In 2015, Bryson Tiller emerged as the latest in a slew of hybrid talents to blur the lines between hip-hop and R&B with his breakout single “Don’t,” a song that originally premiered on SoundCloud and sparked the Louisville, Ky. native’s initial buzz. The conversation around him and his artistry resulted in cosigns from the likes of Timbaland, who would contribute two beats to the singer’s debut album, Trapsoul, and Drake, who would offer the budding star a spot on his OVO Records roster, a gesture Bryson would decline.
Bryson’s song “Don’t” would pique the interest of major labels, with the singer ultimately opting to ink a deal with RCA Records. Peaking at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 chart and boasting three hit singles, Trapsoul would earn him a platinum plaque and instantly transform him into one of the hottest stars in hip-hop and R&B. However, despite his success, the double threat remains much of an enigma, with a certain air of mystique and intrigue surrounding his persona. After spending more than a year in the studio prepping for his return, Bryson looks to bring listeners into his world while avoiding the sophomore jinx with his new album, True to Self, one of the more anticipated releases of 2017.
Utilizing a vintage SWV sample on the album opener “Rain on Me (Interlude),” Young Bryson wastes no time paying homage to the bevy of 1990s greats whose music have influenced his more melodious compositions. The subsequent cut, “No Longer Friends,” is a selection that fully gets the album in motion. Produced by Gravez and Swiff D, “No Longer Friends” finds the crooner insisting, “This ain’t the side nigga anthem,” while professing his desire to be with a platonic friend that he’s become infatuated with, topical territory that’s become standard fare within his music. “You was on the verge of losing her/You was acting like you ain’t want shit to do with her/I cut out the bullshit and kept it true with her,” he argues, as he displays no qualms about putting his best foot forward and courting a taken woman while navigating a track powered by samples from the likes of Tweet (“My Place”), Nyck Caution (“Out of Reach”) and GoldLink (“Dance on Me”).
On “Don’t Get Too High,” a Travi$ Scott voice sample gets lifted by producer Nes for a composition on which Bryson Tiller chides a lover for being too loose with her inhibitions and neglecting him emotionally. “Oh, you getting drunk and too high to call me up, and/Hanging with them other niggas I could barely stomach,” the R&B star laments, noting how the tables have turned and the irony of him feeling unappreciated giving his own track record with women, a lyric that points to the subtle vulnerabilities that are peppered throughout his music.
The opening of Kendrick Lamar’s “FEEL.” gets the sample treatment as producer Paul “Hollywood Hotsauce” Dawson dices it and embeds it throughout the bass-heavy True to Self number “You Got It,” on which Bryson appraises an enticing beauty. “Bad lil’ thing, yeah/True Religion jeans, yeah/Super clean, yeah/What’s good with you and me?,” the pride of Louisville sings, crafting a tune tailor-made for a late-night cruise while on the prowl for a bit of satisfaction and continues the momentum set by the earlier highlights.
As smooth a talker as he is, Bryson Tiller takes advantage of all opportunities to drop the occasional boast, as he does on the Nes-produced True to Self standout “Self-Made,” a blustering selection on which the RCA Records signee is as cocksure as ever. “Gucci on my belt/Bought a necklace for myself/Bought Giuseppe for myself/Spent them blessings on myself,” he delivers over the regal production. With all the trappings of his success and his meteoric rise, Bryson examines his current lifestyle while juxtaposing it with his humble beginnings throughout his sophomore set. “I wake up and see a roof over my head/Used to be the roof of a ’04 Audi, that shit used to be my bed,” he sings, speaking to his progression and leisurely space in life.
Wow Jones teams up with Nes as the pair helms the boards on “Stay Blessed,” while the potent trio Rob Holladay, !llmind and Boi-1da combine their talents to craft the soundbed for “Money Problems / Benz Truck,” one of the more boisterous inclusions on True to Self. Bryson addresses alleged contractual red tape with his old management, sneering, “Supposedly I’ve been in debt with niggas/Fuck ’em, I ain’t writing out no check for niggas.” This is one of the multiple jabs at those claiming ownership of his success.
Bryson’s disdain for the perceived leeches is even more apparent on “Before You Judge,” a selection that details the crooner’s career arc and the trials and tribulations endured along the road. “Fuck, I look like, bringing niggas names up?/I can’t let a fuck nigga get famous/These niggas, they wanna defame us/They wanna betray us, they wanna play games,” he affirms. “Just got a new manager, my last one was fucking up my vision/Can’t believe this nigga still tryna get a percentage/I gave you back your investment, get out your feelings.” These are signs that although life in the limelight has treated Bryson kindly, it hasn’t come without its challenges and disillusions.
Rounding out the album with highlights like “Set It Off” and the album’s T-Minus-produced lead single “Somethin Tells Me,” Bryson Tiller’s knack for infectious melodies and songwriting that resonates with the times becomes even more evident the further you get to the outset of True to Self, which closes with “Always (Outro),” a track that brings the proceedings full circle.
Having reached the upper echelon of the music industry, Bryson Tiller revels in the perks of his position while shunning the pitfalls, fair-weather friends and snakes in the grass that come along with it on True to Self, an album that sticks to the blueprint laid out on his debut LP. Although devoid of any clunkers or all-out snoozers, True to Self comes across as Trapsoul on steroids, with bolstered production compensating for the lack of any bona fide hits in the mold of “Don’t” or “Exchange”—two records that separated Bryson Tiller and Trapsoul from his contemporaries in terms of cache.
True to Self may fall short in terms of being a showcase of Bryson Tiller’s maturation, but wins in terms of its aesthetic and addictive refrains.