On Jewelry, the fifth track of Negro Swan, trans rights activist Janet Mock says; "people try to put is down by saying, 'she's doing the most, or he's way too much,' but why would we want to do the least?"
Members of minority groups are used to being told to pipe down, their voices often declared by those in power as irritating kinks in the system as opposed to emotionally mandated cries for justice. There's an urgent passion surging through Negro Swan, Blood Orange's fourth album, and it makes for a richly rewarding listen; Blood Orange (aka Dev Hynes) is, with excellence, doing the most.
Negro Swan is less accessible than Hynes' critically acclaimed 2016 release Freetown Sound; where that album presented a number of bouncy pop morsels (Best to You, EVP, Better Than Me), Negro Swan largely sheds conventional structures, instead letting its ideas move more fluidly as skits and vignettes. Pop fans shouldn't be deterred; there are a number of dances to be had. Hope, featuring Tei Shi and Puff Daddy is a stunning mid-tempo jam, and Charcoal Baby is an energetic wash of broad synths and melodic guitar.
The record saves its best songs for last, with 11th track Dagenham Dream kicking off a run of dynamic, intoxicating pop. On that track, Hynes recounts being bullied for his blackness and queerness as a kid, before Nappy Wonder, a dreamy sequel on which Hynes skateboards his troubles away. The minimal production lets his beautiful falsetto come into focus on the frustrated cry of a chorus; "Feelings never had no ethics/feelings never have been ethical".
Hynes' anger at the injustices of society have been transformed into a thoughtful album that reflects the headlines as much as his headspace – samples of sirens appear frequently, lending fear to his ruminations on black depression and anxiety. And although some listeners may get lost in Negro Swan's strange pacing, it's a fine progression of Hynes' proudly political form of pop.
Blood Orange, Negro Swan
An electric smorgasbord of Dev Hynes' politically-charged musings