Florida singer, rapper and producer blackbear has been quietly prolific, releasing four studio albums since 2015 and contributing production work to artists such as gnash and G-Eazy before catching the recognition of the general public with Digital Druglord. Here, blackbear focuses more on his singing voice, closely resembling Ty Dolla $ign with the lyrical content of The Weeknd, which he pairs with his own fresh and intoxicating take on alt-R&B production. This world of music is certainly becoming a crowded market, but the personality and humour blackbear infuses into his music and his dynamic instrumentals make him stand out from the rest.
blackbear rides the popular wave of moody alt-R&B music, but does so with a twist. There is more musical variation here, giving the impression of what might happen if Ty Dolla $ign got rid of his trap producers, became an EDM DJ and started producing his own music. Once you get past the first few tracks which are more representative of the popular sounds of the genre, blackbear lets the producer side of him run wild, replacing the minimalistic and creeping backgrounds that usually accompany his singing style. Instead, we receive gargantuan beats with a great sense of musicianship, complementing his harmonies well.
Lesser known rapper 24Hrs appears on “moodz”, fitting in with blackbear’s laid-back and matter of fact style much better than Juicy J’s appearance on “juicy sweatsuits”, where he adopts a Migos flow which would be more appropriate for a poppier track.
blackbear’s lyrics are clearly influenced by the nihilistic debauchery that artists such as The Weeknd indulge in, but for some reason, the way blackbear presents them makes them more believable and endearing. His lyrics are blunter, more specific, and that often makes them funnier. “do re mi”, the lead single, makes a clever twist on blackbear’s ascension of a musical scale – “I wrote a little song for ya, it go like do, re, mi, fa, so f**kin’ done with you”, he sings.
However, the true strength of this album lies in its production. Done almost singlehandedly by blackbear himself, he tweaks the typical slow and moody formula for a more hip-hop and electronic influenced sound. Outside of some of the more generic tracks at the album’s beginning, blackbear’s melisma and runs while crooning about his woes with the opposite sex are juxtaposed with dramatic synth stabs and complex, EDM-style rhythms, usually with a more prominent drumbeat featuring hip-hop hi-hats and 808 bass. blackbear’s voice is serviceable, but the greatest songs on here stand out due to his producer’s ear for great melodies layered on the innovative backdrop.
“i miss the old u” drops into an outstanding chorus elaborating on a running catchy piano loop, with a huge synth drop and blackbear’s jubilant melody repeating the song’s title on top. The album’s second half continues the production hot streak on every song, and the combination of constantly surprising and danceable synth beats and hilariously crude lyrics make Digital Druglord a winner – “Just used my last one percent to text you, that s**t wasn’t worth it”, he sings on “wish u the best”. “chateau” is another great track, the synths battering the listener endlessly as blackbear screams “No love no love no love” during the chorus.
blackbear can go overboard with his singing sometimes, in the rare occasion he attempts to overpower his complex production work. On “juicy sweatuits” he makes his greatest effort to display his singing voice, with complicated R&B vocal runs that he never quite hits perfectly. In addition, the two opening tracks “hell is where i dreamt of u and woke up alone” and “moodz” are a little generic and underwritten in the context of the rest of the album, sounding more like a Ty Dolla $ign clone than a unique and exciting new artist. This doesn’t really make sense to me, seeing as he chose one of his more experimental songs, “do re mi”, as his single.
Digital Druglord is another exhilarating trip down the pathway of blending genres that sound like they should never belong together to a surprising degree of success. blackbear’s hitmaking ability was revealed on his co-writing credit on Justin Bieber’s smash hit “Boyfriend”, and his musicality is clearly there. The future is looking bright.
Favourite Tracks: chateau, i miss the old u, wish u the best, do re mi, make daddy proud
Least Favourite Track: moodz