If you're already familiar with the singer and rapper Verse Simmonds, then you know he's a pretty hardworking guy. With a host of mixtapes and big collaborations under his belt, and some impressive writing credits, the Caribbean native has made his mark in the music industry and with fans.

So to keep that momentum going, Simmonds releases his latest mixtape, 'Circa 96: A Prelude to 1996,' which represents a time in music where it was more about honing your craft than honing your brand, he says. Plus, the '90s was an era when records were released at a much slower pace, so artists could spend more time creating quality sounds.

"1996 [and] what it means for me and the reason that I decided to put together this project, is because I wanted to bring the feel of what the '90s era kind of was to everybody," Simmonds states in the mixtape's intro track.

"I'm not trying to bring it back to that [but] what I'm trying to do is capture that feeling to let you know that people really love their craft and so they took the time to create records that lasted."

So based on that artistic goal, Simmonds has two challenges here. First, he has to stay faithful to the 1996 concept of the mixtape without deviating from it and second, he has to wow the listener from the first note to the last.

Is he able to pull this off? And more importantly can he create a '90s-inspired project that still sounds fresh and modern?

For the most part, the answer is yes, as each cut on the six-track effort has a throwback feel but doesn't sound overly dated, which is difficult to pull off. In addition, each song has a straight R&B feel -- there are no hip-hop sensibilities. But that's only if you don't count Simmonds' rapping on a few tracks.

On 'A Friend,' seemingly inspired by Shai's 1992 cut 'If I Ever Fall in Love,' Simmonds talks about still being friends with a girl after a breakup. Vocally, he approaches the song in retro crooner style, kind of like early 112 or Jon B, and rhythmically, the producer avoids using complex hip-hop drums and goes with simpler R&B drums instead.

With 'Concentrate,' Simmonds speaks of slow lovemaking over lush keyboard sounds and tells his mate he'll take the necessary time to make her happy. On 'Dedicated,' he clearly goes the R. Kelly route and devotes the song to the sexually uninhibited.

"This one is dedicated to the love we're making all up in this house baby. You're amazing," he sings.

Musically, Simmonds chooses traditional R&B sounds and uses that same approach throughout the mixtape. And he stays true to the '90s concept by borrowing from LL Cool J's 1996, hit 'Doin It,' while delivering a strong and sincere vocal performance.

Overall, Simmonds successfully meets the two challenges that he was facing while making this project. One, he stayed true to the 1996 concept by using traditional R&B sounds and a throwback vocal delivery. And two, he made songs that should be able to keep the listeners attention throughout.

So if you're a lover of '90s R&B music, and you're curious what it would sound like with a modern day twist, you'll enjoy 'Circa 96: A Prelude to 1996.' It's definitely worth a download.

 Rating: 

Listen to Verse Simmonds' 'Circa 96: A Prelude to 1996' Mixtape