Tinashe is a Los Angeles R&B singer whose debut single, 2 On, produced by DJ Mustard and featuring Schoolboy Q, charted very respectably. More importantly, it caught the ear of Drake and his pal OB OBrien (Drizzy’s unfunny bearded friend from such videos as Started From The Bottom and Worst Behavior), who remixed it and also invited her onstage at OVO Fest.
Artfully formulaic as Mustard’s 2 On production may be, the pace and sonic atmosphere are diverse here. Tinashe has made music that keeps one foot in the underwater, hazy vibe of au courant alt-R&B while maintaining a mainstream enough sound to blast on the dance floor or nurse a breakup to. Vocally, she’s very capable without ever getting theatrical (though you sense that she could) – whether she’s restrained and breathy, as on the lead track, semi-rapping on hip-hop-indebted tunes or showcasing her range on a ballad like Wildfire.
Given the club-ready lead single (with its newly coined term for turning up), it’s surprising how slowly the album starts. While opening songs Aquarius and Bet are great mood-setting warm-ups, Cold Sweat (clocking in at over five brooding minutes) grinds the thing to a halt. Much better if Devonté Hynes’s Prince-like guitar solo/falsetto wailing outro on Bet had launched Aquarius into its fantastic midsection: 2 On the old-school Brandyesque R&B vibes of How Many Times, featuring the new-school yaps of Future the complicated love story of Pretend, featuring A$AP Rocky (does pretty boy do emo rap well or what?) and All Hands On Deck, 2 On’s sister song.
Other highlights: Feels Like Vegas’s radio pop vocals soaring on a 40-esque beat, and Thug Cry, just because “I can make a thug cry tonight / Watch me make a thug cry tonight” is basically the best line ever.
At 18 tracks, Aquarius feels a little (pardon the pun) bloated. But some of those are water-sound (rain, running water) or spoken interludes that glue it together nicely.
With so many high-profile collabs drawing attention to the record, you lose a little of who Tinashe is (the subject matter is heavy on love – both given and withheld – and chasing success). Yet she’s only 21 after all, and, refreshingly, sounds like it.
There’s something about her that evokes early Riri and Britney – aside from the sports bra/killer abs/sweats look – not in sound, but in potential for longevity.
Top track: How Many Times