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HEAVY is the head that wears the crown. SiR’s vulnerable self-reflections make his latest album his most mature, raising R&B’s bar for the third time

Evan Dale // March 29, 2024

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Griffin Lotz

Is there a more compelling and artistically immersive ongoing three-album run than that which has defined the arc of SiR’s Top Dawg Entertainment tenure, stretching back to his 2018 debut studio collection, November? If any equal such span exists, one need not look further than the other names that populate TDE’s roster. Kendrick Lamar, Isaiah Rashad – who himself appears on SiR’s latest delivery, and SZA, have all – since 2012, 2014 and 2017 respectively – been on their own nearly unparalleled journeys of not only trailblazing creativity and dynamic success, but personal growth manifest in albums that will go down in history as some of the best, period.

For his part, SiR’s TDE origin story feels less explosive than the others. 2018’s November – a cornerstone of both the modern R&B spectrum and a blueprint for how to curate a cohesive and throughline concept project – went relatively under the radar at first (aside from its keystone leading single, D’Evils which remains his most commercially successful cut to date). But taken all together, boiling over with interstellar soul motifs blended with love and lust, while still maintaining a blaring defiance of traditional structure, November served largely as an introduction to the Inglewood vocalist as one of the more profoundly unique, yet dynamically entrenched auditory alchemists bending the rules of stylistic definition at large.

Particularly within his own grey areas, especially that of the modern R&B spectrum – which swings loosely in definition between the bookends of something more D’Angelo rooted Neo-Soul and something else closer to pop-adjacent radio hip-hop – SiR’s mastery over his vocals and storytelling maturation has long left him in a corner by himself. There, an enduring, jazzy approach to the craft feels at times more timelessly Motown, at other more emotionally gospel, and at others still, more dizzying with retrofuturistic experimentation to push forward the scene while remaining tethered to its past.

2019’s Chasing Summer elevated his lore. Less conceptual, more freewheeling, the album shot SiR into the stratosphere of Neo-Soul, R&B, and hip-hop all at once. It shone him in a light capable of getting out of his box, yet dominant when playing towards his signature strengths. And dotted with features, it above all else, was an exhibition of just how stylistically fluid his sound was capable of being.

But then, as seems befitting of his place amongst the other artists listed above – others, too, defined by their elusive personhood and periodic, lengthy bouts of radio silence – a disappearing act. Moreso a reckoning, HEAVY – which was originally slated for a 2022 release, and one bound to his origin story as an R&B superhero with a multitude of fame-related vices – was delayed again, by the very evils that define its thematic discourse.

For some time, since at least D’Evils and November really started to fill SiR’s cup with a cocktail equal parts art and opportunity, self-destruction and immorality, all shaken together by fame, SiR has – like so many others – struggled to find equilibrium. Heavyaddresses that internal battle, bridging the gap from a coming-of-age tale where disruptions to his life were wrought by his first taste of the limelight, to a covid-era zenith of addictions to percocet, cocaine, and alcohol, and penultimately, to the release of the album last week.

An honest self-reflection of his rise and his battle to stay grounded, Heavy tells the story we’ve always wanted to hear. Instead of spinning the tales that R&B’s ghosts require, where an intergallactic lust pirate escapes his problems and drifts listlessly unaccompanied aside from his tumult and his artifical intelligence; where a beach-bumming fuckboy glides around Los Angeles in search of drugs and women; Heavy addresses the cost of it all.

Karma coming and it's prolly gon' be bad for me
Nothing I can do, it's gon' be what it has to be
Wish I never bought the game my uncle sold me
It's a little too late to save the old me

Boiling over with the most honest expression of vulnerabilities that we’ve seen from SiR since his emotionally drenched Tiny Desk performance, HEAVY’s titular cut dives deepest into his internal battles.

Just got off a three-day bender, still enjoyin' the vibe
From what I remember, last night was a hell of a night
Probably need to go easy, but I'm in love with the pain
Don't be surprised if you see me dancin' in the rain

And yet, through all this vulnerable meditation on his meandering life and career, SiR never leaves a doubt that coming out of his darkest hour, he’s at his creatively sharpest. A vocal range and delivery that were always some of the most mature and refined in a scene more naturalized to the effervescent waves of pop than the steadfast crooners of Soul, he’s at even more control of his register, and delivering it with more confidence than at any prior point. And just as the progression of November to Chasing Summer pointed towards the seamless ease with which he maneuvers across the dying boundaries of genre, with HEAVY – alongside the rangy roster of features that are Ty Dolla $ign, Isaiah Rashad, Anderson .Paak, Ab-Soul, and Scribz Riley – he never loses touch with his own authentic approach, effortlessly bending his signature in and out of the shapes that his collaborative compatriots create.

HEAVY is the head that wears the crown. Since 2018 and through a daunting amount of personal strife, SiR has somehow remained artistically steadfast, releasing not one; not two; but three of the most important albums of the last decade. And he’s done so while simultaneously clawing himself, his mental health, and his life back towards a certain sense of equilibrium without which he’s been for far too long.

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