Smooth instrumentals, classic R&B beats and dreamy vocals characterize Syd tha Kyd’s debut album Fin, first released Feb. 2. Syd has previously worked with hip hop collective Odd Future as well as R&B band The Internet. She is never been one to draw attention to herself, but Fin finally pushes Syd into the spotlight. The album is an amalgam of different musical influences, lyrical themes and vocal techniques, and Syd moves her R&B style in all different directions through the twelve tracks of the album. She pulls off a confident rapper persona singing over trap-infused hip-hop beats in tracks like “All About Me” and “No Complaints.” Other tracks feature her signature breathy melodies and soft instrumentals which add a delicate feel to the classic R&B love song cannon. “Know,” the second track, is a tribute to the funky pop from the 2000s – think funky Timbaland beats and an Aaliyah attitude. The final song “Insecurities” ends in one last twist with a jazzy hi-hat and snare combo.
Fin is a deviation from classic R&B as well as from Syd’s previous work as part of The Internet. Syd’s affinity for mellow beats and deep instrumentals gives the album a darker feel than what would usually be associated with R&B. Hip hop, soul, trap and jazz are all thrown into the mix to create music that is both new and nostalgic. To top it all off, Syd’s incredibly dynamic range and style tie all of these elements together to make each track on Fin fresh and memorable. Even with minimal features, each track has an individual feel and a unique sound. Fin is also a remarkable departure from The Internet’s Grammy-nominated album Ego Death because of the solo album’s further embrace of loose beats and soul influence. Whereas Ego Death is much more reminiscent of the heavy pace of Odd Future mixtapes and is stylistically less varied than the new album, Fin is more laid back and seductive, and it is clear that Syd’s taking advantage of her solo career to develop a musicality that is uniquely her own.
Thematically, Syd finds her niche in R&B by moving away from love and sex clichés, instead presenting more honest material through her lyrics. Moving forward from Ego Death, Fin ventures into the personal. Yet, the music and lyrics are not flashy by any means as Syd remains open and vulnerable through the album. Fin opens with “Shake Em Off,” a slow and stripped song that reflects on her anxiety about her career as she struggles with the perceptions of her peers and fans. She avoids glamorizing themes of sex and sexuality, letting her experiences speak for themselves. “Smile More” and “Know” candidly address struggles, love and lust in casual relationships with a vaguely sorrowful tone. “Insecurities” is a matter-of-fact and self-aware description of an unhealthy relationship, yet the track is so driven by its cool and collected jazzy beat and flowing harmonies that it takes a close listen to understand the more serious underlying themes of the song.
Syd also breaks away from R&B tradition by curbing the age-old heterosexual romantic relationship of popular music, instead openly embracing her queer identity in her music and simultaneously defying polarized gender dynamics that are oh-so-prevalent in the music industry. In “Got Her Own,” Syd serenades a financially and emotionally independent woman. It’s been done in the past, arguably in a condescending manner, by male singers. Yet Syd’s rendition of this theme doesn’t implicate an imbalanced and thus exploitive gender power dynamic; she asserts a queer narrative in a traditionally heteronormative space and does it all without batting an eye.
Fin is worth a listen or two. Syd’s progressive R&B sensibility flourishes in her debut album. Her effortless falsettos and low sultry melodies pull the listener through the album’s twelve tracks, and with each song comes a new mood and a new sound. Fin continues Syd’s track record of understated but innovative musical styles; the album pulls heartstrings by playing with beats and lyrics that recall the early 2000s and progressing them using current musical developments in other genres. Syd does not seek to impress, but the album is impressive nonetheless. Fin is a fitting portrait of Syd both as a musician and as a person in an honest and intimate manner.
Syd tha Kyd, a collaborator with Odd Future and The Internet released her first album, ‘Fin’. Photo courtesy of New York Magazine.