On his fourth album as Blood Orange, Negro Swan, Devonte Hynes experiments with aural textures to create a nostalgic yet experimental anthology exploring the African-American experience. Following the politically-charged Freetown Sound, Negro Swan offers a more intimate, almost contemplative approach towards race and the insecurities that come with being marginalised.
The opening track, Orlando, begins with a sample of NYC traffic and, like the rest of the album, is interluded with relaxed vocalisation and exquisite instrumentation. These mellow grooves provide a pleasantly haunting contrast between the seriousness of the topics at hand. For instance, Orlando details Hynes’ harsh reality of bullying in the lyrics: “[His] first kiss was the floor”. The overall combination is entrancing and nostalgic for a time long-gone.
Other standout songs include Hope (featuring Puff Daddy and Tei Shi), Jewellery (featuring an introduction by Janet Mock, intertwining smooth gospel-like melodies and vocals with Hynes’ own grime-like rap), and Chewing Gum (featuring A$AP Rocky and Project Pat).
In this album, Hynes melds jazz, soul, gospel, smooth funk, and pop-R&B with experimental production and electronica to create a collection so unique and languid, with a raw emotionality that hits unexpectedly. With collaborations with artists like Puff Daddy, Janet Mock and A$AP Rocky, each song is startlingly autobiographical, exploring the harsh realities that people of colour face on a daily basis. This album is truly a testament to Hynes’ genius and, in the author’s opinion, the record that gives this underdog the recognition he deserves.