Favorite Track: Rehab (Winter in Paris) Least Favorite Track: Skyline
I’ll never forget when I first heard Christopher Brent Woods’ eccentric voice, and the feeling I had after listening to Goldlink’s “Crew (feat. Brent Faiyaz & Shy Glizzy)” for the tenth time in a row while driving home from his live show. I knew he was much more than this feature, and my assumption was correct. Brent’s voice has a powerful yet wistful sensitivity to it, making him the perfect artist to play for late-night depressive thoughts or for a midnight thought-drive through the city. His EP A.M. Paradox was a very delightful tease leading up to his first full-length project Sonder Son, an expertly layered album that connects deep emotions with the dreamy susceptibility that partying, lovers, and even one’s self presents. The way he explores how materialism prevents people from being real with each other in the song “First World Problemz/Nobody Carez” is a testimony to his strength as an emotionally evocative writer. I also admire the album's avoidance from the classic R&B writing trend of hiding pain through partying, which artists like Ty Dolla $ign and Chris Brown abuse. Brent revels in his deep pain and doesn’t cover it up with any materialistic luxuries that try to bottle up difficult, expressive emotions like lust or depression. I will say I found Sonder Son lacked experimentalism, as I wanted to see Brent produce music to the standard of his dismal writing. Moreover, his 2018 E.P. Lost didn’t impress me like I wanted it to, even though he’s a lot more vulnerable and delicate. I still found the instrumentals and beats didn’t compliment his illustrious voice and his daunting lyricism. However, the experimentalism I was looking for from Brent Faiyaz wasn’t too far away. 2020 saw the release of Fuck The World, a twenty-six minute project that perfectly described the disheartening feelings for the current year as it progressed into mayhem.
Before I jump into an analysis, I want to talk about my frustration with the music industry and its racist tendencies to place black artists in historically black genres. The fact that I find Brent Faiyaz on the same Spotify “Chill Vibes” R&B/low-fi beat playlist as the intimate Kina or the emotional Finneas O’Connell is an insult to his work. Brent is not the kind of guy to write a song about groveling to a woman who broke his heart or a song to prove how hard she hurt him. According to him, sex is nothing but a meaningless game, and the consequences you’ll face are imminent; therefore, there is no reason to stress over it. Just because of his sentimental tone and use of slow, harmonious instrumentals, people immediately tend to place him in this category of groovy, sensational artists who symbolize the typical 90’s R&B aesthetic. When I listen to Fuck The World, I hear a cold-hearted, unapolegetic Brent, who is tired of being labeled musically because of his skin and not because of his artistry. Independency is a good look on artists, especially with someone as versatile and sensual as Brent. I despise how people try to compare autonomous artists to generic artists in popular music; ultimately, the critique of one’s music or the color of one’s skin does not give the music industry or fans the permission to compare him in a negative way. It’s been clear that Brent Faiyaz is in this profession to make music that speaks volume to him, not to those who crave appeasement.
Warm-hearted and sympathetic lyrics are overrated and overplayed, especially in a heart-wrenching time like 2020. I applaud Fuck The World’s mournful, cold-blooded lyrics, representing Brent’s ruthless and unsympathetic attitude towards the world and all of its flaws. The track “Rehab (Winter in Paris)” contains the lyrics “I got too many hoes, But they ain’t you/You like to put that shit in your nose, But I still love you.” These are brutally honest lyrics, essentially telling this girl that he is sleeping around as well as calling her out on her cocaine use. The harshim continues, calling her “a pornstar” before stating “if you ain’t nasty, Don’t at me,” crooning about his sexual addiction to his drug-using love affair. He also throws shade at himself, showing that his resentment doesn’t divert far from the world inside himself. On the track “Fuck The World (Summer in London),” he paints himself as a “walkin’ erection” who wants to fuck the world, signifying his unquenchable lust for sex and toying with women’s hearts. He also gives listeners a quote from the viewpoint of one of his sexual conquests, with the lyric reading “Your n**** caught us texting, You said ‘Baby, don’t be mad, You know how Brent is,’” verifying that he is sleeping with women in relationships. These two tracks were also released as singles before the full Fuck The World project dropped, and I was glad to see how well fans took his disheartening and savage lyricism as he illustrates the world and all its misery.
