When Tinashe split with long-time record label RCA in February, it seemed like an opportunity for a reset. After the L.A. singer released one of the best R&B debuts of the decade in 2014, she quickly chased it with a run of homogenous singles meant to foment hype for what was an eventually inert follow-up released four drawn-out years later. Many of the problems stemmed from RCA’s rumored and occasionally confirmed meddling, whether selling songs out from under her or arranging awkward guest features and promotion. Tinashe has since publicly celebrated the separation in interviews and on social media, and for good reason: Free from the music industry, the multitalented artist is now able to go in whatever direction she pleases, unburdened by expectations of a radio single or big first-week sales.
Songs for You, Tinashe’s first full-length project released under her own label and management, is a welcome return to form, evoking those moody early mixtapes and 2016’s compelling Nightride while pushing forward. It also stands as a statement of purpose against the industry that fumbled her bag. (She even released the project on a Thursday to “throw a wrench” in those never-ending sales discussions.) Compared to the strain of Joyride, Songs for You feels effortless, drifting between subterranean trap, airy dance-pop, and R&B ballads.
Her floor-fillers are compellingly mutated, full of sharp pivots; if the moving parts can be jarring to follow, they’re never boring. Heatsick lead single “Die a Little Bit” hinges on a numb, head-spinning chorus that strips her best club-ready benders for parts: “Drink, smoke, dance, vibe a little bit,” she and South London rapper Ms Banks recite over spare garage production, adding “Fuck, change, ride, die a little bit.” She spars with a filthy G-Eazy over a hollowed-out beat before moving into an acoustic, two-minute outro that quotes “Midnight Sun,” the mellow centerpiece of her 2013 mixtape Black Water. The reference feels intimate and real, a callback for Tinashe diehards and a reimagining of the phantom-limb sadness that occasionally accompanies the aftermath of a hookup.
Make no mistake: She fully takes time to talk her shit, too. The swanky “Cash Race” and “Link Up,” both Hitmaka productions that revolve around winding beat changes halfway through, are prime showcases for Tinashe’s melodic flow and shrugged-off boasts. The songs were originally meant for a shelved, hip-hop-focused project last summer, but here they instead provide a quick, satisfying glimmer of that bossed-up version of herself, with devilishly opulent lyrics about Brink’s trucks and private flights.
All of these different moods find balance thanks to Tinashe, a rebuke to anyone who thought she couldn’t work in this many different styles. She can embody “Nashe Houdini doing tricks with a saw” on “Link Up” and she can carry the melancholy soul of the hazy 6LACK duet “Touch & Go.” It isn’t fair that it took years of label mishandling to get here, but Tinashe has finally found equilibrium.