The newly independent singer’s latest project is designed to make her stand out in a crowded R&B field but falls short of any singular, defining moments.
Justine Skye first garnered fame on Tumblr, where she released a series of originals and covers that helped land her a deal with Atlantic Records in 2013. Three years later, she moved to Roc Nation and dropped her debut album Ultraviolet. Between label switches and multiple EPs, Skye has built a consistent R&B catalog: seven projects in eight years. Now, as an independent artist—a decision she said freed her from the confines of major-label creative control—her latest project attempts to cement her as a prominent R&B force and not just a model and influencer.
Space and Time has the futuristic sound of its executive producer Timbaland’s greatest hits, with robotic tempos and slap-bass melodies; it’s a pairing that works well in theory but relies heavily on mimicking artists of the past. Skye is aware of her middling status in the R&B world—she referred to it in a tweet as “all that talk”—and she recognizes the stain of former public relationships with fellow artists Goldlink, Travis Scott, and Sheck Wes, who Skye accused of abuse in 2019. As a result, there is a unique sense of urgency and directness on Space and Time, setting the album up as a chance for her to dig deeper into the industry baggage that made her step out on her own. But if the project is designed to make her stand out in a crowded field, it falls short of defining moments.
Among a generation of singers like Summer Walker and SZA known for airy, whispered vocals, Skye has a notably deeper tone but never pushes her range. On “It’s About Time,” Timbaland introduces her by name as if it’s the year 2000, and with tracks like “Innocent,” he plays into his predictable narrative of creating protégés like Aaliyah. The song samples “If Your Girl Only Knew,” with a Justin Timberlake feature that, rather than revitalizing the original, plays like a phoned-in collaboration. A snippet of Timberlake’s “Holy Grail” hook (co-written and produced by Timbaland) on another heartbreak tune, “We,” fits Skye’s breakup theme— “Just stop hurting me/It’s all in agony” she sings. “Pray, but my heart is weak, yeah/It’s all monotony.” But the song feels like an attempt to again relive an old Timberlake/Timbaland feature on a project that’s meant to re-center Skye.
Forced nostalgia aside, Space and Time is Skye’s chance to lay bare her journey of coping with heartache and self-doubt. Opening track “Conscious” repeats the question “Where have you been?/How did you get in?” setting the scene like the protagonist of a sci-fi film frantically searching for familiar surroundings. The video for “Twisted Fantasy,” an Afropop ditty featuring Rema, shows Skye traveling through a mirror into multiple realms before entering an alternate universe where the two have a face-to-face showdown at a dimly lit bar. The album’s standout is “In My Bag,” which is on-brand in the arsenal of TikTok-savvy hot girl summer anthems, with lyrics that champion women and getting to the money. The song ends with a call-and-response as if the DJ held the beat for all the ladies to huddle and perform their last twerk. It may very well birth a viral dance moment but not quite a star-making one.