Devonte Hynes (Blood Orange) ‘Negro Swan’ strips back black masculinity and sexual fluidity to diversify our understanding of the power of family, community and healing.
The chaotic and bustling beeps of cars and noise pollution of ‘Orlando’ instantly fills your ears. Then, advancing slowly to a familiar groovy electric guitar, organ keyboard and up-tempo percussion, reminiscent of something you would hear in a 70’s or 80’s film. Despite the rather warmer toned lo-fi acoustics, Hynes reflects on his more unrelenting school days singing, “After school, sucker punched down, down and out, down and out”.
The soulful saxophone opens ‘Saint’, fluttering free like a butterfly in the springtime. The electric keyboard and unifying vocals create an atmosphere of inclusion, then a sudden faster R&B drum beat kicks the track into life alongside the pulsing 80’s keyboard.
A little more unpolished, ‘Take Your Time’ is distinctive in that Hynes vocals although not powerful as such, display this innate childish vulnerability, almost taking you back to an 80’s movie scene. An interjecting flute injects some refreshing greenery into the sparkling electronic keyboard fuelled sound.
Hynes gospel, angelic harmonies create this celestial, ethereal tone opening the track, ‘Hope’ featuring Puff Daddy and Tei Shi. The drumbeat kicks in as Tei Shi’s majestic voice sings, ‘Is this the way that you are’, to which Diddy smoothly interjects, “bring hope when you come around,” making us feel like we are apart of their intimate conversation. The simple rolling piano, chimes and occasional siren frame this ecstasy of sound that takes you to the clouds.
“Why would we want to do the least,” says African American trans-activist, Janet Mock closing out ‘Jewelry’. A track which prides itself on being proudly, unapologetically itself not just through its lyrics but more importantly through its memorable soundscape. The monotony of the synth is dulled, purposefully allowing the high-pitch saxophone to duly take the lead in all its glory.
Further exploring notions of ‘belonging’ is ‘Family’. A dulled 70’s old-school sensual saxophone plays in the distance, making you feel as if you are sitting outside in the fluorescence of a small bar talking to old friend, Janet Mock. As the dulled saxophone plays, Mock defines ‘family’ as a place where, “you can be filled all the way up”.
‘Charcoal Baby’ resonates through its rich combination of lyrics and appropriate sounds, almost recreating a Tame Impala vibe. A ticking drum beat, moody synth and lo-fi electric acoustics maintains a sense of reminiscent sense of familiarity. But the occasional police siren alerts you to reality as Hynes sings, “no-one wants to be the odd one out, sometimes”.
“Tell me what you want from me”, sings an exhausted Hynes. A metaphor for expressing the feeling of being tired of anger, something we can all relate to in today’s exhausting world. ‘Chewing Gum’ features ASAP Rocky’s slick vocals which just ooze coolness against a slapping reverb beat, interjecting siren synth and 80’s gospel keyboard vibe all cooperating to build a peaceful harmony of sound.
‘Chewing Gum’ is Saturday night and ‘Holy Will’ featuring Ian Isiah is church on Sunday morning. A swirling strength begins to invade you’re ears, inescapable, ‘Holy Will’ is the ultimate cleanse for the soul. Balancing the forceful electronic sound is the gentleness of a guitar playing in the background, as Hynes sings out with passion and conviction to ‘God’ alongside a feminine gospel choir.
‘Nappy Wonder’ describes Hynes fondness of skateboarding as a means of escapism from the chaos around him growing up. Uniquely and proudly itself, this song is unconfined and free imitating its environment, through its screeching guitar and disjointed piano as Hynes sings, “feelings never had no ethics”. Hynes admirably fuses his lyrics and instrumentals together like magic, imitating the imperfections of life and how there is beautiful ‘sound’ even in the most chaotic times.
Deriving from a much darker space, ‘Runnin’ featuring fervent vocals from Georgia Anne Muldrow, this song is simply uncomplicated but packs a punch. With its very refined acoustic melody and catchy drum beat, this is the ultimate summer relaxation track. Written at a time when Hynes was in a more darker headspace, Hynes told Genius as soon as Muldrow jumped on the track it turned the song around immensely. Muldrow’s vocals just pierce through your should and ears with positivity, as she sings “rise and shine” like the sunshine in the morning.
Created in Steve Lacy’s bedroom in Compton, ‘Out of Your League’ fuses two music masterminds together, creating a very appealing track. Possessing a very repetitive yet simple chord progression and beat, the track shines with its rather up-tempo and rather vibrant chord change over the vocals, making you want to keep listening for more
A more hopeful resolution, ‘Smoke’ which is one of Hynes personal favourites, sometimes simplicity is always best. The track progresses by the steady strum of a woozy electric guitar swooning over Hynes creatively layered vocal melodies, as the ‘smoke’ begins to clear, he sings, “the sun comes in, my heart fulfils within”.
Purchase Blood Orange’s ‘Negro Swan’ here.