The path to R&B artist Brent Faiyaz being able to score a six-figure first week debut while still being an independent artist is rather impressive – taking his time between studio albums after dropping his debut back in 2017, Faiyaz has been steadily building a dedicated fanbase through a series of EPs and featuring alongside some of the biggest names in hip-hop including Kanye, Drake and Tyler, the Creator. Although Tyler appears on the guest list here, Faiyaz continues to settle into a musical niche somewhere in between the aforementioned 6 God and his former labelmate The Weeknd in terms of his delivery and somber, creeping instrumental palates. WASTELAND, perhaps appropriately, is a highly sparse album from a sonic perspective as Faiyaz implores listeners through a couple of skits to focus in on his storytelling and lyricism, the overarching concept seemingly about embracing the corruption of a nihilistic Hollywood lifestyle and what your vices can do for you. Unfortunately, it mostly makes him come across as one of the most unlikeable narrators you’ll find this year – and there’s not much excitement or novelty in the music to back it up.
The first song in an interlude-heavy opening run of tracks is “LOOSE CHANGE,” a percussion-free track that certainly needed some to center the distorted violin stabs and smooth yet self-indulgent Weeknd-style crooning on display. The track feels just as empty as the persona that Faiyaz is trying to convey, with some off-putting layered harmonies, a stilted staccato chorus and an out-of-placed pitched-down and halfhearted rap verse that eventually culminates in Faiyaz admitting that he considers committing physical violence when a relationship isn’t going to his liking. It’s a preview of just how horrible he comes off in the skits – one of which spans over 5 minutes – as Faiyaz drives a pregnant partner to suicidal ideation through a series of lies and infidelities all while seeming like he’s boastful and amused about the fact that his superstar status drives women crazy over him in response. The track “GRAVITY” features a catchy guitar riff from Steve Lacy as he brings his vintage energy to the table, but even with a better instrumental Faiyaz is allergic to a song that doesn’t meander. The central chorus is great on its own, but it often feels like Faiyaz loses his train of thought and goes off on tangents that the instrumentals happily follow. Tyler, the Creator’s verse is wasted, literally getting cut off. In a lot of ways, Faiyaz’s overtly vulgar lyrics and suffering from success message feels a lot like old school Weeknd without the charisma, a sound that became revolutionary but is now highly played out. Single “ALL MINE” is similarly low-energy from a vocal standpoint, without much more than a single, plodding synth tone driving things.
The track “PRICE OF FAME” spans six minutes in length and kicks off a run of four where the only time Faiyaz saw fit to add some percussion is when Drake stopped by the studio. Faiyaz’s vocal talent is impressive, though not spectacular, and his lyricism is truly subpar, so this isn’t anywhere close to a Frank Ocean Blonde situation where it works. With a pitched-down vocal filter that makes it seem like Faiyaz just woke up and is yawning through his studio session than usual, the layered harmonies sound like a sludge and the 2nd half is built off of a repetitive 2-bar loop that should send him back to Dreamland. “GHETTO GATSBY” takes it further as it hilariously includes sounds of Faiyaz tapping objects, sighing and flapping his lips in the background like he’s waiting for his own song to be over. Alicia Keys appears, strangely, for a rap verse, but at least she brings some much-needed personality. Even Drake sounds fired-up and passionate in comparison to Faiyaz, odd fixation on chess aside. His track, “WASTING TIME” features Pharrell on the beat doing his best, but it’s almost as if Faiyaz doesn’t want to appear like he’s actually trying to do anything, hoping for a perception that improvisation and vibes are carrying him through and scaling himself back if anything too structured comes his way.
“ROLLING STONE” might be the lowest of the low when it comes to boring tracks, hilariously sounding like a stripped-back version of Miguel’s “Sky Walker” at times and building to a truly unearned falsetto chorus. “FYTB” acts as a bit of a transition between the sleep-inducing run and a slightly improved set of tracks in the back half, as Faiyaz keeps with his old ways but featured rapper Joony appears, sounding like he belongs on a different song with a jarring beat switch to a more involved trap banger. “DEAD MAN WALKING” is nearly two years old at this point, but Faiyaz certainly brings a little more confidence and charisma to the table with a more memorable chorus despite some weird rhythmic discrepancies and a muddy mix on the harmonies persisting. The track “ADDICTIONS” might be the catchiest of the bunch, and despite some of the worst lyrics on the project in terms of both cheese and whininess, the old-school boom-bap beat and a solid verse from Tre’ Amani elevate things.
While Faiyaz takes quite a bit from The Weeknd here, the track “ROLE MODEL” stands out for resembling a little more of the modern-day Abel, with a big 80s-inspired stomp-clap beat and some neon-coloured synths in the back. Faiyaz’s vocals get a little more versatile as he drops down into a menacing lower register and navigates around the busier percussion loops well, despite a pretty tasteless Jimi Hendrix reference. The tracks “JACKIE BROWN” and “BAD LUCK” revert back to becoming little more than background music despite the improved instrumentals in the back half – the former’s voice pitching once again detracts from the overall sound and the latter runs into familiar problems with layering and harmonies. The track “ANGEL” serves as the culmination of the irritating narrative on display as Faiyaz expresses regret for his disastrous actions, but at the very least he does it with the project’s most impressive vocal performance.
It’s always interesting just how many artists there are that always deliver fantastic features, but struggle when it comes to their own material. You can add Brent Faiyaz to the list. Ultimately, it just shows that there’s a lot of talent on display that shines when used in the right way, and a better understanding of the artist’s strengths in the future might result in something a lot better.
Favourite Tracks: ROLE MODEL, ANGEL, GRAVITY
Least Favourite Track: ROLLING STONE