Tinashe is one of the most prolific artists hailing from the alternative R&B scene. Over the past decade, she has tackled a variety of genres (lo-fi hip-hop, neo-soul, art-pop, twisted R&B and even witch-house or funk among them), collaborated with a host of talented producers – including Ryan Hemsworth, Clams Casino, XXYYXX, Devonte Hynes, M-Phazes and Kaytranada – and has been compared to both Aaliyah and Jhené Aiko.
Tinashe’s music can be described as an even mix of stellar electronic instrumentation, catchy pop hooks and R&B stylings. This is the factor that separates her from other R&B artists, and the themes she approaches are just as diverse, with relationships, the creative process, empowerment, freedom, technology and the Universe all making their way into her lyrics at some point in her career.
Tinashe’s debut occurred in 2011 with Can’t Say No, and until her Aquarius album release in 2014, she dropped three mixtapes (In Case We Die, Reverie, and Black Water). Tinashe’s videos up until Bet/Feels Like Vegas were either decidedly lo-fi and hazy (Aquarius Season, Ecstasy), DIY celebratory fun (Chainless, Boss) or powerhouse pop/R&B singles (All Hands On Deck, 2 On). A former ballet and tap dancing student, one can always expect Tinashe’s videos to incorporate stunningly expressive dance choreographies.
At the end of the Bet video, the artist delivered a message which simply said “End of Era 1”, which was easy to interpret as a sign of changes to come. RCA Records had signed Tinashe as far back as 2012, and between 2015 and 2019 , the year in which she parted ways with the label, the singer was on a path which she later described as a rocky journey.
“I give them a lot of credit for helping me start out. I got to work with a lot of producers I wouldn’t have had the chance to and put out my first album, which was amazing. My second album process just wasn’t as seamless as the first. I first announced it in 2015, right off the back of Aquarius. For whatever business reasons, it didn’t come out for the next three years. With that process of delaying the album, I felt really deflated as a creative. I was frustrated and helpless. I was over it and felt jaded. (…) I felt like my career was coasting. I’m able to play shows, make money, and I can keep putting out music, but it didn’t feel all the way right.” – Tinashe about RCA in a 2019 interview with Billboard
In a great twist, however, Tinashe is one of the few artists whose output didn’t change as a result of being signed to a major label. Even with some executive meddling, there’s a lot to like about her music from her second era – an indicator of Tinashe’s intelligence, her genre-defying approach and the constant fighting back in order to maintain at least some degree of creative control. The difficult years only made Tinashe gain a lot more experience, and her subsequent albums, Songs For You and especially 333, are better as a result of that learning process. 333 is a masterpiece of future R&B and it begs to be listened as a whole, because – like many of Tinashe’s albums – it contains a lot of great transitions between songs.
We have compiled a playlist of our favorite Tinashe songs, remixes, collaborations and live performances. It includes a couple of massive surprises, including a RZA collab, remixes from Moby and MUNA, some really insane choreographies and a 2020 live performance of her four mixtape songs. You can listen to it below:
Featured image is Folding the Past and Future into a Dream by Melissa Loop
About the artist (source: melissaloop.com)
“I use my travels to explore notions of how we form assumptions about authenticity, place and spirituality through our ill-informed ideas of other cultures. After the End is inspired by my trips to Central America in 2012 and 2015 when I visited the ancient Mayan sites of Caracol, Xunantunich, Calal Pech, Tikal, Yasha, Palenque, Edina, Xpujil, Calakmul, Tulum, Coba and Chichen Itza. While my paintings are based on reality, my compositions are purposefully invented in an attempt to recreate rare moments of spiritual transcendence one encounters when taking a pilgrimage to a sacred place. However authentic in desire, this attempt is always in conflict with the reality of being a tourist and an outsider in someone else’s culture. The duality of this experience serves as a metaphor for our current cultural anxieties about a potentially foreboding future. Our Pax Americana of the present, with leaders who create a Theater State to keep control, and the impending ecological collapse from our entry into the Anthropocene age, seems reminiscent of the great and mysterious fall of the Mayans. What’s left of their civilization becomes an effective symbol for processing the present. In an era of “fake news” and during a culturally turbulent time in our nation’s history, my paintings explore the space between imagination and reality, spiritual transcendence and skepticism, dream and actuality, hope and despair. How will future generations interpret this particular point in our history?”
Other works by Melissa Loop
Reading Material: Tinashe interview about RCA, 333 and self-discovery
Bonus Reading material: Future R&B and the artists who created a new genre by Hayden Cox