Rapidly rising R&B vocalist Bryson Tiller surprise drops the follow-up to the wildly successful debut T R A P S O U L a few weeks earlier than anticipated, following more or less the same formula as he did before. Much like T R A P S O U L, True To Self is full of 90s R&B and hip-hop samples, no features, and woozy, laid-back delivery over some lower-key trap instrumentals. Extending to 19 tracks, True To Self ultimately comes across as T R A P S O U L‘s much less innovative cousin, full of filler tracks and using the same tried-and-true formula that isn’t as groundbreaking as it once was. There are still moments when Tiller exhibits flashes of the genuine star power that catapulted him to widespread recognition so quickly, but for the most part True To Self is bland and uninspired.
There is not a wealth of recognizable names contributing to this project, which is surprising considering the strength of the instrumentals. The lack of songwriting help certainly shows, however. Established producers like Boi-1da and T-Minus appear here in limited roles, while the 20-year old Wondagurl continues her strong work on “Blowing Smoke”. The tone of the album is made clear with a quick glance at the sample credits. While I’m usually a fan of samples, they are not incredibly prevalent or flipped in a new way here. Having such a heavy reliance on popular sounds of 90s R&B for a second straight time fails to show much creativity on Tiller’s part.
On a 19-track album of songs that begin to sound largely indistinguishable from one another, any deviation from the norm stands out more. Tiller’s decision to rap on a select few tracks here actually brings out some of the better moments of the album, as we finally get something to break up the endless string of Great Value Drake passive-aggressive moody R&B tracks. The instrumentals are definitely the greatest aspect of the album, and many of these trap beats are better geared to energetic rap bars anyhow.
Tiller stated that he restarted his entire album in order to build around the work of relatively unknown producer NES, and he does contribute some of the greatest beats here. It’s getting increasingly difficult to sound innovative making trap beats, but he manages to do it here. “Self-Made” is easily the album’s best, featuring a cascading chime instrumental complementing a trap beat that would make Future double-take. Tiller only had to drop a single quotable on the chorus and I was completely sold just on the strength of the beat. And although the Caribbean-infused “Run Me Dry” is even more of a blatant Drake rip-off than Tiller’s moody musings, it’s at least something different.
Tiller does almost nothing here to distinguish himself from the many artists who are making very similar music to him at the moment, and his passive delivery just asks for the album to be relegated to background music at some social function. A good trap beat and a serviceable voice can only take you so far on an album of this scale. There are very few tracks on this album I could honestly describe or name something distinctive about, and I’ve listened to it a few times now. This is a pretty rare occurrence, and this is very forgettable music.
Tiller’s insistence on a lack of features hurts the album as well — some people can pull it off, but collaborations were needed to break up the monotony a bit here. Tiller’s moody and detached lyrics about relationships begin to stretch thin as well, drawing comparisons to his peers and repeating the same tropes a few times over the course of the album. He takes primary writing credit on every song here, and for the most part you can tell. Tiller uses my least favourite current trend in popular music a few times here as well, desiring pity from his listeners as he lists the struggles of being famous. When he begins to complain about the spectacular women he meets distracting him from being able to finish his album on time on “In Check”, the image Tiller presents of the relatable, normal guy who made it big begins to crumble apart.
Ultimately, in a world quickly becoming oversaturated with moody R&B vocalists begging to be signed to Drake’s XO label, there is no reason to revisit this project a few years, or even a few months down the road. T R A P S O U L worked because it was a breath of fresh air. Now that some more talented people have hopped on the same trend, Tiller needs to start a new one.
Favourite Tracks: Self-Made, Run Me Dry, Money Problems/Benz Truck
Least Favourite Track: Somethin Tells Me