Blood Orange – Negro Swan
Released August 24th, 2018
Blood Orange is the stage name of Dev Hynes, a British musician who blends the best of soul, R&B, and dance, among others, to make a truly unique sound. In his fourth studio album, Blood Orange’s Negro Swan explores Hynes’ own thoughts on black identity and the LGBTQ+ community.
Inspirational monologues are woven throughout much of the album, providing just as much weight to the album as the music does. The spoken word delivered by Janet Mock provides her multi-faceted experience as a black trans woman in America. The lyrical content of Negro Swan is rich but often obscured. Mock’s monologues provide a more direct view of the issues at hand.
At the end of “Dagenham Dream,” Hynes’ lyrics fade away and Mock takes the scene. She says,
Part of survival is, like, being able to just fit in
To be seen as normal and to, like, “belong”
But I think that so often in society in order to belong means that we have to, like, shrink parts of ourselves.
Mock’s words about fitting in and living in a place and time where you don’t conform to the status quo echo the self-love themes heard throughout the rest of the album.
Aside from Janet Mock, Negro Swan contains features by a number of other talented performers. Diddy, A$AP Rocky and Steve Lacy all leave their mark on the album. Lesser known, but equally talented musicians like Tei Shi, Ian Isiah, and Georgie Ann Muldrow also provide their own inspiration and stylings to the music. Through these features, we get elements of Hip Hop and Gospel beautifully blended into the album.
“Charcoal Baby” stands out as one of Hynes’ best tracks to date. The floating guitar strikes an immediate groove from the very beginning. According to Hynes, he didn’t own a guitar prior to the recording of “Charcoal Baby,” so the instrument features so prominently on this track because it was one of his first times recording with it. Additional vocals on the track are provided by Ian Isiah, as well as Porches (Aaron Maine).
Negro Swan expands on Hynes’ eclectic style in new ways. Ranging from the driving bass lines of “Orlando” to the soft ambiance of “Vulture Baby,” this album is a collage of different influences and perspectives blended into one. Each song carries weight and provides insights into Hynes’ personal conflicts in life. Overall, it’s inventive, inspiring, and a great album.