In 2018, R&B is no longer an idyllic, one-size-fits all formula. It’s boundary-pushing, refreshingly and spontaneously reconfigured, and colorfully interpreted through the melding of a multitude of genres that has the masses stamping it as ‘alternative.’ But no matter the fuss over the description, there’s no denying the fact that there’s a new generation of vocalists turning heads with their own respective and distinctive styles. For instance, there’s Bryson Tiller, 6lack, and Daniel Caesar (to name just a few) fueling the too-good-to-ignore groundswell surrounding the genre. But with vulnerability, charm, and sheer talent, there’s a new guy on the block looking to add his name to the roster of innovative foot soldiers for the satisfying wave of contemporary R&B.
Enter Top Dawg Entertainment’s latest signee, SiR. Surprisingly, for the 31-year-old Inglewood, California native who joined Kendrick Lamar’s label-home last year, creative ambitions didn’t lean toward centerstage stardom. Between working a 9 to 5 at Guitar Center and engineering and songwriting for artists like Jill Scott and Tyrese to pay the bills, he figured he’d release the collection of unheard music he’d amassed during sessions. With overwhelming positive feedback and a million plays on SoundCloud, SiR became indebted to buffing the sparkle of talent people heard to a shine.
On November, his first proper LP under the TDE roster, the singer-songwriter and producer asserts a unique potency of vibey R&B that bridges influences of the past to the present without feeling too dated. “That’s Alright” is a smooth, mid-tempo joint stamps SiR’s musical visions as lofty – there’s spacey synths, plunks of piano keys, the flutter of a golden hi-hat, and pointed lyrics: the perfect backdrop to match his pitch perfect sound. But he rises to the occasion effortlessly, creating a warm musical masterpiece anchored by his buttery falsetto.
The album itself moves as a slow-burning rollercoaster powered by matters of the heart. “I want it to be visual, like you’re listening but you’re also watching the story unfold as you hear the words,” he once told Pigeons and Planes. Notably, the main accoutrement of the project, “K,” who at best can be described as a female robot, exchanges conversation with revealing context throughout it’s 30-minute play like a tour guide.
And for the artist who prides himself on telling very human stories, November cements SiR’s flair for the dramatic, romantic, and empathetic to be his greatest strength. But in between the uncontrollable feelings of love, he grapples with newfound status and his own pride. Take for instance the straight-laced “All her lil friends can’t stand me / Because they know I would trade her love for a Grammy,” wordplay from “That’s Alright.” That same energy can be felt in the ScHoolboy Q-assisted “Something Foreign,” where he coos “Tryna keep it humble in a world full of egos, gangsters, and evils.”
Shifting gears, “Something New,” which features British singer-songwriter Etta Bond, strikes up dumbstruck feelings of a secret lover that sweeps away aches, pains, and superficiality of the earlier tracks. “And if everything else falls apart, I still have you / If I can’t find my way back home, we’ll make something new,” the two sing in harmony.
With the vision, chops, and nerve to be as pure as possible, November also doesn’t shy away from SiR’s stellar songwriting and indelibly soulful expression. “War,” a surefire standout on the album, oozes with sensuality while explaining thoughts of regret on how things played to with a lover. “Yes I, let you down / I wasn’t the man you wanted to fall for the first time around.” But in the same breath he doubles down on his remorse by making amends: “Somehow I was neglectin’ the fact that your heart is what you’re protectin’ / And that makes it special / Which is why I’m here / Standin’ on this ledge, tryin’ to make it clear.”
November’s silky narrative continues with “Better,” where SiR’s sharp pen game shines once again. More than titillating bars, the reliability of the song hits close to home for most listeners, in which he denies love from a girl and ends up watching her happy with someone else. “I didn’t care, she cared too much / I thought I needed space, she just needed love / I was too young, to understand,” he sings in conclusion.
“Dreaming of Me” feels as if it’s ripped right out of SiR’s notebook or text message history. As a married man, he’s openly discussed the struggle of pursing his artistic ambitions and being in a devoted relationship. “You’ve been calling my phone all day / I’m sorry if I made you worry / But now that I’m standin’ in your grace / I’m reminded why I have to earn it,” he admits in a soft, emotive voice.
A funky bassline transitions the album into it’s last hoorah, “Summer of November.” Produced by Grammy Award-winner Andre Harris, SiR ties the knot of the album’s concept on a calming note, dreaming of the perfect love. “My Sahara in the snow, singin’ softer than the wind / I don’t know how far we go, I don’t know where we begin / But you don’t care about the flame, you don’t care about my name / If I didn’t have a dime, you would care for me the same.”
Long after the last note has sounded on November, SiR, the weight of the universe feels a little lighter, but we’re still left with questions. At times, his inner grapplings with status and fame feel prolonged, but it’s the awestruck, starry-eyed lover yearning for a second chance that feels like the foundation of soon-to-be R&B smashes.
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- Words: Ashley Monaé