Album review: 'First Love,' by Karina

Patrick Varine

The first song on 16-year-old Karina Pasian’s debut album for Def Jam Records, "First Love," is called “90s Baby,” and the title is appropriate.

The trouble with modern R&B is that there’s so much of it, making a splash is difficult. Add to that a high-school junior making her major-label debut, and it’s not tough to see why much of the record sticks to relatively formulaic melodies and familiar territory: growing pains, losing and gaining boyfriends and asking the all-important question, on “Can You Handle It,” “What if your friends started paying more attention to me?”

It’s too bad, though, because when her songwriters and producers push her out further toward the fringes of mainstream pop, Karina succeeds and comes off as Beyonce’s little sister.

“They Ain’t Gotta Love You” is propelled by a horn-and-rhythm that’s equal parts Jamaican dancehall and college drumline; “Can’t Find the Words” cops the beat from the Fugees’ “Ready or Not” and pairs it with a simple piano melody that works even without a bassline. And “16 @ War,” despite a comparison that’s a bit of a stretch (I get it, it’s about struggling in the city, but Karina is the god-daughter of superproducer Quincy Jones, and studied at New York’s High School for the Professional Performing Arts, so I’m not really buying “Sixteen on the the block/Sixteen at war”), bounces along atop a synth-heavy beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Rick Ross album.

Most of "First Love’s" 11 tracks, however, sound like generic ‘90s R&B, the work of a girl raised on Mary J. Blige, Destiny’s Child and maybe a little Christina Aguilera. Which is not to say it’s bad.

It’s just that Mary, Mariah and Christina did it already.

But Karina’s only 16. She’s got plenty of time – and more than enough talent – to grow into her craft.

Sussex Countian