Bryson Tiller & The Art of Following Your Debut Album
I can’t lie, I was excited like everybody else when Bryson Tiller unexpectedly released his new album “True To Self” last Thursday night. His sophomore project, which was slated for a June 23rd release has been highly anticipated since “Trap Soul” arrived in late 2015 and changed the Hip Hop/R&B world. Heck, I will go as far as saying that project is a modern day classic. It crossed off every box on our list in terms of impact, execution and influence on today’s audience. But back to “True To Self”. Tiller’s latest project is the latest example of why following your debut album (or any album worth its salt) is so damn hard.
In my honest opinion, “Trap Soul” was the right presentation of previous influences from those who mixed rapping and singing together. Certain producers created sounds that allowed additional levels of honesty, transparency and story telling to come in. Tiller came on the scene with Tory Lanez emerging along with others and stood out immediately. “Trap Soul” went platinum and soon enough, he was a star with the world waiting on his next move.
Anytime a artist is working on his or her follow up to a project that was positively received, several challenges exist:
- Do you stick with the same sounds that made you successful or switch it up?
- Will my subject matter evolve? Have I changed as a artist?
- Can I even build more momentum?
- The growing importance of sales and streams.
These questions were definitely important to answer for Tiller and his camp, because they exist for everybody. Any artist or label that tries to downplay the challenges of making and releasing a new album, is a liar and has no reason to lie. It needs to be embraced! All of these reasons, is what brings me back to “True To Self”, as I put my judgement hat on. Although it’s a solid project, it misses the mark quite a bit and doesn’t give “Trap Soul” the proper follow up it deserves.
I’m not one to complain about album length (unless it was Tory Lanez’s 28 song project “I Told You”) but it can be a problem, when the listener doesn’t capture your vision or feel a shift in sound. “True To Self” does have a lot of repetition in terms of Tiller’s lyrics, vocal performance and overall production. And don’t get me wrong, I liked all three of those elements, but my praise would be higher if we received more from him. But the effort to expand his sound, although just a little bit, was obvious. “Run Me Dry” comes straight from the Drake playbook with its tropical sound and simple songwriting about his relationship with a woman and desire for her to just dance and please him.
“High Stakes” is a pretty dope, time stamped record with the sample coming from “(Do It) No One Does It Better” by The Spinners. Fun fact? Wale also used this sample for his “Beautiful Bliss” record with J Cole and Melanie Fiona. I just have a thing for time stamped records that captures where a artist is, at that time of their career. It’s often the most honest, they’ll ever be. The two records, I mentioned are among a few (Stay Blessed, Don’t Get Too High along with Always) which shows Tiller’s attempt to expand his sound and songwriting and I respect it a lot. But it doesn’t succeed at the level, it should be.
I’m paraphrasing, but Joe Budden said something like “making your debut album is easy because you had your entire life to make it.” Budden’s statement is one, I agree with it 110%. Your process of creating music or anything in general, is night and day before and after you “make it”. For Tiller, a growth in his skills and awareness would benefit him greatly. Why? Because “fans can be fickle”. (Side note: Never expect me to use multiple quotes from Joe Budden ever again).
With two albums under his belt, Bryson Tiller will be entering the “veteran” stage of his career soon. Nothing new will be associated with him unless it’s his music, hair style or whatever. That also means, Tiller’s gasp of the audience that listen to his music needs to be stronger as well. Tiller like any other artist, will look to grow his fan base but has to do so, without leaving behind his Day One supporters. It is a very tough act to follow and Tiller can ask Drake about that. For the last four years (especially these past two), Drake has been on a obvious mission to dive into any style of music to stay fresh, evolve and capture more fans. And so far, it has worked successfully. Am I saying, Tiller is the next Drake? No. But I’m also not denying the possibility.
“True To Self” could be his first attempt at doing both things, I mentioned. It also can be his first “bump in the road”, because so far I’ve seen mixed reviews to the project. Expect to see higher numbers and a strong debut, by the way. But the big picture for Tiller and any artist creating a follow up, is how you can top your previous work and/or maintain what was done. Because the game changes, once the “new” label wears off. Bryson is one of Hip Hop and R&B’s biggest acts… and at some point, the expectations will match his status.
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