Rising to prominence as one of the go-to producers and DJs for the Odd Future collective in the early 2010s, Sydney Bennett, AKA Syd Tha Kyd, was often confined to the background — of the stage and the group’s recognition — owing to its founder, Tyler, The Creator, and his propensity for controversy (see the lyrics on ‘She’), as well as the burgeoning successes of individual members’ solo careers, most notably Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean. Having made her mark on the group with a selection of aggressively bass-heavy productions, the last five years have seen Syd come into her own not only as a producer but as a singer with her soul and R&B-influenced band The Internet. Following on from three worthy releases, 2011’s ‘Purple Naked Ladies’, 2013’s ‘Feel Good’, and 2015’s ‘Ego Death’, this month heralds the release of Syd’s debut solo LP, ‘Fin’.
On a first listen it’s clear that, despite the title stating otherwise, ‘Fin’ is only the beginning of Syd’s latest musical incarnation. Having dropped the ‘Kyd’ status from her name, the record belies a musical maturity and clarity of vision that is both a departure from her work as part of Odd Future and The Internet, as well as a continuation of the themes she incubated there.
Opening track, ‘Shake Em Off’ is a statement on this departure, providing the defiant refrain: "Shake em off / There’s nothing you can tell me / I’m grown", sung nonchalantly over a mechanically slow-moving beat, a grittier counterpart to Syd’s normal, crisp falsetto. Second track ‘Know’, however, sees Syd back in more familiar territory with said falsetto floating effortlessly over a bouncy Timbaland-style beat — a gesture towards her Internet affiliations. The lyrical content is also typical Syd; promiscuity, sex and self-medication, all wrapped in the gentle allure of her voice and never failing to portray Syd as a smooth operator of predatory proportions.
It is absurd that in 2017 lesbian sexuality is still relatively hidden in music, especially in the R&B and hip-hop genres that Syd moves in. Despite the typical hyper-sexualisation of most R&B tracks (see anything by R Kelly), there’s a dearth of powerful female voices; something that artists like Dawn Richard, Kelela and Solange are now rebelling against. It’s therefore always a refreshing and welcome sight to have Syd taking on the sexual predation and objectification of the female body that we so often hear from her male counterparts, but this time sung from an unforgiving female perspective. Her music may not be intentionally political, but it’s this very ambiguity of intention in her music — its practical function instead as something to dance to, drink to, fuck to — that makes it so important. Since, why should Syd’s music automatically have to make a political statement owing to her sexuality? She has the legitimacy and authenticity to sing and write on a level with her male counterparts while implicitly challenging the listeners’ assumptions of male hegemony in the genre, whether she intends to or not.
Back to the music, then, and it’s the Timbaland-influenced tracks that form the highlights of ‘Fin’. ‘Nothin to Somethin’, an anthem of Syd’s transition from “middle class / To upper class”, pairs a classic Timbo syncopated beat and pitched-up snare with an easy-rolling swing which makes the track perfect for in-car play. ‘Smile More’ is the closest to a typical Internet composition, placing a gentle Rhodes line with an Aaliyah-style vocal to create an homage to neo-soul, whilst stripper-anthem ‘Dollar Bills’ continues in a similar vein, channelling Pharrell this time in its infectious hook.
Finally, the single ‘Body’ is Syd at her finest, displaying restraint in producing the majority of the track with only an eerily rumbling bass line and a whisper-soft vocal that plays up to the sex-centric tropes of R&B. ‘Body’ attains a perfect mix of the trap low-end with a touch of soul, whereas the more straightforward trap-influenced tracks on ‘Fin’, such as ‘No Complaints’ and ‘Got Her Own’, can come across as backward-looking Odd Future cuts.
Despite this being Syd’s first solo effort, it is still a collaborative affair made up of contributions from members of The Internet. ‘Fin’ features production from guitarist Steve Lacy as well as instrumentals from Matt Martians, the band’s keyboard player. Martians has also just dropped his debut record, ‘Drum/Chord Theory’, while Lacey’s is forthcoming, making this spate of solo releases the latest incarnation of the band, rather than a departure. ‘Fin’ is one record in conversation with the others — a new model of creativity and one that has produced, at the very least, an excellent piece of work.
Words: Ammar Kalia
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