On November 13, 2020, Cape Town singer, Rowlene released her long-awaited, highly-anticipated debut album. This was over a year after the album was initially announced and teased to a horde of fans. She's a core member of the new wave of female R&B currently permeating South African pop culture. Some of the others are Shekhinah, Elaine and Ipeleng.
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Often referred to as Nasty C’s protege, she is signed to the Def Jam artist’s label, Tall Racks. In a 2018 chat with Sunday Times, she discussed how she’s wrongly perceived by people.
She also said that, “[Nasty and I] are friends before anything else and he understands me like nobody else does. I won't say that he found me but he was one of the people that have been pushing me. He believed in me when I didn't believe in myself. We are all a family at Tall Racks and push each other."
Since she featured on Nasty Cs’s debut album, Bad Hair, they have collaborated a few more times. As part of a build up to her debut album, she released singles like ‘Stop,’ ‘Sunday Morning,’ and ‘Hypnotise’ featuring Nigerian Afro-fusion artist and producer, Nonso Amadi.
On the day the album dropped, she wrote on her Twitter page that, “I’M EMOTIONAL [Right Now]... MY PROJECT IS REALLY TIMELESS IDC. NO SKIPS. VARIETY. A PLAYLIST.. I CANT WAIT FOR MY GROWTH FROM THIS ... YOH YOH .. YOH ALSO THE PEOPLE I MET DURING THIS PROCESS YAWL FOREVER…”
Speaking on the album, she has also said that, “11:11 is connected to being in sync with yourself, your divine timing and purpose. I feel like music has been my purpose. I've allowed myself to be vulnerable and just to trust the process," she said in an interview recently.
“I'm manifesting the best for this album without being attached to an outcome. I have a couple [of] themes that's discussed and performed, but I truly wanted to showcase my versatility.”
While the project dropped on November 13 [13/11], most people would naturally link the album title, ‘11:11’ to November 11.
But during a chat with John Maytham on Afternoon Drive, she speaks on the album title, “With this album, with COVID and everything that has happened, I had to mentally be in a great space to be in a great space; emotionally and mentally so that I could finish this project and what I want it to sound like. And that’s my divine timing and what 11:11 means to me…”
The album is led by themes of infidelity, feminism, love, heartbreak and willpower. Divided by an interlude, it seems like ‘11:11’ contains two episodes of woman’s rollercoaster affair with love.
Both parts are created around the end of a relationship. On the Zooci Coke Dope-produced R&B beauty ‘Creepin,’ Rowlene’s character discusses how infidelity led to the break up. While the song sits at track three, this album is still beautifully sequenced - it feels like peeling an onion.
She sings, “I had all of my energy, all of my intimacy focusing on you, but you had all of your intentions on her and introduced her to our room. Now you're nobody, to me…” Her soprano is cutting edge as she even references the ultimate infidelity-inspired break-up song of the 2000s in Beyonce’s ‘Irreplaceable.’
She sang, “You got me over here packing while I'm packing all the boxes to the left…”
Throughout the album, Rowlene is a modern woman. She doesn’t cower to masculinity, she embraces her power and wears her femininity like a badge of honour. On the opening track, ‘Stop’ this is exactly what Rowlene is as she gives a leeching lover a telling off. He is in a class below her.
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She flaunts her class and sings, “I’m a star player and you’re an exchange...I've been thinkin' 'bout them boys. You're not one of them, boys, boys…” Towards the end of the song, the drum-heavy Trapsoul flips into an Ambient episode on 2:06, with the aid of two layers of vocals. One harmonizes while the other is a looped, effect-ridden voice.
If she was separating herself from a lover on ‘Stop,’ a lover seems to be holding on to her and the love that was once shared on, ‘Even.’ While she was more aggressive on ‘Stop,’ she is calmer and considerate on ‘Even’ as she advises the lover to let go.
She sings, “I'm not in a position of holding on but you cling to me, and I keep praying till I find the one. It's plain to see that sometimes love ain't enough… We should walk away, while we still got our dignity…”
By ‘Danger,’ it seems the relationship is finally over. On an uptempo pop record, Rowlene hits ‘the streets’ in search of a fast-paced, fleeting romance - like a modern woman. She proudly sings, “Everybody needs a little bit of danger…” as she plans to live on edge.
The night around town leads her back into a ballad. She’s a warm blooded human being with emotions and she’s on the rollercoaster like any 20-something around the world. She catches feelings, but due to where she’s coming from, she doesn’t ignore the ‘Signs.’ She sings, “I won’t be just another girl that you’ll be adding to your list…”
She refuses to be a hot mess and blatantly refuses to get carried away and ignore the red flags. ‘Signs’ is by far the best record on ‘11:11.’ Such an amazing, substantiated record. With Sauti Sol-esque guitar chords and slowed down Afro-pop percussion, Rowlene and Nonso Amadi play lovers who are sprung with each other on ‘Hypnotize.’ They even liken the love to hypnosis.
For interlude, Power actor Omari Hardwick delivers blistering spoken word on ‘Omari’s Interlude.’ It’s both chilling and suspenseful. On ‘Piece of Heaven,’ Rowlene uses a guitar-based ballad and Christian symbolism of the all-encompassing power of heaven as a metaphor for the kind of love she wants and needs.
The looped Electronic effect at the start of ‘You and You’ is as eclectic as the Ballad/Dancehall record itself. The happy moment of ‘Hypnotize’ didn’t last. Rowlene is then back to where the album starts. While the relationship at the start of the album crashed due to infidelity, ‘You on You’ seems to be due to a problem with distrust and doubt.
Rowlene sings, “You always say "I love you" but do you really mean it? Would you like if I did a you on you…” The record is a conversation between two lovers who seems to be on the opposite ends of what’s required in their relationship. The woman seems to be struggling, but the guy’s offence isn’t exactly clear.
For the second time on this album, it ended in tears on ‘Sunday Morning.’ Aided by Manna, Rowlene feels, “Heartbreak, it's better on a Sunday morning…” The pain is so much that they duet the part, “Savе me from myself. How long will it take to hеal?”
‘Make A Wish’ is a sentimental record with wishes and butterflies on a piano-based ballad. It’s not exactly related to the album, but it’s a nice touch that speaks to the realities of Rowlene’s actual life.
This album is simply amazing!
• 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: 1.5/2
Songwriting and Themes: 2/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.8/2
9.0 - Champion