Whether the world wants it; whether the world needs it; whether the world is ready for it, the world has it: the great, white, Yeezus. At least that’s how the start of Jon Bellion’s debut album, The Human Condition, sounds with its ‘modest’ boasts and boasts of modesty. Bellion makes the crazy-brave decision to have his Jenny-from-the-block moment at the start of the album with He Is The Same, stating that fame and money haven’t changed him because he still lives in his dad’s house despite having a “couple million in the bank” and “could buy a few pads”. We see what you did there, Jon, demonstrating your humility by referencing your wealth.
Bellion has built a following – both within the machine of the music business, and amongst the public – for the past 5 years with his mixtapes, live performances, and co-writing credits for big name acts like Eminem and Jason Derulo – writing the chorus for The Monster for the former, and co-writing and producing Trumpets for the latter. The music industry following and connections are on display in the writing and production credits – which include busbee, who brings a strong electro-pop sound to the singles 80’s Films and Maybe IDK – and the grass-roots following is evidenced by effusive praise that fans have left strewn about the internet.
Blending contemporary R&B, alternative hip-hop, and pop, Bellion can spin a catchy enough tune. So long as it revolves around a chorus. Bellion’s affinity for writing a belter of a chorus reveals The Human Condition’s central conceit and weakness; by writing an ostensibly autobiographical, narratively driven record, Bellion has demonstrated an inability to sustain a thought, relying on transient revelations – “you’re the reason I’m alone and masturbate”, All Time Low – and repetition to disarm and distract the listener. This tendency means that a song like Fashion, which feels like it has a message, ends up feeling ambiguous about what, exactly, it is trying to say, and by the albums end, choruses outnumber verses by a decent margin, and it doesn’t take long to discern the formula employed by Bellion in constructing a song.
It was rather surprising to find that Bellion’s rapping voice – New York Soul (Part II) – is far more pleasing than his affected and effected ‘singing’ voice, which is frequently tinged with auto-tune – as is de rigueur these days to add colour – and unnecessarily multi-tracked, adding aural confusion rather than depth. Travis Mendes vocals add a welcome warmth and soul on lead single, Guillotine, and Blaque Keyz guest rap on Weight Of The World is well executed, although existing as an odd, only faintly linked, coda to the song proper. Closing song, The Hand Of God (Outro), features Sheldon Ray and The Andraé Crouch Choir singing lines from the albums songs for the extended outro, and this makes for the most pleasing vocal performance of the record.
With The Human Condition Bellion has set out to explore just that, which is commendable and audacious, but by using himself and his fortuitous circumstances as the prism through which to explore this philosophical terrain he fails to produce a work that is universal, relatable, and informative, instead producing an album that feels narcissistic and insular; lacking in a maturity and worldly experience that may have made this a worthwhile excursion into what it is to be human in the modern world. If the mix didn’t push the vocals and lyrics front and centre, The Human Condition would be a reasonable, if unspectacular work of pop-fusion, but as it is it feels as if Bellion has made a mistake in putting himself in the spotlight as opposed to lending his skills – in a background capacity – to the support and development of other artists.