Earlier this month, the two self-proclaimed “kings” of hip-hop released a joint album. Watch The Throne received a lot of press, a lot of praise, and a lot of plays. But after awhile, we all started to argue that, perhaps, Watch The Throne wasn’t as great as we all had originally thought. Maybe those beats are actually too overproduced. Maybe those lyrics are actually too self-indulgent. And as soon as we began to question the Throne, something new arrived to free us from their rule as “kings.” A new day happened. And it happened on a Thursday.
Of course, this is all too dramatic; and it’s hard to say that The Weeknd (moniker of Toronto-based R&B singer Abel Tesfaye) and his mixtape Thursday — the second in a trilogy of mixtapes from the artist to be released this year — even fit in the same category or genre as Watch The Throne. But it is encouraging to live in a musical landscape where a self-released mixtape at midnight on a Thursday night can garner as much critical and blog hype as a joint album by the two biggest names in hip-hop. On its first day, Thursday reportedly received over 180,000 downloads. There was even a 25-minute wait in line to download. The reason for success? It’s simple: The music is fucking good. Happily, Thursday presses in the same direction as March’s Polaris Music Prize-nominated House of Balloons, but this time around, the music gets a little spacier, a little more ambiguous and a little braver. And it works.
Not unlike House of Balloons, Thursday‘s strengths lie in its beats and samples, handled by the same team as HOB: Canadians producers Doc McKinney and Illangelo. But Thursday‘s beats don’t carry the same heaviness and vastness of House. Instead, the mixtape is more free. Whether purposefully or not, the Weeknd presents Thursday as an open space. We can hang out, listen to tribal, earthy beats, without feeling like the beats are in-your-face and loud. There’s a smoothness in how the tracks flow together. For example, the dreamy “Thursday” lets the tones hang, leaving us as listeners both satisfied, yet wanting to hear more. Then softly, somehow, almost unknowingly, the track flows straight into “The Zone,” a trippier, more muffled, but more driven track.
Lyrically, The Weeknd channels the same themes on Thursday as he did on HOB: sex, drugs and loneliness. And like its predecessor, despite the lyrics almost feeling juvenile at times, there’s an honesty in how they work. “I’ll be making love to her, through you,” he croons on “The Zone,” “So let me keep my eyes open.” Or on “Rolling Stone”: “With a hand full of beads, a chest full of weed / Got me singin’ bout a bitch while I’m blowin’ out my steam.” The lyrics remain mysterious, and at times, irresponsibly scary. But the recklessness addressed in the tracks doesn’t feel contrived or disingenuous. Instead, the discomfort adds to the entire aesthetic of Thursday. As listeners, we’re not quite sure if we’re okay or not with what he sings about — did he really just sing a song about taking pills and rape? — yet we’re also not quite sure that we want to stop listening.
In short, Thursday is a mixtape of subtleties. The closer you listen, the more you hear, and the more it demands you to listen again. With time, the tracks reveal more about themselves. Each small part belongs to the album as a whole; the more you listen to the minute details, the better each track fits, and the better the nine songs feel together. Perhaps the Weeknd goes to a lyrical level that some might not be comfortable with, but the project continues to push music into a direction that we’re not so familiar with — and that’s a direction that’s worth experiencing.