Sevyn Streeter does not have much left to prove. Since landing her first record deal as a teenager, she’s toured with Beyoncé, scored a gold record, and gently curved Justin Bieber in her dms. For more than 16 years, Streeter’s musical brilliance has been used to craft pop singles for artists such as Chris Brown, Tamar Braxton, Brandy, Alicia Keys, Ariana Grande, and Kelly Rowland, but on her first solo album,
Girl Disrupted, she turns the attention back to herself.
“Livin,” the introductory track, explains the significance of the album’s title: “I came across this title, Girl Disrupted, and I loved it so much but little did I know that that shit was actually going to happen to me in life for real.” Drifting from a background echo until it overtakes the foreground of the track, she discloses, “I suffer with depression.”
From the outset, Streeter is up-front and personal about the conditions under which she recorded Girl Disrupted. Between the announcement of her album in 2015 and its eventual release, Streeter was steered off course by depression, the death of her grandfather, and a highly public breakup with rapper B.O.B.
While these circumstances are unique to Streeter, the predicament is not; lately numerous albums have honed in on the pressure to be a productive artist regardless of personal turbulence. From SZA and Kehlani to Solange and Jhené Aiko, female vocalists are reviving r&b as a therapeutic space to heal from a destructive pop industry. The reprise of rhythmic soliloquy gives way to first-person narratives, confessionals, and self-reflection, cutting through taboo and stigma around depression and trauma.
Beyond the first song, the rest of the album is not explicitly tied to depression. Instead, it is concerned with the aftermath. Her lyrics focus on finding stability after having a world rocked by depression. “How do I address the present situation?” Streeter asks on “Present Situation,” conflicted about how to move forward in a murky relationship. Longing for loyalty on “Before I Do,” and demanding freedom from deceit on “Translation,” she seeks clarity and reassurance from those around her, perhaps to grapple with a newfound perspective on life’s overwhelming lack of certitude. But just as frequently as she makes an ask of the world, she turns the questioning inward, such as the way “Present Situation” arrives at the candid conclusion, “And I can’t lie, I love it/ I can’t lie, I love it/ It ain’t right, I love it/ I wouldn’t have chose this life, but I love it.”
But for an album largely about communicating, it is not really that wordy—the true strength of the album is in her choice
in collaborators and beats. Recruiting an impressive crew of guest features, including The-dream, Wiz Khalifa, Ty Dolla $ign, Dave East, August Alsina, Jeremih, Cam Wallace, and Dej Loaf, Streeter shows the strength in community and collaboration to carry out a project. Primarily sticking to the wellsprings of r&b, Streeter reworks the hooks, drum loops, and symphonic samples from the past for her present musical moment. On “Before I Do,” Streeter pays homage to Aaliyah by sampling “At Your Best (You Are Love)”; “Anything” draws on the hook from the Wu-tang Clan’s 1994 single of the same name; and the lyrics of “Ol Skool” reference the golden eras of hip hop and r&b. Meanwhile, “My Love For You” samples MXXWLL’S “4U” and references contemporary social-media moments such as the Bow Wow challenge.
Preoccupied with the past and its relevance for the present, Girl Disrupted seems dated. Despite the range of sounds from angelic, sensual ballads to pregame thirst traps, the album is predictable. It emphasizes radioready singles at the expense of securing longevity. A few experimental accents outside of the realm of mainstream hit-making would have positioned Streeter as an artist who disrupts the status quo. RATING: