Kendrick’s voice was naturally of a higher pitch, I found him rather unpleasant on first listen. Q had a raw ruggedness to his rapping, the lack of refinement didn’t eclipse the glow of potential. Ab-Soul’s lyricism was refreshing, a rapper who cared about the art of rhyme. I remember my first impression of every artist signed to TDE, from hearing Jay Rock’s Watts growl alongside Lil Wayne and being emotionally stirred when Isaiah raps, “My daddy taught my pain away, my daddy taught me how to leave somebody” on the intro of Cilvia Demo, moments I’ll carry like a parent hearing their child's first words.
First impressions aren’t final, each listen presents the possibility of an opinion being changed or confirmed. But you never forget the first time hearing a voice, feeling the beats, getting accustomed to a style.
SiR, the latest TDE signee, has had a presence on blogs for years. The lowercase “i” has caught my eye on numerous occasions, the interest to press play has always been there, but the desire never turned into action. Friends have praised his art, colleagues have championed his craft, and he’s been featured on various TDE albums, so I knew of his soulful voice and promising talent, but never took the time to experience the music for myself. The release of Her Too, a short, 6-song EP is his first official project released under TDE’s acclaimed umbrella.
Like Isaiah, Lance and SZA, curiosity is a big reason why I’m pressing play. I want to know what Top Dawg saw that caused him to offer a seat at the prestigious roundtable.
Starting the project with a recent Drake sample was a surprise. “New LA” is the polar opposite of “With You,” an interesting contrast to LA and Toronto weather. The production is a bit faster, brighter, and more jubilant. SiR's voice is like being submerged in hot chocolate―the kind of warmth that hugs the soul.
He sings softly, with an angel’s elegance. Until the end, there’s an unexpected high note that is delivered with power and grace. The song is a story about a woman who ventures to LA for the first time, seeking love and life in Hollywood. SiR presents the canvas, while Anderson .Paak brings additional color to the painting. Anderson is more rapper than singer this time around, a swift flow and his distinguished tone feels tailored for the syrupy production. He floats! Each time I replay his verse I get the urge to revisit Malibu.
The biggest surprise of “No LA” is the feature from King Mez; his speedy verse slices through the production like a butcher cutting into a fresh ham. I love SiR's harmonies in the background, even when he's not in the forefront his presence is felt. The song is an entire world in itself―full of vivid lyricism that captures the spirit of Los Angeles. I can’t help but think the song's title is a silent nod to Anderson and SiR being the latest talents to carry the Los Angeles torch. King Mez being affiliated with Aftermath makes him LA by association.
Transitioning into “The Canvas” takes the album from warm and syrupy to intimate and sensual. This is SiR's natural habitat. It’s the kind of R&B you hear from BJ The Chicago Kid―smooth, soulful and sexy, without a touch of lustfulness. A woman is the apple of his eye—the center of his attention—and he sings of his admiration and appreciation the way Van Gogh would sing of Mona Lisa.
Another potential late night playlist contender is “Ooh Nah Nah,” a sexy, slow burner that is so seductive he was able to mention Mike Jones without killing the sultry vibe. The addition of Masego adds flavor, the way he goes back and forth with the saxophone riffs is something special. Masego has style, and matched with SiR’s elegance it’s a winning pair.
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“Don’t Call Me Phone” completely changes the album's rhythm. The riffs sound like they’re from a decade long forgotten, but it’s groovy, a bounce that wasn’t apparent in the previous songs. SiR's voice is altered, more alien than human, similar to the way Kendrick modifies his. Instead of singing, it’s more of a rap style, and he’s levitating like he recorded the entire verse standing on a Nimbus cloud. He has the confident charisma of a West Coast pimp, a swagger too cool not to have a cane and Cadillac to match.
In terms of songwriting, “Sugar” is the most impressive. The struggle of temptation presents itself, especially as an artist on the road. He considers her, “The melody no one will hear,” a beautiful way of saying his little secret, but the thought of his love at home keeps him faithful. "Sugar" is reminiscent of Miguel’s style of songwriting but done in his own way. SiR understands his voice, and his style is refreshing.
Women are the subject that SiR explores for most of the album. They are the greatest muse for any singer―from love to lust, intimacy to heartbreak, they are all the inspiration an artist needs. Home is also a source of inspiration for artists, and you can hear how home holds a place in SiR’s heart on the final song, “W$ Boi.” A woman is still the song's focus, but the hook and entire second verse is an ode to the Westside that raised him. The chanting chorus will be a highlight at shows, and in a different musical climate, it could be a moderate hit.
SiR is easy on the ears, a singer who has a voice that’s full of soul but isn’t packed with power. At times I wished he would throw a bit more passion into his words, but it tends to appear when you least expect it. Most songs end with him inflicting a lot more vigor into his soothing tunes. It's possible that he's too soothing, and there's a risk that some might grow bored. In this sea of exceptional R&B, he has a lot of competition.
After my first listen, I can see what TDE liked about SiR―a singer who is a spawn of traditional R&B, but able to take the fundamentals and make something new and refreshing, similar to SZA. Lance Skiiiwalker can sing, but he’s more experimental and alternative. SiR is more the conventional singer. After acquiring diversity in rappers, it looks like TDE’s latest artist is the male songbird they were missing.
Women will love his songs, and the eloquence of his songwriting could create a similar magnetism to Trey Songz when he still had the braids. With Trey doing VH1 reality shows, the final step in a career on the downward spiral, there’s room for a new male R&B star to rise. It could very well be SiR, the Westside Boi.
By Yoh, aka $outh$ide Yoh, aka @Yoh31.
Photo Credit: Instagram