Blood Orange Freetown Sound Domino
The hype surrounding Devonté Hynes’ timely release of Freetown Sound, under his Blood Orange moniker, is unsurprising. Landing at a peak in the urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement and just sixteen days after the Orlando nightclub shooting, Freetown Sound is Hynes’ most personal and most political release to date, presenting a searing and sensitive portrait of the struggles faced by black and LGBT communities. In an essay preceding the release, Hynes dedicated the album to “everyone told they’re not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer the right way… it’s a clapback.”
Building on Hynes’ signature blend of 80s-indebted pop, RnB and funk, Freetown Sound is more instrumentally adventurous
than anything he’s put out before. It’s more emotionally charged, too – romantic melodramas are woven into narratives about racially charged conflict, police brutality and living under the weight of hatred and prejudice. This marriage of personal and political themes is at its most powerful on album highlight Hands Up, in which Hynes’ vocals lay out a grave message referencing the shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin: “Are you sleeping with the lights on baby?/ Hands up, get out, hands up, get out/ keep your hood off when you’re walking cause they…/Hands up, get out, hands up, get out”.
Samples from an array of radical black voices pepper the album. Feminist slam poet Ashlee Haze appears on By Ourselves, MacArthur grant award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates on Love Ya, rapper Vince Staples on Hands Up, and South African religious missionary Nontetha Nkwenkwe on Augustine, to name a few. Amidst these fragments, Hynes fashions a multi-faceted tapestry that blurs the lines between imagined scenarios and real-world anecdotes.
There are points where his heart-on-sleeve sincerity seems likely to divide opinions. There’s the hook “You are special in your own way” on But You – a Man in the Mirror-esque ballad that critics have pointed out could have been laughed off as overly derivative of Michael Jackson had it come out 20 years ago. However, these shortcomings somehow don’t stop the track from being an album highlight, and the sound feels refreshing, if only because we haven’t heard it in a while.
His most ambitious project to date, Freetown Sound is undoubtedly Hynes’ opus, albeit an imperfect one, and cements his position as one of the most distinctive figures in leftfield pop.