In one sense, Zacardi Cortez needs no introduction (if you haven’t heard him, or about him, you must be living under a rock – a BIG rock). Cortez hails from a Houston based Gospel-singing family, was mentored by John P. Kee, and recorded on albums by the likes of Kurt Carr, Bishop Paul S. Morton, and James Fortune (his lead vocal on “You Are Here” is one of my all-time favorites). However, Cortez is more known inside the Gospel music industry than by casual Gospel fans; and with that background, Cortez moves from “side piece” to “HVIC (Head Vocalist In Charge) on his debut album, The Introduction.
An artist who put so much time and amassed so much goodwill working with other artists stands to have a lot of people ready to pitch in as collaborators. That is certainly the case with Cortez, who brings in the likes of Fred Hammond, Kierra “Kiki” Sheard, Kee, James Fortune and R&B’s Lalah Hathaway. The result is an album in which Cortez displays what he’s learned while working with some of the best known and respected names in Gospel music.
Cortez’s diverse background pays dividends as he easily adapts his vocal style to that of his collaborators. That is the case on the southern soul influenced “One More Time,” which pairs Cortez with Kee. Cortez displays an ability to reach deep into the vocal well for the growling, full throated and passionate vocals that are Kee’s specialty. The contemporary Christian styled ballad “Every Promise” plays to Hathaway’s skills both as an excellent balladeer and someone for whom “great duet partner” is imprinted in her DNA. “Every Promise,” one of the standout tracks on The Introduction, is the definition of a contemporary Christian tune, as it fuses pop music production techniques with a message of deep faith. Just has Cortez displays his strong soul influences on tracks such as “One More Time” and the quartet styled (don’t act like you don’t tape your feet to quartet music) “He Brought Me” (with The Williams Singers – #ProjectFavorites), “Every Promise” proves to an excellent vehicle for Cortez’s radio-friendly tenor, which works nicely with Hathaway’s smoky vocals.
Meanwhile, tracks such as “Praise You” (feat. Fred Hammond) and “For Me,” which pairs Cortez with Sheard, match the singer with two of the leading advocates of merging Gospel with hip-hop influenced R&B. Cortez even drops a little auto tune (why, Lawd, why? kidding….) on “For Me.” Hammond and Cortez infuse “Praise You” with a funky bass line and some EW&F (that’s Earth, Wind and Fire – for you uber saved folk)- styled brass.
Cortez’s career – and this project specifically – confirm the admonishment in Proverbs about the importance of proper training. Cortez has not only stayed on the path carved out by his Gospel singing family, he’s spent his career amassing knowledge. Gospel fans have heard Cortez’s voice for many years, but The Introduction allows those listeners to meet him again as an artist who takes his learnings to create an auspicious debut that should establish for him a growing presence on the Gospel music stage.