it lasts because the rest of the LP caters to a more refined palette.

3. “Never Satisfied”

The enduring American Idol judge unveiled “Never Satisfied” at a concert in Dubai earlier this year. That version gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect but the finished product is distinctly less guitar-driven than J.Lo’s live rendition. The crunching riffs have largely been replaced with hypnotic beats, which is a little disappointing because I loved the superstar’s rock chick turn.

Not that it makes a huge difference. The frantic, love-sick lyrics (“I’ve been tossing and turning, oh this hunger is burning”) are wonderfully desperate and Jennifer delivers a memorable vocal. The ballads on A.K.A. are something of a revelation. Hopefully, one of them will be released as a single to remind the world that the lovely Latina can really sing.

4. “I Luh Ya Papi” (featuring French Montana)

“I Luh Ya Papi” raised a few eyebrows when it was released as the album’s first official single in March but I couldn’t resist the catchy chorus or Detail‘s bouncy beats. My only qualm is that it sounds slightly out of place next to the sophisticated R&B anthems and tender ballads that comprise much of A.K.A. It’s a lot of fun but not exactly reflective of the rest of the LP.

5. “Acting Like That” (featuring Iggy Azalea)

The prospect of Jennifer joining forces with the female rapper du jour peaked everyone’s curiosity when the tracklist was announced. “Acting Like That” actually surpassed my expectations but don’t expect another uptempo, pop-friendly collaboration like Iggy Azalea‘s “Fancy” or “Problem”. This is a slow, hypnotic hip-hop adventure with a very minimal chorus.

“Baddest bitch in the world right here, you ain’t even gotta go nowhere,” sings the “Dance Again” diva over ominous beats courtesy of Roccstar. She proceeds to slowly but surely put her man in his place until Iggy arrives and gives her two cents on the matter. The Aussie femcee is getting better with each feature and she references everything from Mary J. Blige to her duet partner’s 2001 smash “Ain’t It Funny”. Spin this when you’re deep in your feelings.

6. “Emotions”

Co-penned by Canadian singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk and Chris Brown, “Emotions” is the set’s sparsest but hardest-hitting ballad. Jenny puts her heart on the line, belting out raw lyrics (“it’s the same old thing not a damn thing changed, you’re playing games”) over squiggly synths and piano. J.Lo has never sounded this vulnerable or fed up. And, as the song progresses, she really starts to vent: “I just wanna let go, you’re trying to change my mind but the answer’s still no.” This is beautifully textured and substantial.

7. “So Good”

Dissecting matters of the heart has always been Jennifer’s speciality but the aftermath of relationships is her prime focus on A.K.A., which makes sense considering the album was recorded in the wake of her divorce. “So Good” covers similar territory to “Emotions” but the tempo is quicker and the song is littered with subtle but catchy hooks and lyrical jabs.

Some of my favorite barbs are “I bet you think I need you, I’m telling you I don’t” and “I’m worth a bunch of millions but you acting like your money’s mine”. The library’s open because J.Lo is in the mood to read! While the lyrics are obviously semi-autobiographical, anyone can identify with the pop icon’s frustration and lingering annoyance with her ex.

8. “Let It Be Me”

If you’re starting to think our heroine has a chip on her shoulder, never fear. Jenny can still knock out a hopelessly romantic ballad with gooey lyrics like “if falling in love is a crime and the price to pay is my life, give me the sword!” It’s all very intense and more than a little over-the-top but it just works. This is the kind of song loved-up couples will play at weddings for years to come. “Let It Be Me” is also the most obvious nod to the singer’s Puerto Rican roots with it’s glorious spanish guitar and passionate Latin sensibility. I can’t get enough of it.

9. “Worry No More” (featuring Rick Ross)

From the cover to the line-up of producers and featured artists, everything about A.K.A. screams luxury and money. That’s particularly true of J.Lo’s collaboration with Rick Ross. You can almost hear them throwing money in the studio as they sing about the finer things in life. And it’s not your typical bravado. Between them, the duo could probably buy a small island nation.

Produced by Detail, “Worry No More” is the album’s hardest hip-hop anthem. “All them other bitches stabbed you, they were close enough to grab you,” coos the superstar over a sparse but insistent beats before Teflon Don takes over and spits bars about cocaine and white Lamborghinis. The emphasis is on mood and atmosphere instead of radio ready hooks, which is fine because there’s more than enough of them on the next couple of songs.

10. “Booty” (featuring Pitbull)

From the moment Jennifer played “Booty” at a press breakfast in Malibu, it was clear that she was saving the LP’s surefire dance smash for the summer. “All the sexy girls in the party,” sings the diva. “Go grab a man and bring him to the dancefloor.” That command is followed by lyrics about, well, having a big butt. Oh and Pitbull drops a verse too.

It’s not exactly highbrow but, as Ms. Lopez freely admitted, she can do gutter when she feels like it and this collaboration is next-level in comparison to previous outings with Mr. Worldwide. Diplo‘s beats come thicker and faster than we’re used to, and there’s even a quirky middle eastern vibe in the mix to keep things interesting. Try and fight it if it makes you feel better but, by the end of summer, you’ll be dropping it low to this like the rest of us.

11. “Tens” (featuring Jack Mizrahi)

If RuPaul went dancehall, it would sound a lot like this completely unexpected but utterly irresistible gem. “Clap bitches, clap bitches,” orders J.Lo over outrageous synths before dropping hilarious commands like: “eat the runway, serve the runway!” She also lists a bunch of designer labels, swears profusely and calls on her queens to represent. There’s even a reggae breakdown and a rap verse because, well, why not? “Tens” is an instant cult classic and should soundtrack drag shows for years to come. It’s easily one of my favorites on the album.

12. “Troubeaux” (featuring Nas)

After two crazy club detours, Jennifer returns to her urban agenda on Nas-assisted “Troubeaux”, which sounds a little like a deconstructed “Get Right” with its incessant horn sample. It’s not the most fully realized collab on A.K.A. but the adventurous production carries it across the line. It also gets extra points for the imaginative spelling of “Trouble”.

13. “Expertease” (Ready Set Go)

Co-written by Sia, “Expertease (Ready Set Go)” is a sexy mid-tempo bop with a soaring chorus and double entendre-filled lyrics. It’s nice to hear a more traditional pop song after a string of kooky hip-hop/club hybrids but there’s a reason this was relegated to bonus track status. It’s just a little corny.

“You know that our bodies are made for sinnin’,” remarks Jenny before launching into the chorus. “C’mon baby ready set go, I wanna go boy against girl,” she sings. “Let me show my expertise, I’m an expert tease and you know it.” I’m not questioning the entertainment legend’s “expertease” credentials but this remains something of a guilty pleasure.

14. “Same Girl” (featuring French Montana) 

She gave advance warning with this prophetic buzz single but even “Same Girl” couldn’t prepare us for the depth, quality and warm nostalgia of A.K.A..

Future Singles: “Booty” is an absolute no-brainer but “Tens” also has serious potential to conquer clubs. As far as the urban cuts go, the title track is an absolute monster and the Iggy Azalea collab is a slightly more accessible remix away from chart domination.

Sounds Like: Luxury and success with a side of heartbreak.

Idolator Score: 4/5

Mike Wass