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Blood Orange: It's been a big year for sad, male hip hop artists. The opening line to rapper 6lack's latest album is a melancholic "Hope my mistakes don't make me less of a man," a defensive assertion of his character combined with the trace remnants of an apology. Angsty R&B artists like dijon and No Rome saturate SoundCloud with melancholy lyrics like "She told me I'm a narcissist doing it again / Took a bunch of acid and she told me 'not again.'" And it seems that not a day passes by without Drake releasing some lengthy dirge about how the constant stream of women in his life is not only exhausting, it's downright hurtful.
This recurring trope of brooding male pain lends itself to an image of masculinity that is predicated on self-righteous bitterness. (In keeping with hip hop's history of excluding and denigrating women, it almost goes without saying that females are nearly always the target of this bitterness.) So what does sad rap and R&B sound like without the confines of male pride? When is music self-reflection and when is it self-indulgence? What separates the sad boys, as it were, from the sad men?
For Dev Hynes, an artist who works under the stage name Blood Orange, there isn't a singular way to express either masculinity or grief. Upon the release of his penultimate album, Freetown Sound, Hynes stated on Instagram that the album is dedicated to those who were told they were "not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer the right way." His songs, while unequivocally sad, express feeling without being whiny, and articulate his male identity without hyper-masculine hang-ups. Hynes' music blends an array of genres from R&B to dancehall to soul, and his vision of emotionality is similarly borderless; on his song "Best to You," bouncy, airy melodies serve as the backdrop for a story about dissatisfying love, and on "Better Than Me," he and Carly Rae Jepsen duet together about their fear of inferiority and rejection.
Ultimately, Hynes addresses sadness by looking at it squarely in the face, minus the self-aggrandizement of some of his contemporary counterparts, and deconstructs restrictive notions of masculinity in the process.