One of the pleasures of music podcasts is discovering artists that receive little to no radio airplay. Gwen Bunn, a Decatur, Georgia native who has released music independently since 2009, serves as one example. A cross between Erika Badu and Jill Scott, Bunn writes and performs hip hop, jazz, and neo-soul, alternating her voice between whispers and bold rapping. The ballad "Let Me," a cut off her debut EP The Verdict, showcases her promising talent; even more impressive, she wrote that song and many others at 17 years old.
After producing and releasing 2009's The Verdict, Bunn attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Her next release was a single: "Do It for Me (No Autotune)," which gained some notice in 2010. However, she broke through two years later by winning BET's 106 & Park Wild Out Wednesday talent showcase. As a behind-the-scenes force, Bunn co-produced Schoolboy Q's single "Collard Greens," which features the popular hip hop artist Kendrick Lamar. This year Bunn plans to release her next album, Melody Dungeon; judging from the sound of the lead single "Nervous," it recalls the experimental techno-R&B stylings of Frank Ocean.
Unlike the futuristic sounds of her other tracks, "Let Me" is a throwback to smooth 1970s soul with some jazz piano thrown in. Her soft, distinctive voice resembles Scott's, yet the lyrics contain the unusual phrasing and poetics of Badu. Over a simple beat as well as gentle piano and guitar, Bunn sings seductively, the lyrics mimicking a conversation: "Now I can't say I know you / But I can say I wanna get to . . . I just want to get you," she croons in her lilting voice. "I want to get in your mind, I hope you don't mind / See where you're heads at, what you're thinking, you didn't expect that." Her conversational tone allows her to use ear-catching phrases such as "and hopefully in due time I'll get the chance to show you."
Bunn's songwriting skills are on full display in "Let Me," with such interesting images as "I would never steer you wrong / I'll stay in my lane if you feel it's wrong." During the instrumental break, Bunn plays some tasty jazz piano, adding sophistication to the slow R&B track. Overall, the songwriting and performance shows remarkable maturity for a 17-year-old newcomer.
With her upcoming release, Bunn may prove to be a talent to watch in 2014. Seek out her 2009 debut to fully experience her original voice, and listen to "Let Me" to get a sense of her impressive range. To hear "Let Me" and other cuts, visit Bunn's Bandcamp site.