Blood Orange – Negro Swan


Title: Negro Swan
Artist: Blood Orange
Label: Domino
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: August 24, 2018


Negro Swan, British singer-songwriter Devonté Hynes’ fourth studio album under the moniker Blood Orange, follows Hynes’ stream of consciousness as he explores blackness, gender and sexuality, mental illness, and queerness. In a press release for Domino Records, Hynes said his newest album “is an exploration into my own and many types of black depression, an honest look at the corners of black existence, and the ongoing anxieties of queer/people of color.  A reach back into childhood and modern traumas, and the things we do to get through it all.”

Hynes uses two tracks, “Orlando” and “Dagenham Dream,” to detail his experience of being bullied for being a queer black child in Essex, England. For example, the opening track “Orlando” includes the verse: “Walked these steps before / sixteen-year-old boy / to feel so numb that it’s deafening, walls’ll give in / after school, sucker punched down / down and out.” This verse is followed by his simple, yet weighty chorus, “First kiss was the floor.” However, there are other songs on the album that certainly celebrate the joy and beauty found in black and queer life, such as “Hope,” “Charcoal Baby,” “Jewelry,” and “Family.”

On “Family,” Hynes features writer, television host, and transgender rights activist Janet Mock. Mock adds the intro and outro portions of many of the album’s songs, but on “Family” she speaks for the entirety of the track. These voiceovers came from an interview Hynes set up with Mock in New York while he was mixing the album. He explained the process to Pitchfork’s Eric Torres: “I had the [Negro Swan] book and I was playing her stuff and talking about it, and I just pressed record. I didn’t know if it would just be one moment or whatever, but we spoke the whole time, and she would write her thoughts in the book, and just say them out loud. It’s funny, [Janet] didn’t record to any music. So she still hasn’t heard what her voice does. I need to send [the album] to her.”

In addition to Mock, Negro Swan features a number of guest artists. On “Hope,” Puff Daddy raps on the first verse, chorus, and interlude along with Tei Shi (Valerie Teicher), a Colombian-Canadian singer songwriter. On “Chewing Gum,” Harlem based hip hop artist ASAP Rocky (Rakim Mayers) and Memphis-based artist Project Pat (Patrick Houston) lend their talents. “Runnin” features jazz and soul artist Georgia Anne Muldrow, while “Out of Your League” showcases Steve Lacy from the Grammy-nominated R&B band the Internet. “Holy Will” was co-penned with gospel artist and lead singer of the Clark Sisters, Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark-Terrel, and makes use of the Clark Sisters’ song, “Center of Thy Will.”

In the press release, Hynes reminds us that the “underlying thread through each piece on the album is the idea of HOPE and the lights we can try to turn on within ourselves, with a hopefully positive outcome of helping others out of their darkness.” This expression of hope is heard within the final words of the closing track “Smoke,” as Hynes’ sings “The Sun comes in, my heart fulfills within.” After listening to Negro Swan, the introspective fourth album from Blood Orange, the listener is sure to feel the same.

Reviewed by Kennedi Johnson