The Ritz, Raleigh
Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016
In a post-Drake world—where hip, emotionally vulnerable music has returned to the Top 40—we’ve seen the zeitgeist turn toward an archetype: the masculine, sensitive R&B star. I can’t imagine anyone following pop music somehow avoiding this trend; it sometimes seems to be the moment's de facto soundtrack. Artists and labels alike have realized they can pair emotions (genuine or not) with that addictive chopped-and-screwed R&B sound that Drake and The Weeknd popularized and just enough sex appeal and rap bona fides to work in traditional hip-hop and pop lanes.
Following the breadcrumb trail of weirdo greats like Jeremih and co-sign kings like Partynextdoor and Post Malone, Bryson Tiller seems to be the moment's big upstart. Thanks to approval from Drake
and blog buzz, the guy has had a stratospheric come-up. At last glance, his recent hit “Don’t”
was sitting at a cool sixty three million views. But Tiller’s music is a fuzzy Xerox of nearly everything his precursors have done better. His songs hit the same logical endpoint that cloud rap did a few years ago—bland weed-smoking stuff that’s inoffensive and easy to market to trend-loving Tumblr kids.
Tiller’s live set Tuesday night at The Ritz was heavy on fog and colored lights, obscuring him in an amniotic haze. Things got somnambulant after a while, especially since Tiller isn’t a dynamic performer. As the night wore on, I started to realize my issue with him isn’t his sleepwalking stage presence, or his production, which sounds like serviceable Noah Shebib worship.
It’s his lyrics, which represent a certain kind of pseudo-intellectual person who thinks he's smarter than he is. His lyrical content is so surface-level and focus-grouped, readymade to woo someone’s ex or subtweet your own. I could level this complaint with Jeremih or Drake, sure, but they keep things consistently interesting instead of constantly resorting to half-baked Instagram captions like “looking for a bad bitch/I finally found a culprit
." It says a lot that there’s a popular Bryson Tiller parody Twitter account
that tweets out skinless “deep” thoughts to the tune of more than a million followers.
To his credit, Tiller has some of the most devoted teenage fans I’ve ever seen. For a guy with such a small discography, they don’t just love him, they love
him. He didn’t sell his lyrics with charisma, but it didn’t matter—the crowd, offline and momentarily IRL, carried every word for him.