Blood Orange’s new album lives up to expectations


courtesy of Evening Standard

Kaley Barnhill, Staff Intern

In July, Blood Orange delivered another elegant, beautiful, emotionally charged album, Negro Swan. Devonte Hynes, known as Blood Orange, writes and produces most of his work by himself. While reflective of his childhood near London and the traumatic experiences he struggled with while growing up, the album is also a commentary on what it is like to be a queer person of color anywhere.

The album begins with the song “Orlando,” which may be smooth and easy to listen to, like much of his previous music, but discusses how he was often beat up at school while he was growing up. The song includes lyrics such as, “To feel so numb that it’s deafening, walls’ll give in/After school, sucker punched down/Down and out,” and, “First kiss was the floor,” offering heartbreaking insight into what Hynes struggled with emotionally and physically while growing up.

This exploration of childhood traumas is present throughout the album.

In the song “Hope,” the feeling of relationships falling short of expectations, and the struggle to form meaningful relationships is palpable. The song features Puff Daddy and Tei Shi, which proves to be a powerful combination.

Throughout the album, transgender actress, writer and activist Janet Mock narrates. She speaks about being told she is “too much,” and questions why that is a bad thing. A particularly powerful line that will resonate with many was when she says, “Yet, we walk in and show all the way up. People try to put us down by saying, ‘she’s doing the most’ or ‘he’s way too much’ but like why would we want to do the least?” 

In the same song, “Jewelry” Hynes sings, “And a man gets shot on the passenger side” referencing the shooting of Philando Castile. This song is an artfully balanced one, as it acts as a way to honor and comment on black men being killed by the police.

The song “Charcoal Baby” is where the album gets its name. The title comes from the chorus, with Hynes singing, “No one wants to be the odd one out at times/No one wants to be the negro swan/Can you break sometimes.” These lyrics feel so introspective and convey his isolation well. They take into account common feelings of being left out, but Hynes amplifies them through the lens of his own unique identity.

As a queer person of color, Hynes’ album is a reflection of other peoples’ experiences while being deeply personal. The album feels like an invitation to feel and empathize with his pain, while allowing it to apply to one’s life.

This album deserves a five out of five for its raw emotions and gorgeous music. The music is atmospheric and is an experience in itself. Hynes, who plays multiple instruments, masterfully crafts the music of his songs so that they all flow together, while maintaining their individuality.

If one only pays attention to the music, it’s easy to gloss over the lyrics and not realize the depth of them. At 16 songs long, this album is a lot to digest, especially with how emotional it is, but is worth sitting down to listen to it all the way through.

Rating: 5/5 stars