By D.A. Dellechiaie
BU News Service
blackbear is cool. He’s not cool like your baby boomer parents think Neil Diamond is cool. blackbear is the “new cool.” New cool artists (such as Childish Gambino, The Weeknd, and, arguably, Post Malone) are using the formulas of pop music but adding their own idiosyncrasies and genius. In short, they get radio play time and don’t make me scream “make it stop!”
You may not have seen the name blackbear before, but you have probably heard him. He’s worked with Childish Gambino, G-Eazy, Linkin Park, Pharrell Williams and co-wrote Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend.” But to make up for that last sin against humanity, he has been releasing consistently amazing music for the last three years.
On Nov. 27 (his 27th birthday) he released his fourth studio album, “cybersex.”
If Soulja Boy wanted to kiss your girl through the phone, blackbear will steal and marry your girl through your speakers.
“cybersex” is different from his previous three albums, EPs and mixtapes. At times it is a tongue—with an acid tab on it—in cheek rap album, but like most great artists, he doesn’t fit into conventional boxes. blackbear’s style is sometimes referred to as R&B, but in reality, it is a combination of rap, R&B, soft rock, electronic, ambient, trap and pop music. He’s a collage maker. He’s more Logic than Brian Eno.
His style is deceptively simple like e.e. cumming’s poetry (as a literary nerd, I’d love to know if blackbear’s recent lowercase spelling obsession is an homage to the poet). With as few layers and beats as possible, blackbear manages to create an impressive song.
Most rappers want to us to look up at them. They want to be your idols. They want you to copy them—and buy their overpriced clothing line. blackbear makes you feel like you are next to him. blackbear lets you sit next to him and have a beer.
2Chainz, T-Pain, Rick Ross, Ne-Yo and Riff-Raff all make appearances. However, these artists don’t take over the song. blackbear’s attitude with features is similar to Kanye’s: You have to fit in with my ideas or else you won’t be on the track.
When you first listen to “cybersex,” it seems that the album is structured like Bob Dylan’s “Bringing It All Back Home” (i.e. half the album for the purist fans and the other half for new artistic expression). But when you listen closely, blackbear’s album is full of emotional and artistic peaks and valleys.
“cybersex” is first and foremost a drug-fueled odyssey, much like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” but with fewer bats and more cocaine. A lot more cocaine. There is a Pablo Escobar amount of cocaine on this album. The cocaine and liquor transform blackbear from a white R&B singer into a hedonistic ubermensch. The first three tracks—“gucci linen,” “bright pink tims,” and “playboy shit”—are unapologetic party tracks full of bass and beat drops.
As he indulges in some more substances, the product is “up in this” (with Tinashe, who sounds shockingly similar to Rihanna). But the drugs and alcohol cause voice distortion in the form of electronic slurring. The intoxication comes back in “down 4 u,” “glo_up,” and “canday apple.”
From this point on, the tracks are both emotional and borderline parodic. I couldn’t tell if blackbear is trying to make fun of pop music and celebrity culture or was just falling in line with the cliches.
“anxiety” is a sad song that is reminiscent of the pop trash group known as The Chainsmokers. “thursday/froze over” is a chill interlude about blackbear adding himself to the modern pop music sexual hall of fame with a small tinge of regret.
Songs like “thursday/froze over,” “g2g ttyl,” and “top priority” continue the eternal debate about whether a rock star should settle down with their true love or embrace the here and now. Usually artists choose the chauvinistic answer—I can have anyone but my love belongs to me.
blackbear’s answer? You are going to think about the other girls when you are cuffed and you are going to think about the girl when you are on the hedonistic rollercoaster.
“i hope your life sux” is a beautiful song that is a frank and depressing reflection on his life, and “santa monica & la brea” closes the album with an almost suicidal declaration of love. blackbear worries about the finite nature of existence and realizes the answer is love like a true romantic. Every night together could be the last, so why not make every night the best?
“cybersex” could be blackbear’s “In Utero.” Whether or not the album’s extreme drug use, depressed undertones and release date (his 27th birthday) are the opening paragraphs of a suicide letter or a call for help, “cybersex” is a reassuring reminder that good music isn’t dead.