For those who aren't already familiar with my intimate and often convoluted musical preferences, here's the background between myself and one Mr. PARTYNEXTDOOR.
A little over a year ago I decided to hate him, although at the time I didn't even know who "him" was. The allmighty Drake simply tweeted "Make A Mil", a song by a then-mysterious new, enigmatically singer named PARTYNEXTDOOR, and predictably the interwebz lost its collective shit. Even though almost no one even knew his actual name, and his musical output essentially consisted of one song, many were already rushing to proclaim him the next big thing. It was everything I didn't like about how music worked in 2014. While some artists worked for years making incredible, truly original music without a glimmer of that same attention, one tweet from an influential co-sign and the world came rushing like moths to a lightbulb. But have you ever watched one of those moths? Banging and fluttering, convinced the lightbulb on your Ikea lamp is actually the moon. I wasn't going to be one of those moths.
So yes, sure, it didn't have a whole lot to do with PARTYNEXTDOOR specifically, more like his place in a musical ecology I didn't want to live in, but sometimes you just have to irrationally hate someone. This isn't stock market reporting, this is music writing, objectivity is a smoke screen a lot of writers use to just secretly write subjectively anyway. The closest we can get to actual objectivity is to be as open and honest about our subjectivity. So just like in real life when you don't like that one guy in your office for no real reason besides he kind of looks like this d-bag you went to high school with, or he chews his sandwiches in the break room super loud, I decided I didn't need PARTYNEXTDOOR in my life. The way he sounded like some blend of the Weeknd and Future? The "oh, look at me, my name's in all caps BECAUSE I'M UNIQUE" thing? The way he (probably) chewed his sandwiches super loud? Fuck that guy.
I didn't want to be some constant spewer of negativity though, so I simply decided to boycott PARTY. I wouldn't listen to him, wouldn't write about him, wouldn't read about him. That way I'd be able to hang onto my comfortably irrational hatred without killing the vibe of those who did like him. Boom, problem solved, and for the last year it worked just fine. But then I started to see some reactions to his debut studio album, "PND2", on my Twitter timeline, and for the first time, it made me question my boycott. Maybe I was actually missing out on something great, maybe I should wipe the slate clean and give this album a listen? So that's just what I did. And as long as I already have this love/hate theme running, I'll continue it into the review. Word to Radio Raheem.
Loved Didn't Hate
One spin through "PND2" and it's not hard to hear what people like about PARTY. This is background music, but not just background music, background music to a drunken orgy with super hot models. Not even I can be against that. Since time immemorial people have tried to have sex drunk, and "PND2" has plenty of material to fuel whatever debauchery you're looking to get into. True to its name, "Sex on the Beach" is a slow burner that, unlike Trey Songz last album, might actually be able to get you laid. Similarly, the album's openers, "Thirsty" and "SLS" combine the kind of hazy, compressed and slowly banging production that people like The Weeknd pushed into the mainstream with Party's obvious sense of melody. Plus, "Met you in Houston, but you're from Atlanta, no you're from...Pennsylvania...something," might just be the funniest opening to a R&B song in years.
I can't say I love any of the songs here, I come the closest on "Bout It", mostly because it's now on my "Lap Dance" playlist. and that might be because as much as I tried to listen with an open mind, I was already too deep in negative karma to really get into the album. But at the very least I can now say I get it. If you're feeling this album, if you need something to inspire you to break up with that summer fling, you've got the right soundtrack.
While I've obviously made some concessions to PARTY and "PND2", the fires of my completely justified/irrational hatred are still smoldering. Really, there's just one problem I have with the man's music;; I have no idea who he is, as a person or as an artist. Beyond someone who enjoys casual sex with hot women (and that really narrows it down), I don't get any sense of what makes him unique as a human being. Nearly anyone could be singing these lyrics. Drake's secret sauce is making his personal life feel like something we can all relate to - think the voicemail message at the beginning of "Marvin's Room" - but it's not a balance PARTY has figured out, at least not yet.
And so what? He's far from the first R&B artist to traffic in universal lyrics. But even his sound isn't particularly distinct. As I mentioned earlier, for the most part the lives inside that hazy, lean-infused production sound that (not coincidentally) Drake, Weekend and Noah "40" Shebib made the new wave, and throughout the album his vocal style ranges from not particularly unique to just downright style jacking. On "Recognize", easily the album's biggest hit because, duh, Drake, he manages to start a rapped section with a direct copy of Drake's "We Made It" flow and end with Young Thug's flow just seconds later. And just in case you thought that was an isolated example, on the very next track, "Options", he slips into what can only really be called a Young Thug impression again.
Is sounding like someone else a few times a cardinal sin? Not at all, who isn't doing that chopped flow right now? But that's exactly the point. Absolutely none of the album is bad, but it's enough like Drake to make me feel like I might as well be listening to Drake, enough like The Weeknd to make me feel like I might as well be listening to Weeknd, etc. etc. etc.
I don't actually have a verdict, that shit just looked mad dramatic and important when I just wrote it. Really, I'd love to say I had some sort of epiphany and realized I should be playing "PND2" daily, or had my irrational hatred completely re-enforced, but neither's really true. Yes, the boycott a year ago was obviously overly-dramatic. No, I don't particularly regret it. Yes, the music's good enough to convince me I should listen to his next work. No, I probably won't play this album very much again, if at all. And regardless, I'm not nearly influential enough to influence his career even a fraction of a percentage in either direction.
I'll admit it was more fun when I could just irrationally hate PARTYNEXTDOOR, instead of rationally just kind-of-disliking-him, but I guess that's what happens when you actually sit down and really listen to an artist. Oh well, I still bet he chews his sandwiches super loud though.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]