Another strongpoint in Brent’s arguably best album yet is his experimentalism with his esteemed, melancholy voice. On previous projects, especially Sonder Son, he has always been a skillful harmonizer, adding layers of beautifully layered notes, riffs, and tones to his compositions. Fuck The World explores harmonization and melody on a level which I have not heard from any contemporary artists since neo-soul master D’Angelo. Going back to “Fuck The World (Summer in London),” Brent utilizes suppressed vocals, both in the melody and layered harmonization, to accentuate the dark lyricism about lust and distrust. It is a very interesting step in his production, and definitely helps sell his resistance to classic “R&B” elements that he is stereotyped in. The beginning harmony on the short “Soon Az I Get Home” builds an odd but alluring D sus chord, which I naturally praise due to my love for contemporary Jazz music and its use of chords like this. I also find the harmony on the track “Let Me Know” very gorgeous, especially on the repeated, ascending falsetto lyric “Let me know.” The harmony he provides on the verses and chorus provides a juxtaposing sweetness to the songs overall gloomy deliverance, as he asks the question “Who can I love when they tell me I can’t love myself?” and “How in the hell, could I possibly love someone else?” It is possible to overuse artistic ideas like harmony, making tracks sound too muddy and busy. Nevertheless, Brent Faiyaz has found a good balance in Fuck The World, remaning consistent and interesting throughout the entire twenty-six minutes thanks to his well-balanced vocals and harmonic maturity.
Simplicity is another trait that I feel is overlooked in present-day music, and Brent is not scared of staying clear-cut and lucid. Again, the track “Rehab (Winter in Paris)” is stripped down to atmospheric guitar strumming, synthesizer layers, snaps, and a grounded bass-line. The absence of drums was surprising to say the least, but it really works for him in this song, especially since he uses bare vocals with hardly any harmonization or effect tuning to his main melodic line. It is a very interesting choice for Brent from a production standpoint. To have a simple instrumental, and then introducing the verse with the lyric “I got too many hoes,” it automatically made me interested in what the rest of the piece had to offer. Another example of the attractiveness of simplicity is in the track “Clouded,” where he lets his vocals take the lead, much like a poet. I definitely think he meant this to emphasize his commentary on his belonging in the world. He sings “If I go tonight, I doubt the world would change/I just pray they don’t forget my name,” seeming sorrowful about his hopeful impact on Earth and how he will be remembered. To him, society’s message to people is that sex, money, and drugs are the most important things to promote, so he didn’t want to bury his compliancy to those standards or distract from the seriousness with an ice-cold beat or a groovy instrumental.
Fuck The World is true to its title, as Brent Faiyaz portrays his outrage with the state much of the world finds itself in. His contemplation over the things his heart can’t take and his anguish for the lack of love amongst people creates a piece of work that is outstanding for its brutal honesty in lyricism and equally fantastic vocalism and musical brilliance. With all the passion and flair he puts into his albums released under his independent label, he does not deserve to be compared negatively alongside traditional, commercial R&B/contemporary artists. His message isn’t trying to appeal to what listeners want to hear; rather, he vocalizes his anecdotes to push people out of their comfort zone and tap into their deep, hidden feelings within themselves. Moreover, these feelings could be against the world, including the one they live in or the one concealed in the inner machinations of their mind. Nonetheless, Brent Faiyaz assures us that these disheartening emotions should not bolster our unhappiness further; granted, sleeping around, destroying relationships, and breaking hearts is the true, dreary worth for someone upset with the state of the very world they live in.