Only a handful of moments in music are more memorable for me than when I heard The Internet for the first time. The Odd Future-affiliate neo-soul band’s Grammy-nominated album Ego Death made me hate myself for not hearing their work sooner. “Syd tha Kyd” Bennett and her angelic lead vocals caress the ear while being backed by beautifully arranged instrumentation from bandmates Matt Martians (whose solo debut The Drum Chord Theory released back on January 26th), Steve Lacy, Jameel Bruner, Patrick Paige, and Christopher Smith. Although the band indeed has ties to Tyler, The Creator’s hip-hop conglomerate, on Ego Death The Internet sound more like a distant cousin than a younger sibling similar to Frank Ocean’s association with the group. Going into this album, my expectations were high, but not sky high seeing as Fin is Syd’s first time going stag. The title of the album made me wonder what message this release was meant to convey. On one hand, the term “fin” in Spanish means “the end” or the conclusion of something; on the other, this is her debut effort. Despite these opposing ideas, Syd’s end results are momentous whether this is one of many solo endeavors or simply a career pit stop.
Fin kicks off with the Hit-Boy-produced (of “Niggas in Paris,” “Clique,” and “Backseat Freestyle” fame) “Shake ‘Em Off”. It serves as a dutiful opener for the album as Syd’s nonchalant confidence takes center stage, setting the tone for the cohesive array of tunes that follows. A clear nod to her childhood idols appears early in the track list with Aaliyah-influenced “Know”. This new-millennium pop anthem depicts a confidential rendezvous between two taken lovers. As a frequent songwriting collaborator for The Internet, producer Nick Green taps into Timbaland’s prophetic, breezy production style from the late 1990’s to reiterate its timeless groove. Because of Green’s heavy involvement in both The Internet and Syd’s discography, their synergy places a consistent and signature touch on Fin‘s sonic atmosphere. It can be argued that the six tracks co-written by Green embody this album’s blueprint. But that isn’t to say that Sydney Bennett cannot write a great song on her own.
“Smile More” is literally and figuratively this project’s centerpiece. Its lyrics are fluently connective and intimate. Although its seduction does entice one to sing along, the delicate passion felt through Syd’s vocal performance, especially in its opening verse, is the perfect soundtrack for an afternoon daydream or 4 a.m. wake-up sex. Additionally, Syd handles production duties on a fourth of the album, though one of those all-inclusive works is less than 75 seconds. However, its length somehow fits into the flow of the album as standout “Nothin to Somethin” makes its way to the plate and proceeds to knock it out of the park. If this album is your first time hearing Syd or if you’ve never listened to The Internet previously, you’ll notice her unique lyrical perspective. As a gay woman in the mainstream, Bennett joins a short list of singers in the national spotlight who openly make music that focuses on the same sex. How she differs from artists like Katy Perry (“I Kissed a Girl”), Rihanna (“Te Amo”), and Kehlani (“First Position”; “Distraction” etc.) is that she does not sing from a bisexual point of view even though there is a duet with breakout Atlanta crooner 6LACK on this album.
Syd’s heavenly voice, lovable swagger, and mature poise she presents here is quite impressive to say the least for the 24-year-old, award-deserving vocalist. Having said all that, Fin is the first essential mainstream listen of 2017 (although people are raving about the new Sampha record). This album is not perfect by any means, but there is a little something here for everyone who enjoys any kind of pop, hip-hop, or R&B music. If I had to say one negative thing about Fin, it would be that there is not much introspection outside of the album closer, “Insecurities”. Produced by Rahki, a key contributor to the last two full-length Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul albums as well as Eminem’s Recovery, this finale features soulful percussion and background vocalists that provide a gentle hammock for Syd’s honest and triumphant decision to split from a toxic relationship. More of that level of storytelling could have placed this album atop the contemporary R&B totem pole. Regardless, Fin has more than enough peaks to satisfy even the pickiest of listeners.