Bursting onto the scene with her honeyed hit ‘2 On’ in 2014, Tinashe – with the aid of DJ Mustard’s club-ready snaps – made a big splash in the R&B pond. Sonically, ‘2 On’ stood in stark contrast to the woozy, lo-fi mixtapes that preceded it, perhaps leaving listeners wondering how the two disparate sounds could be reconciled on her first major label LP – ‘Aquarius’. However – reconcile them she did: ‘Aquarius’ balanced shimmering, atmospheric R&B with ratchet club bangers in a manner that was coherent, yet unabashedly pop.
Following the mainstream success of ‘Aquarius’, Tinashe shifted her gaze towards the mixtape game once more: Her 2015 tape, ‘Amethyst’ (a sort of ‘Aquarius’ victory lap), found the songstress getting reacquainted with her inner SoundCloud-warrior – releasing a nostalgic, seven-track project recorded years before in the comfort of her own bedroom. The tape was pared-down, zany, explorative, and perhaps most pertinently – an exhibition of unbridled adolescent fantasy. The opening track, ‘Dreams Are Real’, bolstered with wistful piano riffs and wraith-like synths, eschewed pure focus on the bait R&B tropes (love, sex and break-ups); instead Tinashe elected to adopt, yet ultimately, transcend these archetypes – positioning her vocal content at the nexus between fantasy and reality: ‘The future is mine!’, she cried. The dream/reality dichotomy and it’s reconciliation is a prominent motif throughout the Tinashe canon, and serves as the conceptual structure for her most recent offering: ‘Nightride’.
‘Nightride’, then, her second mixtape, 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.
Despite sounding like any other hazy alt-R&B track, the opener, ‘Lucid Dreaming’, has a very specific objective. Throughout the track, Tinashe croons, ‘If there’s one thing I’ve learnt / It’s that it’s up to me’. This may seem like a prima facie self-pep talk, however, as the instrumentation fades – a lecturer’s voice breaks the silence:
‘When lucidity occurs, the dreamer suddenly realises that they are dreaming, and this awareness allows them to control what ultimately happens; the same can be achieved in the conscious world: The mind can manifest reality.’
Suddenly – it all makes sense. Tinashe’s pensive offerings on ‘Dreams Are Real’ and ‘Lucid Dreaming’ mirror that of the lecturer’s: Ideas and desires delivered up by the imagination can become reality – only if one is sufficiently aware. However, despite Tinashe’s championing of this rather libertarian concept, ‘Nightride’ finds her struggling with it perpetually. That is, Tinashe so hopelessly desires the regeneration of happiness shared with old flames, that her triumphant philosophy often collapses into a form of fruitless escapism – an escapism that is at once relatable and heart-rending.
On ‘Sun Burn’, ominous piano chords and hi-pass vocal moans set a profoundly melancholic tone, while Tinashe bravely croons, ‘Sun burn in my eyes / I’ve been looking up / Trying to hold onto this feeling’. Here, Tinashe wrestles with the failure of her relentless optimism; some states of affairs we have no control over, notwithstanding a belief that ‘the mind can manifest reality.’ Alas, her persistence to dream continues. ‘Soul Glitch’ finds Tinashe pondering further on a past relationship: ‘Stuck in a world where / We could be perfect’, she howls. This sort of desperation isn’t necessarily ground-breaking for Tinashe, however, the darkness in which she frames such tracks is a new, and certainly welcome addition to her catalogue. Perhaps she had ‘Echoes Of Silence’ (Weeknd) and ‘Hallucinogen’ (Kelela) on repeat in the studio while recording (blunt in hand).
On ‘Nightride’, Tinashe forgoes her debut LP’s ratchet pop and gooey, A&R-adored hooks, opting instead to surf the trap wave; in line with the distressing themes exhibited throughout, Metro’s soundscapes compliment the tone of the LP perfectly. The singles ‘Sacrifices’ and ‘Ride Of Your Life’ are straight club bangers: The Atlanta beatsmith’s thumping drums and threatening synths are juxtaposed perfectly with Tinashe’s elegant vocals, the content of which is frosty – yet unapologetically carnal. There’s no doubt that you’ll hear DJ’s spinning these tracks as the mercury continues to drop.
However, psychological battles, philosophical ruminations and club bangers aside, there is one thing that really sets this album apart from the throngs of R&B releases this year: It has no features (she cut Thugga’s verse from ‘Party Favors’). In 2016’s musical rat race to stay relevant, most artists wouldn’t dream of releasing a project without a hook from Drake or a verse from Future – lest they fade into R&B obscurity, that is. With that in mind, Tinashe’s bold decision to go solo for fifteen tracks was both artistic and demonstrative: 1) The mixtape articulates her personal psychological tensions, rendering features somewhat superfluous, and 2) As an artist, she can stand on her own two feet; she doesn’t need your help.
Watch the new Tinashe’s video for ‘Nightride’ below, the single that’s notably absent from the ‘Nightride’ mixtape – which you can stream on Apple Music and Tidal or download it on iTunes.