New R&B songstress Tinashe stuns on debut record

By Jack Shelly / For The Pitt News

Meet Tinashe. She’s a fresh face to the genre of R&B, which has been recently dominated by female talent such as Beyoncé Knowles. But don’t confuse the two — this is no Beyoncé.     

This summer “2 On,” the lead single from her debut album, Aquarius, dominated airplay on urban contemporary stations throughout the country. The song’s strong rhythm, coupled with Tinashe’s sensual voice, instantly generated excitement for its release.

Tinashe grew up in southern California so, not surprisingly, her music demonstrates a deep influence from and connection to other recent Los Angeles-based, hip-hop rising stars, including Ty Dolla $ign, Kid Ink, YG and, especially, Kendrick Lamar. The tracks of Aquarius are distinguished by eerie, almost psychedelic sound mixing and the self-assured, badass persona that has come to define hip-hop. 

Her lyrics introduce us to a complicated, sexual young woman with an appreciation for liquor and cannabis. Artistically speaking, Tinashe is just as much Lamar’s younger sister as Janet Jackson is Michael’s. 

It’s a simple analogy — Tinashe’s already drawn several comparisons to Janet Jackson. The similarities between them are apparent — they both have a soft, erotic vocal technique and sing R&B characterized by sexually explicit lyrics that convey a deep sense of melancholy. But that’s where the similarities end. 

Although Jackson has been an iconic pop star known for intensely choreographed performances and an imposing stack of achievements in the entertainment industry, Tinashe will likely remain something of a niche artist. She received a record deal by uploading her mix-tape In Case We Die to a highly enthusiastic Internet audience more than two years ago. It was the esoteric, under-produced nature of her online music and videos that made her a beloved cult figure. Listening to Aquarius, it’s striking just how little she has deviated from this formula.

Bet” is perhaps the best song on Aquarius, featuring a strong and slow rhythm with chilling synthetic background vocals. “Feels like Vegas” also makes a strong impression, with similar electronic beats. “Thug Cry” has a distinctly more hip-hop sound and is especially catchy. Tinashe finishes the album with “Wildfire,” a ballad-like track with heavy crossover appeal, sounding almost more like pop than R&B.

Her sound, a smooth electro-R&B with hip-hop aspirations, is innovative in a genre obsessed with nostalgia. In the last decade, black performers in R&B, hip-hop and rap have attempted, not entirely unsuccessfully, to establish a connection between their work and the music of Motown, soul of the 1970s and the great R&B Divas of the 1980s and ‘90s. Think of everything from “Mo Money Mo Problems” to “Touch the Sky.” While Kanye West, Jay-Z, and even the cutting-edge Lamar release single after single with retro samples, Tinashe seems to be looking forward.

A 21-year-old of mixed heritage, Tinashe appeals just as much to inner-city black teenagers as to middle-class suburbanites who shop at Urban Outfitters. She’s talented, and she’s doing something new — putting out distinctive music. She’s no Janet Jackson, or Beyoncé, for that matter — and we should be thankful for her uniqueness.

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