If you don’t think you know Joyce Wrice, you probably do. She keeps herself busy. In the past couple years, she’s appeared on songs with Westside Gunn, The Free Nationals, The Cool Kids, The Alchemist, and Rejjie Snow. She sang backup vocals on several tracks from Aminé’s most recent album Limbo. Most emphatically, she just released a new album that will serve as an auditory guide for this summer. If you aren’t familiar with any of these discography features, perhaps her nostalgic traits will remind you of your 1990’s-2000’s R&B favorites. Inspired by the depth of songwriting from artists like Tamia and Brandy, Wrice drew from her influences often in her early work. Her evolution is clear when listening to her debut EP, 2016’s Stay Around, compared to 2021’s full-length Overgrown. This is not to say Wrice lost her muses in the process — Overgrown furthered ties to the R&B aesthetic of decades ago beyond the album’s sonic composition. With its Wrice-centered album cover, Overgrown drew fairly evidently from the album artworks of Mariah Carey (Butterfly), Toni Braxton (The Heat), and Aaliyah (Aaliyah), offering rather high expectations for an artist releasing just their debut album. While placing herself in high regard with the artwork, Wrice also makes it a point to surround herself with some of the most competitive talent in music, regardless of genre. On Overgrown, Wrice enlists the always formidable and soulful Lucky Daye, heavy-hitting rapper Freddie Gibbs, the multi-talented Masego, and the overwhelming lowkey voice of UMI. She also lends master-curater Westside Gunn and super-producer Kaytranada interludes of their own, making the same accommodation for the dynamic duo of Devin Morrison and Mndsgn. If you are the company you keep, Wrice is a dynamic and versatile mix of styles and sounds.
She proves to be just that as the tracks of Overgrown twist and turn their way through love found and lost, independence gained and forgotten. “Chandler”, the album’s opening track, does as intro tracks do and presents the themes and central topics of the music to come: “Let’s talk about all of the things/ That women gotta endure just to get some love/ Go beyond and above.” Wrice’s writing is one of the album’s most enduring characteristics, the engine that never stalls when the road of production takes a different course. Eclectic but not aimless, the production is impressively creative throughout Overgrown. Exemplifying this point are tracks 4 and 5 on the album, “Losing” and “You”: the vocal chop used as a foundation in “You” is a loop of Wrice’s vocals from the preceding track. The transition is well-executed and entertaining for listeners who are able to catch this subtle production trick. The album’s title track and finale, “Overgrown”, diverts from the bouncy, two-step-inducing rhythms of the initial 35 minutes of the record. Stripped down to just her vocals and a longing piano, Wrice opts for a closing ballad that favors closure over the vibrant nature of Overgrown to this point. Though this is a diversion from the established tone of the album, its hard not to be won over by the sincerity apparent in the track’s production and performance. Throughout, Wrice is assured in her artistic decisions and the pay-off is in the music.
Much of Wrice’s artistic belief seems to come from her established sense of self, making her personal identity nearly synonymous with her artistic persona. An independent artist, she has established her image by remaining true to herself in all facets. A personal value of Wrice’s is representation, as she quotes often in interviews and on her social media. As a woman with both an African-American and Japanese background, Wrice looks to incorporate all aspects of her identity in her art. This is most evident on Wrice’s collaboration with UMI on “That’s On You (Japanese Remix)”, a union of two voices who represent the same community with great pride. Singing in both Japanese and English, Wrice and UMI trade verses and share harmonies in their breezy performances on the track. In the spirit of expressing oneself through performance, Wrice shows another side of herself entirely with the ballad of the aforementioned “Overgrown” to close the album. While she is obviously capable, ballads are not common throughout Wrice’s discography. For “Overgrown” to be the conclusion of the biggest moment in her career to this point is a testament to the growth she has accomplished over the last 5 years.
The ’90’s-2000’s influence is obvious from the album cover and sound of the music, and the trend continues through the visual aspect of the album. The music videos feature choreography that Wrice and friends perform as they navigate through arranged drama. The movement of the videos inspire comparisons to visuals of decades past, capturing the groove of the song while adding new elements to its narrative. Even still, the music is able to portray itself without visuals. After one or two listens to Overgrown, you understand the context it is meant to be played in.
Though there are several voices and perspectives audible on this album, Overgrown is entirely Joyce Wrice. It is her moment to have, and there is no exemplary or mediocre performance that will deter her from asserting herself as one of R&B’s most promising young voices. Fellow crooner Lucky Daye tries his best to supersede Wrice on the shared track “Falling In Love”, but Wrice refuses to surrender a single lyric. Some may describe Westside Gunn’s performance on his interlude as tasteless, but I think he would disagree (“There’s only one pussy I want to eat/ And that’s yours/ That shit so sweet, I’d like to lick it from the back”)(Ok, maybe he’s a little out of pocket.). Across 14 tracks, Wrice is consistent in her energy towards whichever emotion is at the center of the given record. As a debut album, Overgrown is the product of an artist with supreme self awareness and a determined vision, two attributes that fare well for Wrice moving forward. R&B listeners old and new best become familiar with San Diego’s finest, Joyce Wrice.