Tinashe’s ‘Joyride’ Is Darkly Precocious, Inky R&B That Finds A Balance With Her Pop Tendencies

RCA Records

2 On” may have been a fluke, but it was a fluke that worked out in strange and unexpected ways for Tinashe.

Until the release of Aquarius, the Los Angeles native singer had always dwelled in murkier sonic waters. She was fond of dark storytelling and haunting, downtempo ballads on her self-produced mixtapes. Sharply departing from the dance-pop of her previous girl group The Stunners, her mid-career work drew comparisons to Jhene Aiko and The Weeknd, enlisting the production of hip-hop beatmakers like Boi-1da, Best Kept Secret, and the eclectic Dev Hynes.

However, mainstream exposure eluded her until the label-induced, DJ Mustard-produced experiment in blending West Coast ratchet party hip-hop with poppy R&B, resulting in a runaway smash whose success was only accelerated by a remix from Drake, who poured gasoline on its fast-burning flame. Suddenly, Tinashe was a pop commodity, but her inclination toward inky, introspective themes grated against her newfound audience’s preference for the turn-up, which left her to flounder in search of a way to repeat the success of “2 On.”

In the meantime, her complaints about her reception in the public’s eye didn’t go over well at all, putting her in the unenviable position of trying to win over a fanbase she wasn’t sure she even wanted in the first place, that she’d only happened on by accident. Further attempts at crossover pop success were poorly received, thanks at least in part to a schizophrenic presentation that couldn’t decide whether she was the Tumblr art chick she’d been on earlier efforts or the dance-pop princess she’d worked so hard to bury with them.

With Joyride, delayed for over a year due to politics and those stalled-out singles, Tinashe finally finds some semblance of balance between the dueling impulses to create for herself versus creating for fans of her upbeat singles like “2 On” and “All Hands On Deck.” It doesn’t always hold together, but it does a better job of presenting the two sides of the dualistic singer than anything she’s done since Aquarius.

First off, it addresses the problem of bloat that bogged down Nightride by stripping down the tracklist and speeding up the proceedings. With only 11 songs and two (awkward, skippable) intermissions, the album breezes along at a brisk clip. With less fat to chew, she’s forced to get right to the point. While the self-titled lead-off track starts off on an awkward step, it’s probably the most developed song on the album, eventually transforming from post-apocalyptic robo-pop to an optimistic symphony. It almost works as a metaphor for Tinashe’s career so far.