You might recognize electro-R&B angel Tinashe (that’s tee-NAH-shay) from her 2014 summer hit “2 On” featuring Schoolboy Q. You might even recognize her as a voice actor in The Polar Express, Rocket Power and Avatar: The Last Airbender (Seriously… Google it). The point is that Tinashe has been around since way before the current buzz. In 2007 she started out in a short-lived girl group called The Stunners with Vitamin C, of “Graduation (Friends Forever)” fame. She later broke off into a solo career and released three mixtapes to light critical applause Last year, she released her full length studio album Aquarius to a wave of glowing reviews. Not missing a beat, she released a free mixtape, Amethyst, in mid-March and a music video for her second album single “All Hands on Deck” in early April.
Based on surface value, it’s easy to claim that Amethyst lacks the infectious quality of her studio releases. Based on the tumblr-ready artwork, one could assume that this is more in the vain of boring #crystalhealingaesthetic and #orinicoflowwave R&B than something you can actually sing along to (I just made those hashtags up but let’s make it happen). To an extent, that is true. You won’t find any insta-banger like “2 on” or “All Hands on Deck” on here; But I would argue that the songs on Amethyst are more representative of the Tinashe before she beeped on pop radar. Her strongest persona, or voice, is steeped deep in ‘vibe’ akin to freestyling in a boy’s dimly-lit smokey basement.
Amethyst’s opener “Dreams Are Real” is a perfect example of that slow-burn. Layered vocals, echoes, sharp 808’s, and a twinkling piano create a swirling violet-tinted cloud for an atmosphere. Towards the end, she declares: “The future’s mine!”. This isn’t so much a Kanye or Lady Gaga declaration of ego as it is the type of thing you’d shout out with a friend after you both stayed up to watch the sun rise on the beach.
“Wrong” is reminiscent to the production on one of her earlier mixtapes, and a personal favorite, In Case We Die. Heavy percussion and filtered vocals, harshened with a touch of vocoder, carry throughout the song. The lyrics seem to describe a modern day fantasy, complete with invaders, banishing boyfriends from castles and far away lands. Through another lens, the lyrics also parallel her recent history with heartbreak and recent success. The song gains steam as Tinashe belts out a battle cry of frustration and disappointment to her ex-lover. She asks him: “Do you even know who you are?”. Could that be a question she also asking herself as a musician?
Later on, we hear “Looking 4 It”. I can already imagine all the different “parts” of the song assigned to different people in the car. It’s like “Lady Marmalade” 2004 at the sleepover all over again. With lines like “think he 2Pac acting like a poet (You ain’t 2Pac, bitch, you ain’t 2Pac)” and “I be, on the low looking for it. Popping, popping corn looking for it”, this song is more about personality than musicality. This gives the album something memorable, that keeps it from growing mold in your iTunes. One of the most fun songs to listen to on Amethyst, an instant favorite.
“Worth It” has the first and only feature on the release, IamSu! of “Gas Pedal” fame. He doesn’t take away from the song at all, but he doesn’t add much either. The song itself is sweet and performed well vocally, but other than the water droplet sample, there is nothing notable about this track. Oh, except for the excellent brass outro? How did that happen? Whatever the reason, I’m glad it did. It seemed like “Worth It” and “Wanderer”, the song before, were leftovers from her previous album Aquarius. The mixtape lost my attention to a fondue recipe for about 7 minutes.
Closing out Amethyst, we have the beautiful acoustic and borderline glitch ballad “Just the Way I Like You”. This song transports you to a place of tenderness and honesty. The lyrics read like secrets whispered between two lovers in burgundy of the so-late-it’s-morning. The production is erratic and paradoxical; smooth vocals and chaotic guitar plucks mix together in a hypnotic way. A strong bass line doesn’t even come in until about halfway through the song. Tinashe’s vocals are pitch perfect and the emotion in her timbre fits the mood exactly. Abruptly, she closes the mixtape with a cold read “Amethyst”.
Tinashe demonstrated that the chart success hasn’t changed her core artistry at all. Amethyst fits well as a partner to Aquarius, and cohesively with her previous mixtapes. I wouldn’t call this her strongest album, her greatest songs still remain on her previous releases, but this does showcase the potential longevity of Tinashe. She doesn’t seem to be one for changing her voice for the next trend on the horizon. The popular “sound” is ever-changing and you can be a master of it if you try (Hello, Madonna), but if it means compromising yourself as an artist, is it worth it? Artists seem to have the most success when the roots of their projects are deeply intertwined within themselves. Tinashe’s impact on the charts may not be a clear forecast, but a strong, clear voice in the pool of muddy ones can mean everything when it comes to career. Here’s to hoping we see a lot more from this jack of all trades.
If you like this release, check out her previous mixtape In Case We Die, Cassie’s RockaByeBaby and Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope.