The surprise drop of Bryson Tiller's True to Self ultimately feels like a "keep it moving" release. Originally set for a June 23 launch, the Louisville, KY-based artist apparently felt that releasing the record without warning — letting the chips fall where they may — was the way to go.
But weighing in at 19 tracks, True to Self feels overly full, despite the strong production. The wide-reaching success of last year's Trapsoul caught many off-guard, and it seems like it's thrown Tiller himself for a loop, too. Last year's "Don't" snuck up on enough folks to capture the urban zeitgeist, as did the soulful "Right My Wrongs," which brimmed with perspective. Today, Tiller's contemporaries are the Jeremihs and PARTYNEXTDOORs of the post-Drake "trapsoul" world; if Tiller has grown as a person and creative since last year's Trapsoul, this album doesn't fully show it.
There is a lot of like here, however. Tiller certainly has talent: "Somethin Tells Me," a catchy, straight up ditty that basically gives the people what they want, rides along the same wavelength of his Trapsoul output, while a greasy bass line underscores "Blowing Smoke," which feels Drake-esque in the way the vocals and themes unfold. "In Check," a smoky, slow confessional that evokes late night sexual moods and features "Marvin's Room" movements, finds Tiller in his sample loop element; it's the standout track on the record. "Set It Off," a pleasant reworking of '90s R&B slow grooves that hits in the pocket and stays there, is similarly excellent.
But then, a track like "We Both Know" doesn't quite stick the landing. While it grooves, lyrics like "Last time we fucked, that shit was cinematic" throw things out of whack. And though "Self-Made" rides a strong rap flow and hits hard in moment, it leaves your consciousness just as fast as it arrived. "Run Me Dry" cribs dancehall elements for an early party starter feel, "Stay Blessed" leans on a Mary J. Blige vocal sample to pleasant yet fleeting effect and the inessential "Money Problems/Benz Truck" feels superfluous.
True to Self delivers the sound that put Tiller on, with an eye on pleasing the fanbase with incremental steps taken towards growth. It makes in confident swagger what it lacks in memorable hooks, but at 19 tracks, it's too imbalanced and stuffed to be considered a classic. Tiller's style is still intact, though; let's hope he takes it in a better direction next time. (Sony)