Bryson Tiller – ‘True To Self’ (Review)

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RCA (2017)

‘Trapsoul’ has been out for around two years now, and I imagine the plethora of babies that were conceived to its dulcet melodies are now well on their way to walking and talking. Bryson Tiller, on the other hand, does not share the same progression on his second full-length, ‘True to Self’; his mission, with respect to his sound, is one of retention. Amongst the uniform, economical and rather misty sonics, you’ll find him singing over trap beats, rapping over trappier beats, and attempting to reconcile issues of love and fame with those of his own identity.

However, it’s the issues of love which really constitute the bulk of Tiller’s attention. In fact, whether he’s convincing his beau to chill the weed over a gruff sample of Travis Scott’s ‘Backyard’ (‘Don’t Get Too High’), or resigning himself to a failing relationship (‘Somethin Tells Me’), it’s difficult to discern just how many women he’s actually addressing. Usually an album with more sexual story arcs than Game of Thrones would amount to frustration, yet this is not the case here: the sincerity in Tiller’s delivery and the subtlety of his descriptions anchor you to each and every footnote. Sure, there’s a slight whiff of Drake’s daddy dom complex here and there, but I’ve always believed these psychological idiosyncrasies add a bit of texture to the narrative.

Speaking of Drake, it seems ‘True to Self’ really cements Aubrey as Tiller’s closest vocal relative. That is to say, at this point, the pair both seem as comfortable rapping as they do singing (a comparison I withheld up until Tiller’s latest), they both share a penchant for breaking into melody halfway through a sixteen – and they’re even using the same producers. Tiller and Boi-1da’s menacing ‘Money Problems / Benz Truck’, for example, includes one of those “holy fuck” beat switch-ups that you’ll struggle to find on anything but ‘IYRTITL’, and even T-Minus gets a placement on the lead single. All of that said, Bryson Tiller is certainly not biting; his aesthetic is too polished to be considered borrowed. Even their tentative approaches to fame push their respective sounds in different directions: Bryson – into disputes with friends, and Drake – into the arms of various women. But, in fairness, this isn’t 2011, and Drake isn’t ‘having a hard time adjusting to fame’ anymore. If anything, he’s bathing in it – and why not?

Anyway, one of the biggest strengths of this album, by my lights, is that it doesn’t have a truly standout single. You may think that’s a bit strange; this is not something the labels would consider a win. But that is not how Bryson Tiller operates. He deals in subtle changes in mood rather than jarring changes in tempo. Once the ambience is set, different rhythms and emotions are brought in delicately to create something truly immersive. No features are necessary. Even the (now non-negotiable) Caribbean cut, ‘Run Me Dry’ – despite its hit power – swells gradually and slips away into ‘High Stakes’ without breaking the spell. ‘Trapsoul’ ran a similar course, and all for the better.

But this isn’t just a ‘Trapsoul 2’. Although ‘True to Self’ exploits abstract nouns in its title in a similar manner to Bieber’s ‘Purpose’ – unlike ‘Purpose’, ‘True to Self’ is actually concerned with what the title suggests it is. Throughout the project’s nineteen tracks, Tiller constantly tackles problems concerning self-authenticity, ending relationships that don’t sit with him right, attempting to sustain ones that do, and ultimately clarifying just what kind of artist he wants to be. On ‘Before You Judge’, he’s as poignant and self-critical as a young Marshall Mathers: ‘So many times I second guessed myself I never wanted to be an artist nahh / I don’t wanna be the centre of attention but I guess I do this shit for lil’ Harley nahh / If you know me you know I just wanna be able to walk inna Target and people not be astonished / man let me do my shopping / but this is my job I asked for it I got it let’s goo’.

Above all, ‘True to Self’, demonstrates Bryson Tiller as robotically consistent, and perhaps the next great hip-hop/R&B amphibian – and we could definitely do with some more of them.

The Weeknd – Starboy (Review)

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XO / Republic (2016)

In late 2012, The Weeknd (Abél Tesfaye) released ‘The Trilogy’, a compilation project that blended his initial three mixtapes – ‘House Of Balloons’, ‘Echoes Of Silence’ and ‘Thursday’ – into a two-and-a-half hour odyssey characterised by its desperate melancholia and wraith-like vocal lines. Abel took R&B, shook her up, put her in knee-high leather boots and had her doing lines of coke the size of Santa’s eyebrows in a dimly lit room. He – without wanting to sound too cliché – changed the game.

