Last April, Louisville, Kentucky singer-rapper Bryson Tiller achieved quite a feat. After less than fortunate first-week sales (22,000), his debut album T R A P S O U L was certified platinum just six months later. It was a charming debut to say the least. “Don’t” is easily one of my favorite recent R&B cuts. Matched with solid supporting singles “Exchange” and “Sorry Not Sorry,” the overnight smash hit propelled Tiller into the national spotlight. His rookie offering helped define the sing-talk trend that has swept contemporary R&B. With no features and a couple signature songs to his name, I thought Bryson Tiller had an incredibly bright future. Awe-inspiring vocals are not his strength; that is not his fault. Tiller’s dual-threat appeal is not the most impressive in the R&B/rap game but it typically suffices. As long as compelling songwriting is present, that is.
Sadly, on this 19-track follow-up, the self-proclaimed “Pen Griffey” fails to write one decent hit. True to Self had little to zero expectations from me. Truthfully, I have listened through this project four times, and I will never listen to it again. Is it really that bad? Yes. And I’ll tell you why. Across nearly 20 songs, Tiller never once sounds passionate or purposeful. I fully understand his vocal range is limited. However, there is no excuse for this amount of monotonous singing. None of these tracks feel like they are a piece of the Kentuckian’s survival. Making music sounds more like a hobby than anything else here. That is painfully evident via the repetitious lyrical topics and lifeless penmanship that infect this album. The aesthetic heard throughout is overly moody and dreary, forcing listeners to deal with his petty pretty-boy problems. Thanks, but no thanks.
True to Self couldn’t be more inaccurate. This sophomore slump tries its hardest to emulate Drake’s years-expired steez. The backing synth on the “Rain on Me” intro is an uncredited rip from Drizzy’s “Brand New” ballad. Additionally, “Run Me Dry” sounds like a C-side dug out of Drake’s recycle bin. The 90’s R&B sample-heavy vibe screams imitation. The production here is so similar most of the time that practically every track runs into its counterparts. If you didn’t zone out at least ten times listening to this, I applaud you. I could deal with Tiller’s abysmally boring vocals, again, if he showcased any kind of inventive songwriting. Rhyming “nigga” with “nigga,” even if the preceding word or two coincide, is excruciatingly simple. He does this on multiple songs, by the way.
Bryson’s ability to stay in the same vocal tone for 58 consecutive minutes astounded me. There is nothing exciting, convincingly regretful, or personally significant on this album. Harley, his soon-to-be four year-old daughter, is featured on the album’s cover. The act is thoughtful. It would have consequential value, though, if there were a corresponding song dedicated to her. Tiller mentions her two or three times along these 19 tracks with no touching ballad or cute interlude in sight. I’m not saying he doesn’t love her unconditionally. All this tells me is that True to Self doesn’t seem to mean much to the Louisville native. These songs are dreadfully uninspired, stagnating his once promising trajectory. Perhaps 18 months isn’t enough time to make a hit. Perhaps making hits isn’t a top priority. Either way, flat vocals and a limp pen foreshadow Bryson Tiller as the next August Alsina.