Album Review: Negro Swan by Blood Orange

Written by on September 4, 2018

Negro Swan is the fourth studio album by Dev Hynes under the moniker “Blood Orange.”  The production of Negro Swan is completely unique, yet it feels oddly familiar. After doing some digging, I found that Dev Hynes has actually done production for the likes of Solange and FKA Twigs. In true form of other Dev Hynes projects, the album has a great presence of musicality without feeling overproduced or gimmicky. While the album is definitely cohesive, each track has a distinctive feel. I can’t really categorize this album into a genre, because it is truly an amalgamation of a lot of beautiful yet very diverse music. Negro Swan is riddled with exposed vocals, serene melodies, and some great storytelling. The album explores the juxtaposition of Hynes’ tough childhood with the beauty of what his life is as a whole. Negro Swan is a relevant take on the real life manifestation of a black swan story.

The opening track, “Orlando,” is a call upon the adversity Hynes has faced. The hook (“First kiss was the floor”) explores Hynes’ less than glamorous past. Hynes grew up in the rough Dagenham neighborhood of England where he struggled with his identity and the oppression he faced as a black male who is fluid in his sexuality. However, the song doesn’t feel like a lament, but rather an appreciative account of his experiences. “Orlando” gives off Daniel Caesar meets Anderson .Paak vibes. It is followed by a few tracks with similar motifs that each carry a tidbit of Hynes’ story.

“Hope” features Tei Shi and Sean Combs. It is a definitive departure from the opening tracks that seemed to bring a reverence to the topics they focused on. ‘”Hope” feels more grounded in what Blood Orange’s childhood actually felt like. It discusses his fear that he might be unable to handle the love he wasn’t always acquainted with. However, as the title suggests, the song is indicative of Blood Orange’s conviction to move forward from his past and grow as a person.

A few places down the track list, “Vulture Baby” really caught my attention with its cool and nonchalant approach. The song is, by far, the most exposed song on the album and is driven by a focused yet laid back jazz melody. The track is relaxed and earthy. This is the type of song I could listen to for the rest of my life without ever growing tired of it. “Vulture Baby” is short and sweet but ever so impactful.

Now, if I told you A$AP Rocky was on this album, would you believe me? I certainly wouldn’t. While Hynes has worked with A$AP Rocky in the past, this feature really seems to come out of left field. The song, “Chewing Gum” features A$AP and Project Pat and carries an alt-pop feel with deep hip-hop vibes. A$AP Rocky’s verse definitely widens the audience of this album, but it really doesn’t make sense to me. The verse doesn’t fit into the message of the rest of the album or the musical ambience for that matter. It is almost as if Blood Orange called A$AP and asked him if he had some bars in his notes on his phone he wasn’t using for anything. However, after reconsidering the album in its entirety, the diverse and multifaceted nature of each song somewhat allows for this strange inclusion.

The rest of the album continues to portray the message of reverence for the experiences Hynes has had and the adversity he has faced, but the last three songs are my favorites of the album. “Out Of Your League” brings a Thundercat-esque motif to Negro Swan. That in conjunction with “Minetta Creek” and “Smoke” show how effortless Hynes’ music is. The songs are the most polished and they are subtle in their intent while still getting their message across. “Smoke,” the last track of the album, is indicative of Blood Orange’s realization of self and moving past the adversity he has faced while still revering his experiences as integral to who he is.

Blood Orange is clearly trying to portray the story of his life and narrate how it has defined who he is. If this were my project, the one major thing I would change would be to make the lyricism more clear in its intent. It is really easy to get lost in the music and completely miss the message each song carries. With that being said, the production of this album is top notch and I wouldn’t change a thing musically.

I give Negro Swan an 8.3 out of 10.

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