"Nightride" is the latest mixtape by R&B songstress Tinashe, in anticipation of her eventual sophomore album. It sounds like she's saved the hits for "Joyride," though "Nightride," free of constraints, is a showcase of her far-reaching skillset.
Tinashe's Aquarius, released over two years ago, stands as one of the most inspiring debut albums of the past few years, and it did well to cement singer/songwriter's place as one of the most promising rising artists in R&B. As the album balanced the more left-field realms of R&B and clubby pop sounds with relative ease, it was a daring record that played with convention and experimentation in a rarely effective manner. However, after a brief stop-gap mixtape (2015’s slight but satisfying Amethyst), Tinashe's singles have been met with surprisingly muted reception. Earlier this month, though fans were expecting her to release her long-awaited LP, Joyride, she dropped a surprise pre-release mixtape entitled Nightride to close out a bewildering 2016.
A few of the records on Nightride, including "Party Favors," "Ride of Your Life," and "Company," are previously released singles, so the implication is that RCA didn't deem these songs ‘strong’ enough for Joyride, considering their lack of chart impact. On “Party Favors,” Tinashe seems to slither through a drug-corroded haze, sounding at times over the moon but also burnt out like a zapped bug. But for all of the delightfully creepy basement production from Canadian collaborators Boi-1da and Illangelo, unmistakably missing is the springy boost that Young Thug had given the original single with his guest verse and ad-libbing. “Company” stands out for its oddball 8-bit edge, but the record, composed by The-Dream, doesn’t seem anchored toward Tinashe’s strengths. However, the Metro Boomin-produced “Ride Of Your Life” strikes a hybrid of trap, R&B, and dancehall that Rihanna’s camp would’ve been eager to snatch up as a low-key follow-up to “Work." The knowledge that these are potentially Joyride "rejects" implies that Tinashe's debut album will be stacked with songs with even more hit potential, though what does it say about the quality about the rest of the material on Nightride?
The mixtape opener, “Lucid Dreaming,” would have fit nicely on Aquarius with its foggy production. But the jazzy tinges of “Sunburn," both in Tinashe’s singing as well as the sampling of Dpat, make for an arrangement that sounds like Knxwledge got his hands on a vaulted Aaliyah demo. The gloomy edge of yet another Metro-produced gem, “Sacrifices,” sends Tinashe further down the rabbit hole, though she stays focused with a grit that makes the darkness sound ever so sexy. One of the most impactful songs is the Dev Hynes-helmed closer, "Ghetto Boy," an earnest record that, for all its lyrical simplicity, has a remarkably lush quality that demonstrates the angelic sincerity of Tinashe's voice.
There are times when one can hear why a few of these songs weren't meant for Tinashe's next album. “Soul Glitch” is haunting in its claustrophobic production, clashing with Tinashe's painfully delicate vocal melodies -- but the song might alienate listeners who have been pre-geared to expect songs like "2 On" or "All Hands on Deck." Most strangely, “You Don’t Know Me” begins with a half-minute of backmasked vocals and contains particularly tinny sounding 808s that never seem to settle into a groove, offering plenty of experimentation but little sense of resolution.
Nightride will be remembered less as a cohesive body of work and more as a transitionary project that hints at exciting developments that are sure to further unfold on Joyride. Tinashe is still a captivating vocalist and songwriter with an ability to immerse herself in a myriad of musical styles that would overwhelm most artists. She builds an eclectic atmosphere that's not just suited to her own personality but also highly intriguing for her devoted listeners. Nightride proves that Tinashe is still evolving and that she's still just as formidable a prospect as she was after Aquarius. Now it's time for RCA to finally unleash Joyride, before it's too late.