Following the success of his 2015 début album, Trapsoul, 24-year-old Bryson Tiller was always going to be at risk of falling into the dreaded sophomore album slump. With his second studio album, True to Self, Tiller returns with a collection of 19 tracks that blend R&B and hip-hop vocals, and trap music. Upon first hearing the record, I was left feeling rather confused, thinking that the album would either be hailed as a seminal work of genius or as an utter failure. Subsequent listens simply worked to deepen my sense of ambivalence.
From a production and musical standpoint, True to Self, is a well-executed work of hip-hop, ebbing and flowing organically throughout – from the atmospheric introduction and mellow vibes of Rain on Me (Intro), to the darker mood of Blowing Smoke and the latinesque rhythms of Run Me Dry – resulting in the album almost feeling like a single, hour-long song. Tiller’s vocal performance is consistently strong, whether he is rapping or singing in an R&B inspired fashion, with the only faults being the occasional overuse of effects on his voice.
So, with the production and performance being strong, only the lyrical content is left as the album’s Achilles’ heel. Early on, Tiller intones “I want to grow grey with you/Have a little baby with you” on Rain on Me (Intro), leading the listener to think that True to Self might have a more romantic bent to it. But, the album quickly devolves into a series of songs bragging about money and sexual prowess, while a theme of justifying infidelity runs throughout.
I don’t know if the lyrics are meant to be taken as autobiographical, or whether Tiller is singing from the perspective of a fictional character, but the poor rhyme structure – using the same words at the end of lines doesn’t really count as rhyming – and repetitive content, quickly wears thin, and by the end, it doesn’t feel as though Tiller is being ironic. As a collection of beats and samples, and as a showcase for Tiller’s voice, True to Self works well enough, but not so well as to make up for the weak lyrical content.