We tend to think of albums as epics, novels, as worlds all their own. Records are transportive and they have the propensity to be vast things. The weight of an album can be immense, which is why artists will put off dropping their debut album for years in favor of a glorious mixtape run. Yet, the debut album is not the only place in need of a prefacing mixtape or EP. Any time an artist is about to make an artistic pivot, or venture into a new chapter of their lives—any time there is a new story to be told—there is the underappreciated art of the preface.
A preface is crucial in novels, of course, it sets the scene for the world we are about to enter, and it tells us why we should care. A preface hooks us before we even dive in. With the release of Brasstracks’ Before We Go EP and Kehlani’s While We Wait mixtape, we get just that: an aptly crafted preface for the projects to come and an ode to the artists that they were. From the title to the content, these projects speak to the importance of creative worldbuilding, of creating a consistent narrative through layers and using the avenues available to you to structure a fully immersive world in your music. As albums do not exist in vacuums, why not have fun with it? That is exactly what Brasstracks and Kehlani chose to do with their latest releases.
Before we delve into the music, we can start by looking at the titles of both projects for an important lesson on how to communicate with your fans. These projects know what they are and speak to that. The self-awareness of the music keeps it from being a simple placeholder, and moreover, the use of “We” in both titles speaks to the artistic journey as a shared thing. Brasstracks and Kehlani are taking their fans on this journey together. We grow as a unit. For Kehlani’s part, too, the album cover shows her getting ready in the mirror, another type of journey we can take together. Her cover speaks to an intimacy fostered between artists and fans, one that she obviously treasures. All at once, we get these artists' multiple intentions and aspirations.
On the note of structure, these prefaces are forecasting growth and change without shocking us, opening creative doors and closing chapters without leaving us out to dry with an unexpected pivot. A strong preface turns a discography into a cohesive medley, not a series of points on a map. It is nearly tender in approach, if only because artists do not necessarily have to let us into their creative worlds, and offers a way of building community with fans while also expanding the artists’ sonic worlds not dissimilar from the blowing off steam album.
Not to mention, the titles of both projects signal more music to come, which of course sparks anticipation. Again, the invocation of “We” gives us a warm feeling, as the desire for more music becomes communal, too. The artists wish to create more and take more risks, and we wish for more tunes for our playlists and what have you. In title alone, an artful preface creates a perfectly symbiotic relationship between the artist and the listener. It’s a nice, “We’ve got you” moment in an industry that can be all the way brutal.
“I think we wasted a lot of time chasing some shit that just wasn’t fun for us. The minute we got back to the fun of it, things started moving.” —Ivan Jackson (of Brasstracks)
Brasstracks know first hand the brutality of the music industry, sitting in endless sessions that had no organic energy or aura to them. “We would wind up going into a room and playing 50 beats in a row,” Jackson told me earlier this month. That wasted time he speaks to sounds like the fuel of his and Conor Rayne’s new EP, Before We Go. From their excellent live show to the electric horn and drum performances on the EP, it sounds like the duo are privileging fun again, with so much fun still to go. All over the EP, we get nods to the bright future of Brasstracks (“I can feel this shit coming” on “Everything I Got,” the vibrance of “Vibrant.”) There is a light to this EP that was only sparking up on their previous efforts.
The groove and lithe jazz energy of Before We Go signals that the place Brasstracks is headed toward is going to take the light they’ve been husbanding on their prior works and allow it to shine in earnest. Take the rich timbre of “Follows” and how it balloons out a deep and becoming darkness. This is the preface before the light. This is the nightfall before the sunrise, and as we hear with the final notes of Before We Go, the sun is certainly coming up. After being in the doldrums of creativity, the importance of this preface is a promise from Brasstracks to their fans and to themselves: they’re back to having fun. That’s the next adventure.
As far as adventuring onward goes, Kehlani accomplishes as much on “Morning Glory,” where through the lens of romance, she speaks of chapters closing and doors opening. Singing, “And if you don't want me at my goodnight / Then you can’t have me at my morning glory,” we get the sense that While We Wait is her goodnight and that the album soon come is her morning glory, and we are ready for the work.
The image here is doing triple duty. Firstly, we get the sense she is in a new love, so there is trepidation, secondly, we get the sense that she is exposing herself to her new lover, and thirdly, that idea plays well into the preface. That is, Kehlani’s preface speaks to her wanting to get even more bare and vulnerable in her music. She is preparing us for a coronation of sorts through the lens of romance, a subject she handles oh so well.
Certainly, “Morning Glory” does not have to be about While We Wait as a whole, but it can come to represent that importance of transition. Who we are before bed is not who we become when we sleep and recharge, and that transition is what While We Wait highlights: Kehlani is recharging and we get to be privy to her artistic growth minute by minute. Her preface works because While We Wait is standard Kehlani fare with the promise of more, so it is already dripping in potential.
The excitement for the present and future color the project ever so, endearing us more to her work and amping our enjoyment of the music. We are being conditioned to love Kehlani’s future output without even hearing it, but because of the solid nature of While We Wait, we are inclined to believe the album will be just as airtight, with a few more bells and a few more whistles.
In an era prone to oversharing, releasing a preface project is the best way to keep fans clued in on the artistic process without pushing out an album that is not yet fully baked. Rather than rush a concept album and show off all that’s changed in a sloppy package, the preface allows an artist to note that change is coming without having to show and prove in the same breath. The preface is a pressure-free space where artists can privilege their creativity and pause, re-calibrate, and begin to reintroduce themselves. The preface captures the magic of a liminal space while feeding the fans and keeping the creative soul nourished. Everyone wins when the preface is right.