Evan Dale // Dec 28, 2020
In recent years – with new generations of creatives – there has been a lot of pride in being unique. At a time in history when anyone can make music thanks to studio-quality technology having become affordable, intricate and unique sounds are being crafted from home. At a time in history when anyone can share music thanks to streaming platforms and social media, a crafty emerging artist can develop an entire album from their phone and use the same phone to get others on board. And with so many people so suddenly throwing their work into the hands of a listener at any corner of the world, being unique is more valuable than ever before. But how does an artist stand out when there is a seemingly infinite number of creatives chasing dreams of their own? Thankfully, some things can’t be bought, can’t be crafted, and though can be refined, can’t even be taught.
Enter Giveon, whose silky baritone is nothing if not God-given and innate; whose 2020 was unparalleled in prolificity and individuality.
There were no young artists that found themselves in more places, doing more work, with a more unique aesthetic than the emerging R&B standout. The Long Beach baritone has spoken a lot on coming to terms with his one-of-a-kind voice, and it seems as if 2020 was the year not only for Giveon to come to peace with his individuality, but to refine it to a point that made his sound one of the most prominent in music all year. Perhaps there is something in his deep-toned croons that related to the pain and longing of so many in a year that saw more of it than at any point in recent memory. Perhaps people simply felt like diving into the pools of their emotions this year. And there is no artist whose aesthetic better brings emotion to the forefront. Perhaps, it’s just because of his uniqueness, filling a void only filled generationally with legendary baritone soul kings of the past. And for that, Giveon is here to stay.
But he’s also here to put in the work. In March, his debut EP, which earned a Grammy nod, came into the world. TAKE TIME may run for 24 minutes, but Giveon’s debut requires almost no time at all to envelop a listener in something that is at one time – unlike anything they’ve ever heard while also feeling so uncannily familiar. Akin to many great artists, familiarity is rooted in relatability; relatably love-struck, relatably haunted by loss, relatably trying to blaze a unique trail; relatably left spinning under the weight of it all, Giveon’s TAKE TIME is a thesis on vulnerability and the desire to escape at times with the hand of another, and at times necessarily alone.
As Spring turned to Summer and as October’s Very Own dropped the Dark Lane Demo Tapes, Giveon earned what could only be described as his biggest injection of limelight to date. A Drake feature is one thing, but the kind of Drake feature - like Chicago Freestyle - where everyone listening is talking about the new guy and not the Drake, is a whole other. But that’s the power of Giveon – the power of his auditory aesthetic. He can encapsulate a listener even when that listener came for something so expected and signature.
And then, as Summer turned to Autumn, a follow-up EP, When It’s All Said And Done, too came into fruition. At four tracks, When It’s All Said And Done is more masterfully balanced, emotionally evocative, and jarringly unique than just about any other project of greater length anywhere in the vocally-dominated corners of music this year. With an affinity for the analogue instrumentation – especially gentle piano keys – and a knack for expressing the breadth of his range at a listener’s most vulnerable moment, his latest is just a further reaffirmation that under the guide of artists like he and Snoh Aalegra (whose deep-ended, rangy register is also one of the most unique in music) the future of R&B and Neo-Soul will continue to evolve beautifully and for the better.
It's incredible to think that in a year defined by so much personal achievement, there could have been more. Giveon was scheduled to tour with his friend and collaborator Snoh Aalegra before the coronavirus ended the joy of live shows. An organic growth of his following would have been explosive, as any fan of Snoh would certainly become a fan of the emerging Long Beach king of doing with Soul music what only a handful of musicians have ever been able to accomplish. But, a stay-at-home honing of his craft was perhaps even more beneficial. There will be more tours to come, though he’ll probably be headlining this time. And there will be more projects to come, seeing the prolificity he’s already bee capable of demonstrating.
In a year of uncertainty, of pain, of loss, of emotional waves, Giveon was a tidal force of something increasingly rare not only in music, not only in culture, but in life: consistency. The embrace of his one-of-a-kind sound has made him a bedrock of being unique at a time in music history where uniqueness is perhaps prized above all else. And though 2020 was undoubtedly unique in a lot of ways humanity wasn’t hoping for, the hopefulness and the release that Giveon’s unique brand of Neo-Soul gifted all of us, is what makes him undoubtedly 2020’s Best New Artist.
See our Comprehensive List of 2020's Best New Artists here: