It’s been a long time coming, but Tinashe’s debut album Aquarius has finally hit store shelves. And in our opinion, it’s easily the most important female debut album of the decade.
We say that it’s the most important debut album of the decade for a few reasons. For one, it is the perfect mesh of all the best female R&B singers before her. Tinashe has the musicality and lyrical ability of Amerie, and Ashanti, the angelic vocals of Mya & Janet Jackson, the sultry sex appeal of Aaliyah, the attitude of Rihanna and TLC, the dancing ability of Ciara, and the stage presence of Beyonce. It’s as if she’s the result of a highly classified science experiment with all of the late 90’s/early 2000s divas as the experiment’s variables. Not only does Tinashe channel R&B’s best divas, but she definitely draws darker hip hop inspirations from current artists like James Blake, Drake, and The Weeknd.
From the top, we get a taste of the Janet Jackson and Aaliyah influence on the bass-heavy, sensual title track “Aquarius.” And that influence is evident throughout the rest of the album, but Tinashe’s ability does not rest there. With lyrics like “And we’ve been praying for the rain, it’s been months since it came here to California” on “Bet”, she shows she not just your typical R&B singer. The depth of her lyrics go far beyond surface-level, as do the many facets of her voice. Most times, she like to sooth her listeners with angelic technique and soft runs. But every now and then, we’re awaken by deep, strong belts . Tinashe even raps at the end of “Bet”, before the song is capped by an epic electric guitar solo, courtesy of Devonte Hynes. “Cold Sweat” sees Tinashe get even sexier, and sees even more rapping over a trap beat, before the album takes a more commercial turn with #1 smash “2 On.”
With “2 On” comes a welcome increase in tempo, but a decrease in artistry. “2 On” sounds like a lot of what’s hot on urban radio right now, but to Tinashe’s credit, the single was released 8 months ago. Even still, it’s become a contender for song of the summer because of it’s inescapable bounce and catchiness thanks to DJ Mustard. Following “2 On” is one of Tinashe’s more traditional R&B sounds in potential single “How Many Times” featuring Future. Great song, but not a standout. “2 On”‘s sister song is a standout however. “All Hands On Deck” is easily a direct response to “2 On” with it’s hyphy, West Coast sound, though produced by Stargate and Cashmere Cat. It carries the same vibe as “2 On”, but it’s even catchier and sexier with the use of a rare flute in the production. Expect this on your radios after the A$AP Rocky-assisted mid-tempo “Pretend” finishes ruling in a couple months time.
What this album has that most albums in 2014 lack, is transitions. Tinashe did an amazing job making sure the flow of this album was flawless, and aided that feat by adding meaningful interludes throughout. A couple times throughout the 18-song set, the interludes end too quickly, leaving you wanting more (specifically on “Indigo Child). But what follows the interludes quickly makes you forget their brilliance. Case in point, “Bated Breath”, which follows the “Deep In The Night” interlude. “Bated Breath” is Tinashe’s shining vocal moment. The song itself is insanely sad, yet beautiful at the same time. And that’s a testament to Tinashe’s instrument. The key to “Bated Breath” is the amazing vocal during the second verse. Anyone who questioned Tinashe’s talent level because of “2 On”;s cuteness, this song is for you. It will quickly turn you into a believer.
Tinashe has often drawn comparisons to Jhene Aiko, simply because of the fact they’re both females, singing R&B, blowing up at the same time. And that comparisons is far, far from reality, as Tinashe’s sound is much more grand, much more diverse. But if this album did have any moments that could be compared to Jhene, it comes on the quickly-sung/almost-rapped “Far Side Of The Moon.” Yet, Tinashe does Jhene better than Jhene. The song itself reminds of Brandy’s ‘Afrodisiac’ album with it’s insane Timbaland-like production, and again shows Tinashe’s versatility. Aquarius truly has a song for any fan of music.
One last standout we want to highlight is the Mike Will Made It-produced “Thug Cry”. On our first run-through of this album, this song stuck out and instantly became our favorite. After about 6 complete run-throughs of the album, this song still has the gold medal around it’s neck. It’s just so perfect, from beginning to end. The Asian-inspired, throwback 90’s hip hop vibe, married with Tinashe’s sassy lyrics and vocal are a perfect couple. If it was up to us, this would definitely be a future single.
There are songs we didn’t even touch on (like future pop smash “Wildfire”), but just know, from top to bottom, this is an amazing album. Not only is it amazing, but it brings together every essence of what made R&B such a dominant genre in the early 2000s. Not only that, but it’s a modern blueprint for what an album should sound like in 2014, because most people are not releasing albums. They’re releasing 10 songs and a bonus track. This body of work is cohesive from the opening song “Aquarius,” to the “The Storm” outro. And that’s another thing Tinashe learned from the greats like Janet Jackson, who’s albums always transitioned perfectly between songs. Aquarius is smart, it’s dark, it’s deep, it’s club-friendly, it’s guy-friendly, it’s radio-friendly, it has lyrical depth, it blends genres, it’s cohesive yet diverse. Honestly, we don’t think any female has put together a body of work this good in long time, definitely not since 2010. And for that, we thank Tinashe.