It’s the simplicity of vulnerability that leads to the most soul-piercing music, sounds that bring forth identity and cause gut-wrenching truths to infect our emotion. This isn’t what Blood Orange, real name Devonté Hynes, had set out to do when he wrote ‘Negro Swan’, no, instead he bares his own soul without a filter, inviting a community of likeminded individuals to form around his artistic statement.
If you have no idea what you’re getting into sonically, let me promise you Blood Orange will never let you down. A behemoth of an instrumentalist, Devonté’s production stands on another level compared to his contemporaries, blending the organic street jazz of New York with the grime of London into an unseen beauty of unenclosed cultural freedom and sonic expression. He doesn’t do this alone, instead enlisting major features, such as rap star A$AP Rocky and hip-hop legend P Diddy.
‘Negro Swan’ has been nothing short of a miracle to the musical world that has garnered endless, well deserved, praise from critics and audiences alike. It stands as a monument to a year of unrest and polarization in a country said to be free and opportunistic for all who join. Blood Orange doesn’t do this through politics, he doesn’t rag on Trump or the NRA. Instead, he teaches us of love and the absence of it a minority faces in a country torn at the seams, grappling to again oppress those previously held down.
“You asked me what family is, And I think of family as community. I think of the spaces where you don’t have to shrink yourself, Where you don’t have to pretend or to perform”
These lines begin the skit track ‘Family’, and more so than anything, they summarize what Devonté hopes for us to hear through the pain in his voice. As a British native now living in America, he hopes to see his brothers touted instead of broken, honest in emotion and vulnerable in who they are as individuals. He asks for communities to be proud of their heritage, yet to still be individualistic and not allow the racist rat race of America to absorb their beautiful, imperfect selves.
In a lot of ways, ‘Negro Swan’ isn’t just an album or a piece of literature. It instead acts as a memoir of the unloved and the unwanted of America, it acts as a voice for the ignored homes lined with scaffolding, but most of all, it acts as hope for a better tomorrow. Hynes knows it won’t be easy to fix the deep-rooted issues facing where he lives, but he knows as well as anyone that it must start by sticking together through the thick and thin, loving themselves throughout hurt. ‘Negro Swan’ is our current climate from a new perspective, it asks us to listen and to understand, to live in new shoes for the brief moments the album comes alive. Still, above all, it is cultural honesty in a sonic style unheard before, yet so deeply appreciated.