Bryson Tiller, True to Self | Album Review
Louisville, Kentucky urban artist Bryson Tiller returns with his highly-anticipated sophomore album ‘True to Self.’ The results are a mixed bag.
Bryson Tiller gave the music world a gift – at least on paper. Rather than waiting until the end of June 2017 to drop True to Self, he released it a month early. Savvy marketing on his part, given the quiet release date and his expanded popularity following a platinum-certified album, TRAPSOUL. Now with the early arrival of True to Self, is it worthy of the buzz and the hype? Well now…
“No Longer Friends”
“Rain on Me (Intro)” sets the tone for True to Self. Bryson Tiller wants the relationship to survive and flourish. Sure, he’s made some mistakes, but he wants to make things right. His willingness on the intro segues into the first full-length of True to Self, “No Longer Friends.” “No Longer Friends” depicts a complicated relationship. He wants to be with her, but she’s got a man – uh oh! Despite the fact that she’s taken, he isn’t going to let it affect anything. After all:
“…You a bad b*tch, you keep getting badder / This ain’t the side n*gga anthem / I’ve been straight forward, he’s going backwards.”
This isn’t deep stuff, but the drama of the situation makes for an entertaining listen.
“Don’t Get Too High”
According to Tiller on “Don’t Get Too High,” he’s “…not trying to kill your vibe, kill your buzz.” No, he’s not trying to rehabilitate her, at least in the most literal sense of the word. Rather, be wants to be with her, and feels he is “the only drug” she needs. This is cliché to an extent – he just wants to hold her down.
“Blowing Smoke” logically follows. Tiller tackles fakes and frauds. At the end of the first verse, he spits:
“You a fraud, you a fake, n*gga / Can’t keep up with the pace, n*gga / Get the f*ck up out the race, n*gga.”
It’s cliché as well, but give Tiller credit for representing the 502 with his lyric about the Gene Snyder Freeway. He also references the Cleveland Cavaliers, thoroughbreds, and Jay Z for good measure.
“We Both Know”
“We Both Know” is essentially comprised of one big verse. Even so, there’s a narrative, albeit a shallow one. At the onset, Tiller asserts, “I’m not your, your man, baby/ No, I can’t do what a man should be doing for you…” They’re NOT an item, BUT, they get-it-on from time to time. He makes it clear its nothing more than that too:
“You say I’m talking like I don’t wanna wife / I just wanna f*ck, you damn right.”
On “You Got It,” Tiller feels like this particular girl possesses just what he needs. He’s willing to spoil her with material things and with sex – again. “You Got It” lacks substance, but it’s appealing nonetheless. Like most of True to Self, it’s lushly produced, firmly planted in the urban contemporary vein. The same can be said of follow-up “In Check,” which sounds like – you guessed it – sex. While the palette of sounds indicates ‘it’s about to go down,’ He approaches it more emotionally as opposed to physically. Yes, the bedroom still plays a role, but he digs a bit deeper.
“Self-Made” has more drive – coincidence? If most of True to Self has been built around lushness and physical pleasure, “Self-Made” goes harder. He says it best himself:
“I’ve been balling like I’m Curry, need a jersey for myself.”
Call it arrogant, but Tiller has a point. TRAPSOUL blew up, period.
“Run Me Dry” is one of those hate it or love it moments. Why? It has the tropical influence going on. Sometimes it works, other times it fails miserably. Here, it is a respectable change of pace, but still, the trend has been overplayed as of late. Still, does “Run Me Dry” have the ingredients to be a hit? Yes.
“High Stakes” was recorded on Bryson Tiller’s birthday, a fact he shares in the lyrics. Complementing his good mood is his testimony about coming up. Yes, it seems every urban artist does it, but it never gets old. The production is great, and Tiller knows he’s come a long way from “the roof of a ’04 Audi, that shit used to be my bed.”
“Teach Me a Lesson”
Following the “Rain Interlude,” Tiller reflects on the potential repercussions of his poor choices on “Teach Me a Lesson.” Those repercussions are being single because his girl breaks up with him and finds a man who’ll treat her right. He sings:
“I had asked myself / So, what would you do if she left? / What would you do? / Would I find someone to distract myself?”
“Stay Blessed” is as lushly produced as anything else, conveying the urban contemporary experience. The problem is, like many songs on True to Self, it feels more nebulous than rigidly defined. Once more, Tiller focuses on a ball of feelings and thoughts, as opposed to truly crafting a well thought out, written song. “Stay Blessed” isn’t a bad listen, but nor is it a game changing one either.
“Money Problems / Benz Truck” gives Tiller the trendy two-part track. The first part of the track, “Money Problems” is harder, finding him rapping over an aggressive beat. Well, he raps the first verse, then sings and pop-raps the second verse. It’s almost Jekyll and Hyde like in quality. As wild as it may be, each persona works. The second part, “Benz Truck” still retains an edge, finding Tiller rapping once more.
“Somethin Tells Me”
“Set It Off” slackens the pace, fueled by a Faith Evans sample. As always, the production is top-notch, giving Tiller a superb canvas to paint over. The song itself is okay, but not ‘next-level.’ Following “Nevermind This Interlude,” “Before You Judge” once more features a charged-up Tiller, who clearly isn’t a fan of skeptics.
“Before you judge me / Check yourself before you judge me, hey / Shit could get ugly / Next time you might not be so lucky / What you want from me?”
One of the most interesting aspects of “Before You Judge” is the beef that Tiller has with a former manager, which he reveals during the second verse.
Promo single “Somethin Tells Me” serves as the final full-length song of True to Self. Once more, it features excellent production work, firmly planted in the lethargic, urban contemporary sound. Its use of synths and slick drum programming are perfect fuel for Tiller’s fire vocally. Like most of True to Self, “Somethin Tells Me” is by no means a deep. Regardless, it’s one of the best, if not the best song from the album. “Always (Outro)” concludes.
So, how does True to Self measure up? Bryson Tiller has a lot to offer artistically – that can’t be emphasized enough. He is a great singer and has a respectable flow as a rapper. The problem lies in the execution and the material. True to Self has its moments, but too often it indulges more in the production and vibe as opposed to delivering truly great, memorable songs. Arguably the biggest rub with True to Self is the lack of a surefire hit, such as “Exchange.” Good enough, but not great.
Gems: “Don’t Get Too High,” “Blowing Smoke,” “Self-Made,” “Before You Judge” & “Somethin Tells Me”