Blood Orange | Snotty Nose Rez Kids

Exclaim! - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Ian Gormely

I’ VE AL­WAYS BE­LIEVED THAT JUST BE­CAUSE SOME­ONE WRITES THE SONG, they’re not the one who fin­ishes it,” says Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange, “or [is] even nec­es­sar­ily the best per­son to in­ter­pret it.”

A unique point of view, such a phi­los­o­phy can have rad­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions in the hands of an artist like Hynes, whose best work thrives on col­lab­o­ra­tion. Like his pre­vi­ous two records, his lat­est, Negro Swan, is over­flow­ing with guests: A$AP Rocky, Porches’ Aaron Maine, Adam Bain­bridge (aka Kind­ness), Tei Shi and even Puff Daddy all make ap­pear­ances.

In­stead of task­ing each with ful­fill­ing his vi­sion, Hynes cedes con­trol to his col­lab­o­ra­tors, al­low­ing them to in­ter­pret the song for them­selves, of­ten tak­ing tracks in rad­i­cally new di­rec­tions. “I’m not nec­es­sar­ily the cre­ator or the fi­nal­izer,” he in­sists, just the glue hold­ing the whole thing to­gether. “Ev­ery­one that I try and work with kind of shifts ev­ery­thing. They bring to it more than what I’m giv­ing.”

Case in point: while work­ing on the track “Run­nin’,” which Hynes in­tended as a song about de­pres­sion and sui­cide, Ge­or­gia Anne Muldrow added the lyrics, “You’re go­ing to be okay. Every­body goes through it.” “That com­pletely shifts the tonal­ity of the song and I didn’t get that,” he says. “So I can’t even take credit for the mean­ing of that song, be­cause she’s the one who took it to that place.”

That will­ing­ness to give up con­trol ex­tends to the au­di­ence as well. “I know what I was think­ing when I was writ­ing it and ev­ery­thing,” he ex­plains, “but I also went out of my way to write things that could be taken by any per­son.” He uses the line “No one wants to be the negro swan,” from “Char­coal Baby,” as an ex­am­ple. “Ev­ery way that any­one wants to in­ter­pret that line is cor­rect. It’s all ap­pli­ca­ble.”

Yet Hynes is far less will­ing to ac­qui­esce when it comes to the pre­sen­ta­tion of his mu­sic. If he had his way, au­di­ences would go into each of his records blind, with­out con­text from press re­leases or sin­gles. “As a fan of things, I like ex­pe­ri­enc­ing things that way,” he says. “But I’m not al­lowed to do that.”

He re­lented and re­leased a pair of videos last month, di­rect­ing the clip for “Jew­elry,” a song he says “hits all four cor­ners of the al­bum,” him­self (the al­bum’s cover image, a black man hang­ing out a car win­dow wear­ing white an­gel wings, came from same shoot). But a press re­lease de­scrib­ing the record as “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,” ac­com­pa­nied the al­bum’s an­nounce­ment, much to his cha­grin.

Hynes doesn’t deny that those themes are present, “but I wouldn’t say that it’s an al­bum about de­pres­sion, be­cause there were other things that were on my mind too.” By is­su­ing a quote like that, “it looks like it’s some kind of procla­ma­tion. That’s against why I do what I do.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s an al­bum about de­pres­sion. Other things were on my mind too.”

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