REVIEW: Blood Orange – Negro Swan
Words – Mwika Bulaya
London-born Dev Hynes, otherwise known as Blood Orange and previously under the moniker Lightspeed Champion, has created something of a piece of art with his highly-anticipated new album, Negro Swan. The new release is Hynes’ fourth solo studio album as Blood Orange, which has come just two years after the critically acclaimed Freetown Sound.
The album cover itself is an indication to the direction that Blood Orange aims for with Negro Swan: A black man in a white do-rag donning angel wings – standing out but somehow fitting in, in his own way. As expected by case of his previous projects and albums before, through the album artwork alone, Hynes has paid extra attention to detail. Negro Swan is no exception.
Hynes gives his own unique take on love, life and self-perception in this thought-provoking 16-track project. With his velvety-smooth falsetto running throughout, juxtaposing with the harsh realities of life that he addresses, Dev Hynes has created something special.
Beginning with the single ‘Orlando’, we are slowly eased into a body of work with an endless number of layers. The slow tempo allows the listener to find their feet to begin with before being swept up in addressing gender norms, challenging stereotypes of queer people of colour, and a guide of how to authentically be yourself.
Negro Swan has an old-school feel to it, especially with the inclusion of Jazz, Funk and Hip-Hop fusions with melting vocal harmonies. This mood is mostly found in tracks such as ‘Charcoal Baby’ and ‘Vulture Baby’, both of which feature a constant drum pattern and soothing vocals. Interestingly, there are also elements of 80s synth-pop and electronica with the inclusion of songs such as ‘Chewing Gum’ and ‘Out of Your League’.
Hynes incorporates several mini-monologues from different artists speaking openly about life. No effects, no façades, just honest speech that allow listeners to be immersed even more into this progression of self-love. One monologue included in the album is by Janet Mock, a writer and transgender rights activist who introduces the first single from the album, ‘Jewelry’. She states: “We were not ever welcomed in, we were not invited, Yet we walk in and we show all the way up…”. This idea sums up much of the theme running throughout Negro Swan – from the artwork to the music & the featured guests, Hynes addresses the common problem within society that there are still many people who don’t embrace the differences in others despite these differences making people who they are.
Features on the Negro Swan include household names like Diddy, A$AP Rocky and Steve Lacy (amongst others) – musicians all from contrasting years in music history with their own unique take on the album that seem to fuse the body of work together. Diddy brings forward an air of old-school rap whilst A$AP Rocky adds his own modern twist. In contrast, 20-year-old Steve Lacy is a fresh, new, vocalist and manages to create an upbeat and soulful standout feature in the album.
The album ends with the track ‘Smoke’, a complex yet simple addition, led by only vocals and an acoustic guitar. A space to reflect on the unapologetic, imperfect and relatable compilation that is Negro Swan.
Listen in full, below.