Bryson Tiller couldn’t wait any longer. Almost a month before its scheduled release date, he took to Twitter with an iTunes link, releasing his sophomore album, True To Self, for all the world to hear. Bryson isn’t Beyoncé, he hasn’t reached world-stopping status, but his celebrity is large enough to create a frenzy by dropping an album without warning―I can only imagine how fans reacted when they awoke to 19 new songs from the hybrid rapper-singer.
It wasn’t until I heard him on Travis Scott’s “First Take” that I realized Bryson was worthy of having his photo placed on the back of a milk carton. Following the release of the Platinum-selling Trapsoul, the Louisville, Kentucky budding star musically vanished. One loose single, no videos, only a handful of guest features―if it wasn’t for Instagram, there were barely any signs of Tiller. Outside of the Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight feature and The Weeknd's remix of “Rambo,” little happened to keep the momentum in motion. Going from SoundCloud streams to stardom felt like it happened so quickly that there’s no question Bryson was in the position to take the world by storm. Instead, he chose the shadows instead of the spotlight.
Admittedly, I didn’t find TRAPSOUL to be Based God’s gift to rhythm and blues. His talents as a vocalist didn’t cause any heartbeats to skip and his ability to weave rapping into his artistry weren’t exceptional, but he had a gift for setting mood and tone. A combination of nostalgic production, cohesive sequencing, marketed mystique and an approach to songwriting from the vantage point of a millennial heartthrob gave him the perfect perspective to rise the ranks as a social media-age star. Bryson personified Drake’s “How Bout Now” and turned the loosie into a formula for success. Yet, to be an artist in the Internet era is to be in the microwave―the rise of an artist like 6LACK proves that there’s another new age artist on his heels.
True To Self makes up for the time away by gifting fans 19 songs, which is five more than his debut. Streaming has made it acceptable to make longer albums instead of trying to craft small, concise projects in an attempt to maximize revenue. Hopefully, in his absence, Pen Griffey has been living life and True To Self is a reflection on what has unfolded away from the public’s eye.
In usual 1 Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish. Let Bryson SZN begin.
1. "Rain On Me (Intro)"
The sound of a storm, an R&B cliché. Singers love the rain. I miss ‘90s R&B dance-during-a-rainstorm music videos. The best of times. A woman’s vocals. Sounds like a sample. SWV? I believe so. It would be on brand for Bryson. The man himself has appeared, harmonizing and explaining why he didn’t answer the phone. This is Usher’s Confessions-esque. He’s denying being with someone. Trap drums doing the normal trap things and sounding great. Bryson sounds good. He reminds me a little of Omarion before his heart become an ice box. Using the singing/yeah flow, something like Playboi Carti meets Omarion. Reverb on the vocals. Heavy reverb. I could do without it. Love this beat. Cool intro, Bryson.
2. "No Longer Friends"
I know this sample. A woman’s vocals. Sounds like an argument. I know this sample! It’s GoldLink's “Dance On Me” but this flip has a slower tempo, I believe. Bryson came through with a few bars, in a rap/sung delivery. “This isn’t a side nigga anthem.” The argument just came back in. A young woman trying to convince a man that it's her brother and not a lover; sounds like an episode of cheaters. Bryson turns his phone conversations into songs, taking art imitating life to a new meaning. Not mad at this, but not engaged. I’d take “Dance On Me.” The beats have been strong but he hasn’t been very captivating.
3. "Don't Get Too High"
These songs have been short! Especially with the skits being so heavily included. Short build-up, beat dropped, another hard-hitting trap jam. God bless whoever crafted this thumper. I can see this song being a potential single. This is going to be the soundtrack to those 2 a.m. nights waiting for her to text back. A Bryson, PND and 6LACK Lovers & Friends playlist would be an insane. Bryson singing about not wanting to kill her vibe, a true gentleman. “You make me feel how I make other bitches feel,” new age R&B guys are true romantics. I like this. The hook is solid, the verses are solid. The best song thus far—the bar isn’t high—but I really do like this. These are the beats I want Travis to have on his next album. The drums and the way this sample loop is chopped up make for an incredible combo. A good vocal performance by Bryson, but I'm going to need him to find Lil Jon and Ludacris for a remix. It would be tragic if a rapper doesn’t get the chance to touch this. Cool little switch-up at the end.
4. "Blowing Smoke"
I wonder what Bryson Tiller spends on samples. He probably doesn't have features because his entire budget goes to sample clearance. “It’s 7 a.m. in the morning, I been up since 3,” is he bragging about being up for four hours? Real night owls will be disgusted. Stunt raps, talking about another nameless naysayer. Bryson is Drake’s most interesting offspring. I really don’t see a world where Drake doesn’t exist and Bryson still makes it. Have to give this the sleep emoji. Bryson doesn’t have presence when he raps like this, he fails to captivate because he really doesn’t say anything impressive or interesting. "I've heard it all before." That's exactly how I feel about this song, my friend. Can already tell the album didn’t require this song. Cut the fat!
