With a top 10 hit to his pen and a new album to his name, Jahron "PartyNextDoor" Braithwaite show no signs of being interested in settling for second-best.
Whether you like him or not, Drake and his music has had a distinct sound, feel, vibe or lane, whatever you want to call it. And when an artist who sound like him emerges (e.g. Kirko Bangz, Tory Lanez, Bryson Tiller), instantly Drake becomes measured against them as some sort of standard. People anticipate cosigns, bring up Drake as the gold standard that an artist has to equal or rival, or just badger them with derision for copying a previously established blueprint. The task at hand for one of these artists becomes to carve his own distinctive lane out within the parameters of someone else's sound, and thereby make it his own.
Such a task is what Jahron “PartyNextDoor” Brathwaite has been occupied with for a few years now. As soon as he emerged bearing the OVO seal of approval, PartyNextDoor was under a lot of scrutiny from the fans and critics alike. He rose to prominence at an interesting time; Drake and former collaborator Abel “The Weekend” Tesfaye had parted ways and seemingly Drake had gone and replaced him with another cryptically named singer from Toronto with stark production. Granted, whereas Abel had a collective team responsible for the origins of his signature sound, Party was a self-produced artist who sang, wrote his own lyrics, and created his beats.
No doubt an obvious student of the work Weeknd and Drake had done years prior, PartyNextDoor's material was indebted to their wave of saccharine Torontonian gloomcore, singing passionately about drugs (to a much lesser degree), strippers (to a slightly more specific degree) and numerous ex-lovers. It didn't take long for him to work his way into Drake's expanding circle of collaborating writers and producers and also gain an audience for himself. However, Jahron himself was also notably expanding his sound so while his first self-titled album felt very familiar to fans, the subsequent PartyNextDoor 2 would feature moody Carpenter-esque synths and smooth jazz sax, indicating a desire to expand the palette of him and his peers far beyond thudding drums, filters and a general aura of depression.
Now we have PartyNextDoor 3, the latest installment of his solo work, after Party's continued production and writing work alongside Drake for his last album and Jahron's biggest commercial success; writing and co-producing Rihanna's “Work”. By this point, Party has established himself as equally influential a collaborator/protege to Drake as perhaps even Weeknd, but is still rather restricted in audience. Possibly this may emerge as the reason why Jahron has displayed a growing influence of dancehall both sonically and in the emergence of his own patois. Of course, given Drake's already adapted this as a 'flavor' in public, it makes Party seem like the follower, however given his behind the scenes role in Drake's attempts at crossing these genre boundaries, it seems likely that this newfound Jamaican influence on the OVO camp may very well be as logical an accredit to Jahron as much as say his patron's fascination with Popcaan and other artists. Naturally, dancehall is a huge influence on P3 as well as other sources of inspiration such as trap, the last two decades of R&B and electronic music, making it a logical companion to the process that's fueled the work behind Views.
Much has been made of the production of Party's OVO associates and affiliates such as Boi-1da, Noah “40” Shebib, Jordan Ullman of Majid Jordan, or Nineteen85, and deservedly so. But Party's production has always stood out. P3 opener “High Hopes,” for example, takes snatches from 90s R&B records and warps them into something truly dark. Drake had already done something similar with his own “How About Now” where the brief Jodeci fragments sounded like a radio tuned into Elysium, while contenders such as Tory Lanez would take a familiar TV Theme on “All That” and drag it down into a thunderous oblivion. But here, the best comparison I could argue in urban music would be the low-fi basement clamor of Earl Sweatshirt's last album or even more harsh landscapes such as Ultravox's Ha!-Ha!-Ha! or The Cure's Pornography.
By the time Jahron's voice emerges, off-key and unhinged, you almost wonder if the intense work ethic behind Drake's camp has taken their toll on the sanity of some of these lads. For whatever reason, P3 appears to see him relinquish production credits to his OMO partners such as Neenyo, as well as familiar faces out of the OVO camp. But on the times he's credited such as the harsh-edged “Nobody” or the claustrophobic suspension in “Temptations”, you get the feel of someone really pushing the boundaries sonically in whatever labels this music is supposed to fall under, be it “R&B” or “Hip-Hop”. Braithwaite's sonic tricks could certainly impress a Trent Reznor or a Thom Yorke, let alone a Kanye West.
Yet its not simply the beats alone that have PartyNextDoor taking steps forward career-wise, but that aforementioned increase in stylistic versatility through the embrace of Dancehall. As much as Drake could very well be versed in dancehall (he is from a country whom once had Kardinal Offishal as one of their biggest stars prior to the rise of the Drakkonian empire), you get the feeling that Jahron being of actual Jamaican descent grants him just the slightest bit more comfort with synergism, the genre's tropes slipping effortlessly alongside his other fascinations.
“Not Nice” serves as a wounded pride companion to “Work”, while patois peppers “Don't Run” like a simmering zest beneath the shooting star synth-lines and “Only U” could easily edge onto the 'Tropical House' scene and bring a hint of real groove with its sense of poise and restraint. Meanwhile, tracks like “Nothing Easy to Please” has a grimy hip-hop drum like something out of the cutting room of an early Def Jam LP while the warped bells and plucked strings at the intro of “Brown Skin” feel like Coil awkwardly corralled into producing for Missy Elliot before coming to a healthy compromise. The adventurousness of P3 is such an exciting quality, not only for trying to comprehend how he works these songs out of such hostile environments, but in wondering how he can seem at home in almost anything. Just the thought of where he'll go with upcoming projects such as his rumored collaborative work with 808 Mafia expatriate TM88 or fellow R&B expansionist Jeremih is enough to leave a long-time fan famished with anticipation.
If there is a weakness however, its unfortunately something that Party just isn't going to fix too easily: his voice. His nasal murmur warbles and slurs much less than it'd once done on prior moments in the discography. and the occasions in which he employs overt auto-tune feels more a textural application than a crutch of necessity. Yet there are moments in which technology and practice cannot save him, such as the more daring vocal runs he attempts on “Don't Know How”, or the more incoherent moments on “1942”. Furthermore, while the songwriting abilities of PartyNextDoor feel strong at certain moments, a telling issue is the lack of variation in content when he returns to more familiar soundscapes.
In 2016, it seems a little more difficult to enjoy woeful isolation in the face of pretty girls, no matter how relevant it could stay. Whereas Drake's ego and Abel's perverse fantasies gave them a character and a subsequent depth, one's hard pressed to point out the lyrical qualities that make a PartyNextDoor project any different from his friends in the great white north.
Ultimately PartyNextDoor 3 is still another strong step forward for Braithwaite and suggests that his future still holds much more to accomplish. While he has yet to evolve and develop in some areas, otherwise he manages to ride the edges of his lane with such a wicked desire to experiment that he appears to be able to go where few of his so called 'fellow travelers' could manage or even feel comfortable doing. He has proven certainly that he's a useful co-conspirator for Drake and other artists, and quite honestly should anything dissuade him from his solo efforts, a future in behind the scenes songwriting/production would be far from a heartbreaking turn of events. But until that day comes, PartyNextDoor appears to be just as compelling, and in some ways even moreso, as the figures he's often held up to while dwelling in their shadow.