Tunde Olaniran – Transgressor (Quite Scientific)
Didn’t see this one coming: is the best debut album of 2015 from a genre-hopping Nigerian-American from Flint, Michigan, who grew up in Germany and the U.K., and works at Planned Parenthood by day while making music that’s an amalgam of Missy Elliott, Santigold, Danny Brown and Rick James? Oh, and he also designs the costumes for his live dancers, for whom he does the choreography.
Yes, the totally obscure Olaniran has more than a few ideas floating around that genius mind of his. Here’s the shocker: they all work. He’s an outstanding singer—as good or better than The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye or Gnarls Barkley’s Cee-Lo Green, the two singers he resembles the most—and a decent rapper. But it’s his production that sets him far apart, infusing what is ostensibly modern R&B with New Orleans bounce and Peter Gabriel-ish art rock and Kanye-level avant-garde soundscapes and gospel backing vocals and huge pop hooks with the odd banjo or kalimba thrown in for good measure. Throughout, the drum programming drives everything: it’s obvious Olaniran prioritizes unpredictable rhythms first, then melody, then judiciously selects what else to sprinkle in the background.
He admits he leaves the lyrics to last, which is probably why one minute he’s mourning gun culture or making defiant declarations like: “I’m not afraid, I’m a warrior, I’m a transgressor,” and then the next minute he’s rapping about Taco Bell and Malia Obama.
Other than Courtney Barnett and Vince Staples, no other debut artist in 2015 has hit a home run as fully realized and promising as this one. And the best thing? Olaniran proves to be good at so much here that the future is wide open.
Download: “Don’t Cry,” “Let Me Go,” “KYBM”