Freetown Sound may have a timeless sound, but it is a record that could only be made today. DevontÃ© Hynes, who performs under the moniker Blood Orange, has compiled a collection of slow jams that infuse R&B with a bit more synth. It’s easy to let this album slip by and just enjoy the sound of it, but the lyrics are what make this such an important release.
“By Ourselves,” the first song on the album, sets the tone for social awareness. This track features a portion of Ashlee Haze’s “For Colored Girls (The Missy Elliott Poem),” a confident call for black feminism. “Chance” calls out a blonde antagonist for culturally appropriating African-American style and struggles, while the bass-heavy “But You” finds Hynes entreating a white woman to “teach yourself about your brother.” “Hands Up” is gorgeously catchy even while expressing the anxiety of racial profiling.
Joining Hynes on this record are several guest vocalists who only make Freetown Sound better. Empress Of’s gorgeous vocals on “Best to You” lends weight to the lyrics about a one-sided relationship, and Debbie Harry’s appearance on “E.V.P.” is a welcome surprise. My favorite of the collaborations is “Hadron Collider,” a soulful, space-themed duet with Nelly Furtado.
As a white writer, I know that my privilege prevents me from fully appreciating the depths of Freetown Sound. However, it is an album that has encouraged me to continue to educate myself, practice empathy, and allow diverse voices a platform to speak for themselves. Hynes proves that pop can be pleasing and powerful in equal measure, and he has delivered one of the best releases of 2016 so far.