Sy Ari Da Kid's Second Project of 2020 is also the Year's Best R&B Album | A Toxic Heartbreak
Evan Dale // June 14, 2020
Sy Ari Da Kid is mysterious. It’s not because he’s able to transcend so many nuances and stylings. It’s not because he so seamlessly switches lanes between his mosaic of sounds. It’s not because when you hear him rap, you’re certain that he can’t possibly sing, too. And it’s not because when you hear him sing, you realize he’s one of the best R&B songwriters alive. It’s not because he constantly sounds like both the starring protagonist and featuring names on his own track. And it’s not because for someone so ingrained and influential in the modern workings of hip-hop and R&B, he abstains so much from the limelight. It’s the combination of it all that’s hard to make sense of. It’s the amalgamation of his impossible traits that lead to the mystery in his person and his music; joined profound in his penmanship.
Somewhere between his early years in the Bronx and his upbringing in Atlanta, Sy Ari – like much of modern music – distanced himself from any labeling tied to geography or to genrefication. Instead, he’s textbook in his identity as a post-genre transcendentalist; a product of the lack of tethering to space and time made possible by technology and the internet. And with his prolific canon, he’s had ample space to explore and experiment with whatever sounds he feels inspired by; whatever sounds he invents. And yet, the thing that ties together the noticeable artistry of Sy Ari Da Kid is an intangible effortlessness with which he drives emotion into his music. He’s a rapper, a singer, and a producer, so he controls every bit of its direction. Through it, Sy Ari’s music becomes incredibly personal – vulnerable at times, and whether rapping or singing, he always has a story to tell.
Alongside the breadth that a decade-long, prolific career has granted his stylistic range, it’s also given him far too grand a collection of music to lay superiority on any given work. Each is a masterful and timely exhibition of the fluidity of the modern-day artist. Nonetheless, we’re going to take a risk, and make a claim here and now: His newest album, A Toxic Heartbreak, is the greatest Sy Ari Da Kid project. The sleeper album is also the best R&B project of 2020 so far – no contest.
There’s no shame in crying during A Toxic Heartbreak. After all, the album is the living soundscape of exactly what its title points to. Sy Ari’s production, penmanship, and vocals throughout never stop short of exuding raw emotionality. He has a well-documented past of utilizing his music as a diary of sorts – poignantly navigating the tricky world of being a single father, struggling with relationships, and existing as one of the more underrated, yet influential behind the scenes artists in all of music. But with A Toxic Heartbreak, the emotional motive of its direction is obvious – it’s as we said, in the name.
R&B has always been the most fertile of musical grounds to explore love, lust, and loss. Something in the confluence of the vocal texture and the production bleeds of romance, relationships, and sex. And for Sy Ari Da Kid, a reinvention of his already strong R&B lane (see: TLC) wasn’t necessary, but it is more than welcome.
Like some futurist blending of Akon and PARTYNEXTDOOR, A Toxic Heartbreak’s wavy vocalism is not defined by the auto-tuned or the not, but by those seamless moments where Sy Ari floats from one to the other, perpetually navigating a grey area more refined, yet edgy than anything he or any other vocalist has been able to do before or is doing right now. And whether a given track from the album adheres more to the mellow & moody (Territorial) or the up-tempo & outspoken (Go Fish), each addition to A Toxic Heartbreak is necessary and telling of an artist tired of being overlooked. A Toxic Heartbreak is simultaneously an emotional rollercoaster dissecting the finer nuances of a broken relationship & a hard-hitting flex of Sy Ari Da Kid’s raw, still emerging talent as a songwriter and a vocalist.
Musically – especially when juxtaposing it against Sy Ari’s accompanying 2020 project, It Was Unwritten – A Toxic Heartbreak’s greatest strength may very be just how unrecognizable, unpredictable it is. It’s not to say there was anything missing from one of the most extensive, prolific canons of the 2010’s, but instead that all of music was, until now, missing its experimental, unheard R&B direction. It Was Unwritten, as Sy Ari’s canon has long patterned itself, is an intertwined hip-hop heavy project, leaning on the same skill for songwriting you hear in A Toxic Heartbreak albeit in a very different form. It leaned equally on his uncanny skill as a rapper where his roots battle rapping throughout Atlanta come into focus. And that fact makes the entirety of A Toxic Heartbreak jarringly impressive.
For a creative whose primary, original artistic direction isn’t even necessary vocals, but rapping, Sy Ari Da Kid is able to stand on equal footing with R&B royalty like PARTYNEXTDOOR, Bryson Tiller, and K. Forest – just as he draws parallels with some of the most lyrical rappers in music like Isaiah Rashad and Innanet James. He’s not a jack of all trades. He’s a master of whatever the fuck he wants.
For those fans of his attached to the purely rap-oriented, give A Toxic Heartbreak a listen. Whatever it is that a fan loves about his rap ability is also present in this new R&B wave: immersive songwriting, poeticism, experimental flow, clever, complex production. That’s the thing about the album, too. Sy Ari is never fully committed to the sung – he’s a natural transcendentalist and his flow follows suit, unpredictably meandering in cadence and energy, sometimes faster and more adjacent to his rap=heavy tracks, sometime slowed down and driving emotional R&B to a place it’s never been.