The head-turning moment on Leon Thomas’ debut EP Genesis comes during “Blessing Interlude.” The drummer tees up a loping, unfussy beat, and the guitarist adds an inquisitive phrase, a lick that hangs and bends in mid-air. Thomas sings prettily, trying to coax a prospective partner into returning his interest; a thin coating of backing vocals, just enough, slides through the background; the whole thing ends in less than two minutes — far too soon.
Thomas knows his stuff: He’s only 25, but as a member of the production duo the Rascals, he has already worked heavily on Ariana Grande’s hip-hop-soul throwback Yours Truly and a pair of cuts for Toni Braxton. In both cases, Thomas was in the studio with Babyface, the singer-songwriter-producer who is one of the most important figures in the last 40 years of pop. Perhaps inspired by his mentor, Thomas is now in the process of adding “singer” to his own resume. (Somehow he also has a parallel career as an actor, appearing in films like Detroit.) So far, so good: Lead single “Favorite” is climbing at Urban Adult Contemporary radio, reaching an audience of 1.5 million last week.
Clearly made with the airwaves in mind, “Favorite” is effective enough — full of shiny eighth-note runs on the piano and featuring a verse from rising rapper Buddy — but it’s not much of an introduction to Thomas. Instead, Genesis is best when mixing creamy guitar soul with easygoing breakbeats. That’s the source of “Sunken Place,” a snapshot of post-heartbreak isolation, and “Beg,” an attempt at romantic reconciliation that’s both earnest and amusing: “Please don’t make me beg/ Fuck it, I’ma beg.” Nothing else on this EP is as loop-able as “Blessing Interlude,” but there are enough good ideas to encourage optimism about whatever comes next.