5. "We Both Know"
I like this already. Spacey. Drums hitting like meteors crashing into the planet. Bryson’s voice is more pleasant than astounding. He’s like hearing the sea when your ear is pressed against a seashell—doesn’t replace the feeling of truly hearing the sea but it’s an acceptable substitute. I hate how Bryson really acts like a woman can’t leave him; he might be more “Hotline Bling” than “How Bout Now.” Almost sure every song has the same premise over different production. There’s a nice groove about this, subtle Timbo vibes. I would love if Timbo and Missy worked with Tiller, that would be magic. My thoughts are drifting, where are the bangers Bryson!?
6. "You Got It"
DID BRYSON SAMPLE “FEEL!?” IS NOBODY PRAYING FOR HIM? Kenny's album only been out for a little over a month. I have to say, this is a cool little loop. A great groove. How meta would it be for Kendrick to remix a song that samples him? Just weird for someone who tends to dig around ‘90s R&B for samples to go with something that’s only been on this planet for a handful of weeks. Girls still wear Tru Religion jeans? Feels like Tru Religions are the Apple Bottoms of 2017. THE DRUMS THOUGH! Crazy how Bryson's trap drums hit with the right amount of oomph. The worst trap drums are the ones that kick with the strength of a toddler. If Bryson's going to be the son of Drake he has to start name dropping a Courtney at Hooters or something. I can’t keep up with all the women in his life. Is this the same girl from three songs ago???
7. "In Check"
Another sample loop. Not sure what this one is. Slow build-up. Heavy keys. This is a midnight mood. Bryson letting a young woman know she deserves better than him, he has entered Marvin’s Room. Seriously, I don’t think Bryson writes songs but records all his phone calls and conversations. A little storytelling. No drums, just the loop. “I wish I could rewind back” and then there was a rewind. Hot grease drums just splashed some flavor over the moody loop. I love how this song built itself up. So many good beats are on this album! I hope Bryson's producers are getting paid, they deserve every penny.
SWING! Woooo! NOW THIS IS BANGER. The way the drums are swinging, it’s impossible not to shimmy a little. Loving the pattern/rhythm. Best flow on the album thus far. Bryson finally started cooking. Hello, Chef Tiller. If he rapped like this on every song he would be a killer trap rapper. RCA gotta push this one throughout the summer, “Self-Made" is the single. It’s zero substance, all the generic boasts and brags, but the vibe and the flow will gives this infinite replay value. I’ll keep this one for the direct deposit days when the $$$ coming in.
9. "Run Me Dry"
Okay, another interesting production change-up. Even the first note is far different than the moody production. We finally got some color. Bryson’s tone is always black, a very thin black, but “Run Me Dry” is surprisingly yellow. This rhythm is so subtle but captivating, I can already imagine the hips whining to this one. Loving how the sample is looped, it’s an elegant groove. More Life Bryson. I hate that the album took 100 songs to show some life, show some blood, show some versatility. A lot of potential in “Run Me Dry” for a house party.
10. "High Stakes"
Man, this album is long. Is this “Beautiful Bliss”!? Bryson sampled Wale!? Sounds like it. The song is reversing itself. He said something about his birthday. Why is it going backwards like this? Bryson is only 24. “High Stakes” with the reflective rhymes and triumphant production makes it feel much more like an album intro instead of being wedged strangely in the middle of the track list. We’ve reached the fake friend portion of the album, I love it. This isn’t bad. Bryson just doesn’t rap with the amount of passion to bring the songs to LIFE. He’s just...okay.
11. "Rain Interlude"
The album doesn’t need an interlude, it needs direction. A woman’s voice. She’s distraught. Bryson is getting an ear full. She has an accent, I’m not sure where she’s from. There’s a story for this album, it’s just not interesting enough to dive into.
12. "Teach Me a Lesson"
A slow, steady build-up. Another heavily manipulated sample. Loving the snare. Bryson having an internal conversation about what would happen if his woman left. What I enjoy about this is just the way the beat builds around his vocals; they truly crafted a song that compliments him vocally. Vibe setting is such a strange, yet necessary part of creating trap R&B. I can see myself returning back to this one during a rocky period in a relationship. A good song.
13. "Stay Blessed"
Hoping Bryson takes me to church. Is that a Mary J. sample? Ha, Bryson taking it back to ‘94. I’m so happy all the R&B legends can get checks from the new generation. It’s a way of giving back. Just like “Exchange,” when you have a nostalgic sample there’s almost no way to ruin the song. Bryson isn’t doing anything new but if he puts his clichés over a loop of “Don’t Go” I’m not going to be the one who complains. Also, for an R&B star, True To Self doesn’t have amazing hooks. “Dealing with clown niggas, know your life a circus.” I can see this being a social media caption. Man, this album is long.
