Since Beyonce’s off developing her personal celestial brand…
Jonathan Bogart: Now there’s the Big Boi I’ve been hoping to hear from since 2010. Funky, bouncy, imperturbably smooth, playing smartly off a collaborator who can keep up with him. It’s not exactly a bad look for Ms. Rowland either; she elevates already pretty great material by nailing both the urgency and the strut required of the hook.
Patrick St. Michel: “Mama Told Me” was originally slated to feature Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon, which would have made sense considering the whole song sounds like their synth pop. Instead, Kelly Rowland gets the spot on this Rugrats-worthy single, and even though I feel for Nagano missing a high-profile collaboration, the final recorded version sounds just as good as the live video featuring the Little Dragon singer. Big Boi, who usually outshines even the best guests on his songs, sounds a little too easy-going here, although this still sounds better than any of the songs to emerge following Sir Lucious Left Foot.
Anthony Easton: The counterfactual history where Kelly Rowland became more famous than Beyonce is kind of fun to play — until you realize that Rowland has less ambition, and by extension less interest, in creating sounds that are outside of generic R&B.
Alfred Soto: Before admitting that Kelly Rowland – I never thought I’d write these words – steals this thing with her Sheena Easton kittenishness, I noted how the “Simon Says” keyboard and Prince-ly Linn drum are supposed to fill our hearts with glee. The allusions to “Every Little Step,” Tom Petty, and Funkmaster Flex smell desperate, like a waiter trying to capture a star’s cool vibes.
Will Adams: Big Boi sometimes stumbles over his reference-happy lyrics (try to follow along: “Free Falling” = Tom Petty = living legend = Big Boi = art major = major art = Mozart and on and on), but hearing Kelly Rowland provide a hook to something that isn’t a RedOne wasteland but a sleek slice of synthfunk is rather refreshing. The doot-dos are an added bonus.
Brad Shoup: Just before Big Boi comes in, the Zappalikes end on a really poignant note, paired on synth. Instead of elaborating, the Flush go polite, with throwback R&B elements presented discretely and undersold.
Andy Hutchins: This is a near-complete waste of Kelly Rowland, who is not slight enough for this role, but Antwan Patton rapping is almost an automatic 5. The beat’s twitchy and pretty, which is not a combination that happens often in music, much less in rap. Then again, Big Boi is not exactly coloring within rap’s lines.