Bryson Tiller – ‘True To Self’ (Review)

Bryson-Tiller-2
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.