There is nothing new about folk from previous generations outgrowing musical trends, but there seems to be an abundance of music lovers, young and old, who are presently stuck in a state of chronic nostalgia. It’s 2018, though, and some artists are still creating dope music that builds on the best of the R&B, soul, and hip hop vibes that rocked the airwaves before and after the ’90s. Adrian Daniel, a singer, songwriter, producer and dancer from Brooklyn, N.Y. is one such artist who wants to reawaken the ears of music lovers.
Before his Saturday night performance at Rough Trade in Williamsburg, he and I chatted backstage about his sophomore album, Flawed. “I am a fan that likes to make music,” Daniel told me at the start of our talk. Fans can be the greatest protectors of the art they love, but Daniel possesses a love for music—a love that is critical and affirmative.
Daniel’s worldview straddles the fine line between tradition and progression. He is the godson of jazz great Lionel Hampton and also grew up four blocks away from rapper Bobby Shmurda. In creating Flawed he has developed a stirring, comprehensive interpretation of living and loving in this millennium. Across the album’s 14 tracks is a seamless effort to reorient listeners towards the future of soul music.
Adrian Daniel, a singer, songwriter, producer and dancer from Brooklyn, is one such artist who wants to reawaken the ears of music lovers.
The album borrows from the past while being firmly grounded in the present. At the heart of his artistry is an unrelenting commitment to bridge gaps in musical history. Daniel pays homage to African traditions, specifically its fundamental placement in American music. He understands that the Black experience’s imprint is present in all music, which affords him the freedom to experiment with genres now largely seen as divergent. He is an independent artist creating music based on his experiences and desires.
The album’s cover art illustrates Adrian Daniel’s body with a scratched out face. The city’s dark streets are lined with cars and neon lights serving as the photo’s backdrop. The imagery is an ode to the very aspects of the urban landscape that inspires Daniel. “Tony, my manager, helped me with the artwork. She was like we need writing everywhere. Then I wanted to make it like the real New York (indicating the scratches and graffiti that can be found throughout the city), [my cover] is what Brooklyn looks like, it’s real life,” he shared.
“Real,” is also a title track on the album. The word “real” defines every aspect of the city and its people who are known for being brazenly honest; however, the lyrics here suggest reality is now a concept that’s practically absent among this new generation. In this song Daniel yearns for the return of reality. “My face is missing on both of my albums’ cover art because I want people to see themselves in my music,” he told me. He wants listeners to have an encounter with self and truth. And in contrast to relying on stories of the past, this record centers the feelings of desolation, lovelessness, and identity. These feelings are those people currently experience and makes the album a soundtrack for our times. And it is also a soundtrack about place, a specific place, in fact.
“When it comes to Brooklyn, folks act like there ain’t no soul, like there’s just Biggie and Jay, like there’s no rock and roll, no jazz,” Daniel shared with a look of purposefulness on his face. It is true that older generations might only recognize jazz’s historic prominence and the hip-hop generation venerates Biggie and Jay-Z as the borough’s last greats. But Daniel understands that there exists a broader range of musical contributions that were birthed in Brooklyn. “A lot of people don’t know that Maxwell is from Brooklyn,” he shared.
Hell, even I could not recall anyone, including Maxwell, the neo-soul singer known for his lovesick falsetto laced ballads, in a list of Brooklyn’s greats. This very deficit in musical knowledge is what Daniel seeks to restore, however, with Flawed.
On my first listen, I felt his tone was similar that of Frank Ocean and The Weeknd. After a closer listen, however, I realized that his high register brings to mind Smokey Robinson, Curtis Mayfield and Maxwell.
It is true that older generations might only recognize jazz’s historic prominence and the hip-hop generation venerates Biggie and Jay-Z as the borough’s last greats. But Daniel understands that there exists a broader range of musical contributions that were birthed in Brooklyn.
Instead of going straight to the single, “This City,” Daniel prefers listeners to approach the album by listening from beginning to end. If you are looking for an easy entrance, a bop and a vibe, start with “Roxanne” or “Enough,” which also happen to be the first two songs he created. After listening, start from the beginning and work your way through to the end because there is a linear story Daniel seeks to tell.
Flawed is unapologetically sonically driven. Typically, electronic sounds provide me with all the permission I need to overlook an album’s soul credentials. Yet, in Flawed tech gives reason for a deeper appreciation of the overarching story the artist seeks to convey. Daniel utilizes it to make direct links to his experiences of growing up in a radically changing place impacted by global issues like commodification, gentrification and automation. If Howlin Wolf’s cries on “Smokehouse Lightning” are indicative of his experience in racially-segregated Mississippi, establishing his desire to be recognized and loved for his full humanity, than Adrian Daniel’s melodic cries on “This City” communicates a desire to redefine his personhood and territory in Brooklyn, where communities of color have been muted and remain under constant threat of erasure.
His compositions are simple, but complex. He travels with a live band, which harkens back to the good ole days of soul music while also promoting his own musical ability. The record’s computerized sounds create a bridge to a Black future in Brooklyn and beyond—one that can only be defined as the unknown.
A true creative Daniel owns the pain, failure and process of letting go that comes with transformation. On “Midnight Tears,” produced by Dimitri Morisseau, he invokes this concept when he sings, “You said for eternity, I guess I misunderstood just what that means.” Lyrics that on the face are about romantic love and loss also hint at moving forward culturally. Possibly even redefining home, which is a task thousands of Brooklynites have had to do as a result of gentrification.
Some may interpret Flawed as dark, but Daniel’s music comes from a place where innovation is birthed and identity is created. Flawed inevitably signals the great change that is ahead for Brooklyn, soul music and Daniel.
Bryan Epps, a Newark native, is an innovative community and institution builder.