Bryan Sledge, raised in the church by two choir directors, has a rappity-rap name and a jones for luxuriating in and kibitzing over '70s soul classics — he tells a great story about posting up in the toilet as a shorty while his daddy shaved and listened to Chicago's V103, schooling him on artists and songs and music history. On last year's remarkable Pineapple Now & Laters mixtape (an R&B corollary of sorts to Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city), he claimed, "Sex, money, sneakers, airplanes, good reefer, good music, good people, that's all I know," and the record certainly moved with a self-possessed shrug. But on a timeless suite of reflective, indelible tracks that closed the album, Sledge gave that humblebrag some depth and teeth, showing he might be ready for an Ocean-ic rise. Especially stunning were two equally striking songs — "His Pain II," about God's blessings during skint times, features Lamar doing a crying-style rhyme over a sample of jazzy piano/bass/sax followed by Sledge's testifying; and "King Kong," a bleary stomp and croon of self-actualization that sounds both embarrassingly intimate and immensely anthemic in just more than two minutes.
Now signed to Motown, Sledge will have to navigate the desperately mixed messages of the industry, the overanalyzing hype of the press, the envy of peers, and the gotcha creepiness of social media. But if 2012 proved anything, it's that it is possible to survive that gauntlet. Though it's probably advisable to steer clear of Team Breezy. CHARLES AARON