Full Review here.

Ella Mai – Change EP (Review)

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Following the success of her debut EP, ‘Time’, released on DJ Mustard’s 10 Summers imprint, Ella Mai – London’s very own R&B killer – is back with another one: ‘Change’. Where ‘Time’ explored the mental phases symptomatic of a particular break-up (denial through to acceptance), ‘Change’ takes the next logical step: an exhibition of the mental phases conjured up by a burgeoning relationship, namely – hesitation through to dedication.

Check full review here on the Nation.

A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (Review)

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Epic / SME (2016)

It’s been eighteen long years since A Tribe Called Quest released an album (‘The Love Movement’), however, their latest offering, ‘We Got it From Here’, makes it abundantly clear that the spaced-out jazz-rap aficionados still know how to kick it. Despite sticking to their rock-steady blueprint of pensive rhymes and groovy soundscapes, the contextual poignancy of Phife Dawg’s death and the volatility of the American political landscape imbue ‘WGIFH’ with an urgency unlike any other Tribe LP.

With that in mind, ‘WGIFH’ plays like a funky self-help audiobook for the post-electoral apocalypse and beyond; causes for concern and celebration are well balanced, demonstrating that the Tribe’s verbal proficiency is one that transcends age.

Full Review on Nation of Billions.

NEW TRACK: Childish Gambino – Me and Your Mama

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Glassnote (2016)

Bearing in mind that his previous full-length release was all the way back in 2013, I have some excellent news: Gambino’s released a new track! Wait – better yet, he’s releasing a new album! ‘Awaken My Love!’ marks Gambino’s third LP, and will serve as a follow-up to his Grammy-nominated project ‘Because the Internet’. We can expect the album on December 2nd, and judging by its initial offering – some ethereal soul.

Check the link @ Nation of Billions.

NEW TRACK: Léks Rivers – “No Rest For The Wicked”

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Black Butter (2016)

If we were to sketch a musical Venn diagram, West London’s Léks Rivers would perch (baseball cap backwards – obviously) slap-bang in middle of where these hypothetical circles intersect. That is to say, Rivers’ is somewhat of an anomaly. His omnivorous consumption of music manifests in multiple ways: physically, as a zany hipster who unabashedly bucks the roadman trend, and sonically – with his psychedelic, genre-bending compositions aptly labelled ‘future soul’.

Léks turned some heads in 2015 with his independently released track ‘Soho Knights’. Over eccentric organs and thunderous snares spanning the whole stereo field, Rivers’ soaring vocal lines immediately struck a chord with the labels. When you’re channelling the trail-blazing spirit of both Stevie Wonder and André 3000 – how could you not?

Eventually, Black Butter Records snapped him up. It’s not hard to see why: boasting an eclectic range of artists from J Hus to Eats Everything, Léks might even share sonic commonalities with all of them.

This leads us to his most recent offering, ‘No Rest For The Wicked’. Poignant piano riffs and formidable, driving chords pave the way for Léks’ blistering vocals: ‘I am not here to play / I am not here to love you / You falling a victim to fame / That is why I cannot trust you!’ The track, with its discernible R&B overtones, bears a striking resemblance to The Weeknd’s ‘Wicked Games’ (not to mention the title); however, there is an intensity to Rivers’ vocals and instrumentation which carves a lane entirely its own.

Yeah, Radio 1 – fuck – even Capital could spin this track all day and everyone would love it. It’s potency is undeniable. Don’t get it twisted, though: Léks didn’t make this shit for the radio – nuh uh.

Full article and link to track here.

Tinashe – Nightride (Review)

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RCA (2016)

‘Nightride’, then, her second full-length LP, finds Tinashe amalgamating elements from both of her previous projects, yet framing them in a manner that is altogether darker: Mustard’s summery synths are traded in for Metro Boomin and Boi-1da’s menacing instrumentation, while the dream/reality dichotomy manifests as a form of harrowing escapism. The consequence of Tinashe’s change in direction and artistic development is extremely impressive: ‘Nightride’ is tightly focused, poignant, deliciously dark and oddly insightful – one of R&B’s rarest currencies.

Read the full review on Nation Of Billions here.