Tinashe has regained control over her career, and it shows on "Songs For You."
Tinashe finally, for the course of a full album, sounds like herself again. In the past five years, the R&B singer's released a handful of mixtapes, albums, and/or full-length projects somewhere in the nebulous region between "mixtape" and "album," and to be fair, they all contain glimpses of the strengths that Tinashe rode to success on her 2014 debut, Aquarius. The bedroom-recorded Amethyst showcases her ability to carry less grandiose music on the strength of her personality and voice. With tracks like "C'est La Vie" and "Soul Glitch," Nightride shows that she's capable of making music that's simultaneously dark, weird, and sexy. And last year's Joyride gave us a long-awaited re-up on the danceable pop prowess Tinashe showed on her breakout single, "2 On."
None of them, however, feel as deserving a follow-up to Aquarius as Songs For You does. On Tinashe's debut, she pulled music into her orbit. Eclectic vocalists (Schoolboy Q, Future, Devonté Hynes), producers (Boi-1da, Sango, Stargate, Evian Christ, Mike Will), and existing trends (ratchet, alt-R&B, cloud rap, chillwave) were all held together by Tinashe's singular presence, and that's exactly the case on Songs For You.
Plenty of the album falls under the category of "Tinashe type-beat"— not a complaint, mind you— with songs like "Life's Too Short," "Story Of Us," "Touch & Go," and "Know Better" inhabiting that same floaty, sensual space that acted as Tinashe's comfort zone early on in her career. But listen to how deftly she attacks the two dripped-out centerpieces that sound readymade for 2019 radio, "Cash Race" and "Link Up"— even though they sound like the work of, say, Wheezy and JetsonMade (in actuality, Hitmaka AKA Yung Berg made both), Tinashe bends them to her will and sounds unmistakably like herself. Elsewhere, she hints at what could've been had her pop potential been fully realized in 2015/2016, honing a distinctly Nothing Was the Same-era OVO sound to a degree that no one on that label (including Drake) has matched since. Those dancier moments, like "Save Room for Us" and "Perfect Crime," blend '80s sounds with chillwave textures and thumping beats in a Majid Jordan-esque way, and it's hard not to imagine the impact they would've had a few years ago.
I'm not necessarily saying that some songs on Songs For You have been sitting around for years (they probably haven't), but there's evidence that Tinashe left a ton of material on the cutting room floor during her past five years in label purgatory. In an interview with Vulture last year, she claimed to have worked on "probably 200 songs" for Joyride, which was first announced in September 2015 but didn't see the light of day until last April following years of false starts, botched singles, and delays. This February, Tinashe announced her departure from RCA, her label since 2012, and while she subsequently signed a management deal with Roc Nation, Songs For You is an independent release via her own Tinashe Music label. That, more so than any new collaborators, time elapsed, or flirtations with new sounds, is the biggest difference between this album and everything Tinashe released from 2015 to 2018.
While A&Rs can, in many cases, be instrumental in helping artists find their sounds and get in with the right collaborators, that clearly wasn't the case for Tinashe at RCA, at least post-Aquarius. In 2017, she revealed she often felt "an unspoken pressure to allow everyone else in the room to take the lead" during recording sessions, and that's obvious from a good deal of the singles that were originally planned for Joyride but never made it on the actual album. The first, "Party Favors," was almost universally regarded as the best of the bunch, but RCA removed it from Soundcloud days after its release, then took Young Thug off of it, refused promotion, and relegated it to Nightride. The singles the label did choose to promote ahead of Joyride, including "Player," "Flame," and "No Drama," usually featured a slapdash pairing with male talent, and universally failed to chart (all seven of them).
While Tinashe does at times on Songs For You prove that such head-scratching choices weren't entirely on the label (looking at the slightly goofy "Hopscotch" here), it's clear that she's got a better handle on her strengths nine out of 10 times. This album won't necessarily throw her back into the spotlight as effectively as a prompt, proper Aquarius follow-up would have, but Songs For You doesn't seem concerned with that. Instead, Tinashe's made something that her day-one fans can and (judging from early responses) do appreciate, and that's the first step in getting back all that wasted effort on incarnations of Joyride that the world would never hear. If you were ever worried about the fate of Tinashe's career, Songs For You should ease your mind and provide some bops while we eagerly await her next move.