Welcome to Under the Covers, your weekly dose of genre-bending with your favorite WBRU artists & songs! From the genuinely good to the seriously strange, we’ve got you covered. This week, we look at Jorja Smith’s cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River.”

In 2002 when Justin Timberlake released the household song “Cry Me a River,” Jorja Smith was just five years old. The song was featured on his debut solo album Justified. And for the more or less decade when Timberlake fell off the charts, Smith was learning how to climb them. But amidst Timberlake’s comeback and most recent album in 2018, Smith found his early work an inspiration and moved to make a heartfelt cover of “Cry Me” in February 2019.

The tried and true pop beats of the songs fit comfortably within our expectations of Justin Timberlake, Smith, who was just getting her name, used the famed song to instead highlight her soulful, R&B style. She lets the lyrics of the song perform for the listener, which include the themes of heartbreak and loss common in her own writing. She slows down the beat and adds edge, letting her emotions carry her across the bass line. Jorja has a voice that can fills the room. Even with a single guitar, sharply strumming the melodious crescendos and falls that compose Timberlake’s original, Smith manages to make the song just as vibrant, full, and potent sans mixer and full band. Her delicate, wispy falsetto gets its deserved airtime as she hits the inconceivable notes of the pre-chorus singing “I already know, I found out from him” before moving into the chorus equally as strong.

This 21-year-old has a voice beyond her years already having worked with some of the industry’s most decorated names: Drake, Kali Uchis, and Kendrick Lamar. This cover comes after Jorja’s several, equally hard hitting and soulful others. After being featured on the soundtrack for the mega blockbuster Black Panther with song “I Am,”  she went on to cover Kendrick and SZA’s “All the Stars” from the same album. Again, Smith delivers, relying on her strong suit: clear, deep, moving vocals. The simplicity of the single background instrument allows her to perform as she knows best.


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