14. "Money Problems / Benz Truck"
Based off the title, he’s going to rap. You have to rap on a song called "Benz Truck," it’s a law. Banger alert! “I’m about to go Kanye West on niggas” LOL, talk your shit Bryson. I don’t know if we ignored Bryson being fairly basic on Trapsoul, but his style is elementary. Over the right beat it doesn’t even matter, it’s the Rick Ross "BMF" effect. THIS BEAT IS RIDICULOUS. Can someone call mixtape Wayne? Wait! It just hit me. Bryson is like Big Sean without the punchlines. They rap with the same confidence and conviction, even if the bars aren’t head-spinning. I like it. Beat switch. Heavier. Keys. It’s a bit dark. He just name-dropped three cars I’ll never be able to afford. Crying in broke and boujee. Heard some DJ scratches at the end, nice touch. There’s a stray cat outside my window right now, word to lil homie.
15. "Set It Off"
A woman’s voice. Familiar. Switched. Sampled. This is…. for the 100th time, I love the beat. Why didn’t Drake get this? Would’ve been amazing on Views. It’s a Faith Evans sample, I don’t know the song. Bryson is singing with a little more passion. I feel like this is a "Set It Off" ode. It’s about a girl who is ready to pop it off. “He put your momma under stress, I put her in a Benz.” This is a stunt. He said his girl would kill any nigga and that includes him. Bryson, maybe you should run for the hills. I get the thrill of your life being on the line but… I strangely like this song. Another tidbit about someone not picking up the phone.
16. "Nevermind This Interlude"
Chipmunk-esque sped up sample. LET'S GO. Really wish I ate before listening to this album, starvation is setting in. Back to the song, it’s good. Bryson just admitted to hating fame, I feel like we all knew that already. This album’s biggest flaw thus far is that there’s good songs but there’s not enough great songs, songs that really grab you. I’m not grabbed but boy this beat sounds like the sweetest honey in a golden jar. Someone send the Bryson pack to my email.
17. "Before You Judge"
Sorry Bryson, I’ve already judged. WOW. WTF was that. THIS BASS IS DISGUSTING. I don’t know what’s happening. Production-wise, this sounds like Boyz n the Hood masking up. The kind of music Chief Keef would pistol whip a whimp to. This beat is so threatening. I like this. Honest bars. This is good, this is good. Man! Why did he wait until the end of the album to REALLY open up? Throwing shots at a shady manager. “Telling people money changed me, money saved me!” Talk your shit Tiller! He is finally being true to self. “I been searching for the answer in my idols music, in his earlier days, I know he went through it.” This is all I wanted from the album. 17 songs before we get to the heart.
18. "Somethin Tells Me"
WHY IS THE ALBUM STILL GOING!? He just poured out his soul, updated us on his life, and yet, he still has more to sing about. Bryson got caught with a condom in his bag and told his girlfriend it was there before they started dating. It’s either the truth or a hilarious lie. I would love to see an episode of Cheaters with Bryson Tiller. Going back to the Big Sean reference, Bryson Tiller’s True to Self is what they wanted TWENTY88 to be. Hot take.
19. "Always (Outro)"
I’m certain I’ve lived through enough relationships for a lifetime while listening to this album. I’m so exhausted I couldn’t appreciate the wonderful drums that kicked in suddenly. Bryson, just leave the girl alone. It’s pretty obvious you two aren’t meant to be together. You guys aren’t goals, you aren’t the next power couple, you aren’t the next dynamic duo! Break up and then bounce back. The album ends with some keys and I’m slamming my headphones down.
Final (first listen) thoughts on True to Self:
Bryson Tiller frustrates me. He has pristine production―True to Self is home to some of the best trap beats I’ve heard all year―a style that is simple but effective, and he has crafted an approach that works well within this era of combining rapping and singing. But there’s a lack of substance and ideas that places his music in the black hole of constant reiteration.
The curse of repetition is only amplified by a bloated album that brings unnecessary attention to his weaknesses. Bryson is an artist who is at best presented in small doses. Too much Bryson only draws attention to the flaws in his artistry―underwhelming bars and one-dimensional songwriting. An album of this size that repeats itself over and over murders the minutes and doesn’t make for a compelling listening experience.
Lovers of Tiller will find the expected topics displayed over the best possible canvas. He’s still cheating, getting caught and crying please don’t go. He isn’t rapping any better or singing any worse, he is exactly the way you remember him. I don’t expect True to Self to be the album that changes any impressions on Tiller. If you hated his work before you’re likely to hold that stance.
Simplicity isn’t a sin. Good art doesn’t have to be complex, but simplicity can’t be boring―that’s unforgivable. True to Self doesn’t have a strong enough pulse to keep the mind from wandering. Too many just-good moments and not enough great songs. The best parts are the ones that feel a bit left, outside of Bryson’s comfort zone, but there isn't enough variety to keep the cohesive vibe from sounding like one long phone call.
TRAPSOUL was direct and didn’t overstay its welcome, while True to Self doesn’t know when to say goodbye.
By Yoh, aka True To Yoh, aka @Yoh31