Tony Rich's debut album didn't quite fit in with the rigid format of '90s urban R&B. Instead of relying on hip-hop as his foundation, Rich takes elements from soul, blues, pop, and rock, creating a personal brand of new jack R&B. Like Prince, he synthesizes these elements into a distinctive whole. Unlike Prince, his influences are more apparent on the surface, but perhaps that should be expected from a debut. Like many first records, the songs aren't always first-rate, but the best tracks on Words stand head and shoulders above much of Rich's competition. What makes Words work is Tony Rich's audacity and his talent -- he ties together disparate influences with his melodic, soulful songwriting, forming a fresh sound that breathes new life into '90s urban R&B.