Amaarae is a commendable chronicler of sex, love and life on ‘The Angel You Don’t Know’ [Album Review]
This show of range is to Amaarae's credit.
Coupled with her breath control and the diversity of her sound, ‘unique’ was what everyone used to describe her.
With her unique haircut, her appearance was also distinct and time-appropriate and just as her music was methodical. When she experimented with more pop-esque records like ‘Spend Some Time’ with Wande Coal and ‘Like It’ in 2019, it was obvious that she was trying to carve out a sub-mainstream for herself.
On her debut album, The Angel You Don’t Know, Amaarae is a chronicler of sex, affection, fantastical sensuality and the expression of it, libido triggers, a good time and cross-over attempts. She’s like the sex whisperer whom one would pay a million dollars for just three minutes of talk time.
What she executed to perfection is how easily she switches between roles on different songs. Sometimes, she is the recipient who craves to have something done to them. On ‘FANTASY’ she sings, “Been here before but this ain’t fair. Give me a little to leave me here…” as she applauds someone’s ability to push her buttons.
Other times, she is the purveyor and mastermind of the activities who speaks with confidence and bravado. On ‘FANCY,’ she is definitely the orchestrator of the detailed digression into fulfilling, oft-nasty fantastical sex.
She sings, “I like it when you call me zaddy, won't you sit up in my big fat catty? B***h, I'm really with the shits and that's for sure. If you didn't know, big baby now you know…”
Sometimes, her partner is masculine and sometimes, her partner is feminine [as on ‘CELINE’ and ‘SAD, U BROKE MY HEART.’]. It simply posits the ease of expression that Africa is moving into and Amaarae as the quintessential modern woman.
She admits to alcohol on ‘LEAVE ME ALONE’ and to smoking that grass on the Bashment track, ‘FEEL A WAY.’
But even with her modernity and just as she sometimes wears crosses in her videos, she defers to God on ‘LEAVE ME ALONE,’ because those concepts are not mutually exclusive. She sings, “Me nuh need favor from no one but God plus I got me…”
Through it all, she never becomes anything other than a woman who is comfortable and confident enough in her own sexuality and personality. On ‘FANCY’ she hypes herself, “Everyday I do my dance in the mirror, 'cause I feel so damn fancy…”
On the R&B record, ‘TRUST FUND BABY’ she brags with on the impressive bar, “Trust fund baby with this pussy n*gga you should feel privileged…” That privilege and the lifestyle it affords her then becomes the crux of ‘HELLZ ANGEL.’
With its soul of melodious Trap melodies and the thudding drums on 00:55. Amaarae sung-raps and raps her way through.
This trait also helps her to adequately express and even demand what she wants.
Very rarely as on the Rancheras-esque Hip-Hop-tinged ‘FANTASY,’ she reminisces from the longing and admits the prowess of an absent lover whose gender is unknown. She sings, “Who can I run to when you ain’t there? Been here before but this ain’t fair… You know just how to push my buttons…”
However, with how CKay and Maesu sing back, it seems the lover’s identity might be masculine.
It’s also to Amaarae’s credit that her songwriting is so vivid, expressive and easily digestible once a listener gets comfortable with her ubiquitous falsetto. She also does well to hide the more vulgar parts of her lyrics in equally naughty metaphors.
She enjoys the act of coitus and even applauds the nastiness of the human who does those things to her. Other times as on ‘FEEL A WAY,’ the coitus is not only led by Amaarae, it is also aided by alcohol and smoke.
But then on ‘HELLZ ANGEL,’ she sings, “I don’t smoke trees but I drink…” What to believe then eludes a listener…
But it’s not all sunshine, rainbows and romantic novel-esque coitus. Sometimes, it’s not pretty. On ‘JUMPING SHIP,’ she borrows the help of her cousin, the amazing and brilliant British rapper and poet, Kojey Radical as well as Nigeria’s Santi - a talented maverick and alte nucleus - to document a conundrum.
She is in a relationship, but she has an attractive problem who makes her question her relationship enough to consider, ‘JUMPING SHIP.’ Radical kills the hook, but Santi finds different pockets on the Reggae-Fusion beat with avant-garde drums to switch styles and tell his own angle to the story. Shout-out to Kyu Steed and KZ for that beat - sheesh!
On ‘Leave Me Alone,’ she craves the peace of loneliness despite her, “Want to love [him/her] like a gangsta…” Things got even more damaging as she sings about a red-eye on the Lo-Fi ‘DAZED AND ABUSED IN BEVERLY HILLS.’ The record sounds like a XXXTentacion or Lil Peep record,
This show of range is credit to Amaarae.
The Angel You Don’t Know is a quality experience in songwriting, but the sonic diversity of its production is the factor that sets it apart. It feels like she set out to showcase all parts to herself - sexually, emotionally, socially, sonically, musically and creatively.
In a way, maybe the surprise element of this sonic diversity as well as the identity banner she unfurls is why the album is titled thus. The clashing lustre of her abstract album art also seems to portray that reality of creative angles, sides and density.
In the final four tracks of the album, Amaarae comes back home and becomes African - sometimes Ghanaian and sometimes Nigerian. As she chronicles heartbreak on ‘SAD, U BROKE MY HEART,’ she is Ghanaian and Nigerian. She brings the lamba with “Whini wana, whini wana…”
She sings in Twi before mentioning the cliche of Nigerian female representation in music, “Fine Chioma.” As she craves nightly love on ‘3 AM,’ she sings in Yoruba. It’s also interesting how Amaarae, a Ghanaian wrote that song all by herself.
Will this album have missed ‘3 AM’ if it wasn’t there though? This writer doesn't think so. But at least, the track shouldn’t have been at the end of this sequence.
As much as Amaarae needed those Afro-pop records with heavy African identity as their bedrock in the final sequence of this album, records like ‘3 AM’ and ‘SAD GIRLZ’ lack the appeal of Amaarae’s pop records like ‘Spend Some Time’ or even ‘Like It.’
But topically, ‘SAD GIRLZ’ is relevant. It contains Amaarae’s bid to focus on money over emotions after everything went pear-shaped on ‘DAZED.’ The ‘Black or White’ interpolation is also smart.
‘PARTY SAD FACE’ seems like the ‘sun moment’ for Amaarae. After heartbreak and abuse, she is back at a party and seemingly hopes to recapture her love for hedonism.
All the featured acts on this album brought their A-game. 6 was even sounding like Bruno Mars on the R&B record, ‘CELINE.’
But on the central theme, it feels like this album seems to tell the story of a young woman who loves the good life. She is in an imperfect relationship until she jumps ship for another relationship that leads to some emotional damage.
At the end of the story, she is trying to recapture who she was at the start of this album; a lover of the good life and the goodies that money can buy.
This is quality music, but it might not be for everybody. For the right audience, it will have replay value. But for the wrong audience, they might not come back - even after an enjoyable first listen. However, that will not take from the quality of this album, which is an acquired taste.
Starting and ending with Pop-Rock is also a nice touch.
• 0-1.9: Flop
• 2.0-3.9: Near fall
• 4.0-5.9: Average
• 6.0-7.9: Victory
• 8.0-10: Champion
Pulse Rating: /10
Album Sequencing: 1.6/2
Songwriting and Themes: 1.6/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.7/2
8.2 - Champion
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