Music Critic Hope Sikolia gives us a run down of Tyla’s debut album

Written by hope.sikolia
Published
Images by @Tyla on Instagram

Johannesburg native and Grammy award-winning artist Tyla released her highly anticipated self-titled debut album in March 2024. The fourteen-track album includes familiar and new songs and establishes her trademark sound: vocal-forward amapiano with hints of pop and R&B. Thirty-eight minutes long, the album maintains a consistent sound but left me wishing for more variety and experimentation.

The project begins with six songs that encapsulate Tyla’s signature sound – a catchy chant-like hook, R&B vocals and up-tempo amapiano beats fit for dancing. The album starts upbeat with ‘Safer.’ With its simple catchy lyrics, the beat dominates and urges the listener to dance. ‘Water’ and ‘Truth or Dare,’ originally released as singles, gained virality on TikTok as dance challenges and helped catapult Tyla’s career. The two songs are similar sonically and structurally to ‘Safer’, comprising two short verses with a catchy, repeated chorus.

‘No. 1’ shows Tyla’s prowess as a collaborator, with Tems’s soulful voice pairing well with her softer tone…

‘No. 1’ features the Nigerian Afro-R&B artist Tems and is a liberated female anthem about reclaiming your self-worth. ‘No. 1’ shows Tyla’s prowess as a collaborator, with Tems’s soulful voice pairing well with her softer tone, and the beats offering a pleasant mix of amapiano and afrobeat. The song is enjoyable and a successful collaboration, however, I found it too short and quite safe. I wish the two artists flaunted their vocal skills and that there was more lyrical and sonic variety on the track. 

The strings and flutes scattered in the background of ‘Breathe Me’ stand out and add texture to the otherwise simple track. The alternative R&B instrumental paired with Tyla’s soft, breathy voice successfully capture the emotional lyrics. However, while I was excited about the variety this song offered the project, I found the switch in mood quite abrupt. Tyla’s hypnotic vocals in ‘On and On’ ease the listener back to the amapiano log drum. However, the lyrics seem discordant with the relaxed beat, and the repetition of the chorus becomes monotonous towards the end of the song.

I was shocked by the bass at the start of  ‘Jump’ after the previous mellow songs. Legendary Jamaican artist Skillibeng opens the dancehall-influenced track with his raspy voice, followed by a beat drop and Tyla’s isolated vocals celebrating her hometown and her beauty, in a line that has gone viral on TikTok – ‘They never had a pretty girl from Jo’burg / See me now and that’s what they prefer.’ Tyla seems to take on a West Indian twang to match Skillibeng’s accent, embracing the dancehall genre and highlighting her impressive adaptation to the style and sound of artists she collaborates with while keeping true to her South African heritage. As a single, the song has become a favourite and is an exciting addition to the project. American rapper Gunna’s verse, voice and flow surprisingly blend seamlessly with the Tyla and Skillibeng. 

‘ART’ reinstates the sound of the first few songs on the album but the creative lyricism, with Tyla comparing herself to artwork in this extended metaphor, makes this song stand out. However, I found the song short and wished there was more time for the lyrical concept to be explored further.

Hints of Latin-American influence are heard in ‘On My Body’ featuring Becky G. Tyla and Becky’s voices go well together, but like ‘No. 1,’ the track feels too short and safe, leaving the listener wishing for more from the two artists.

Despite the vulnerable lyrics, the melody sounds familiar and lacks innovation.

The next two songs lean into the house music genre. ‘Priorities’ beautifully crescendos, allowing for the layering and production of the track to shine. Despite the vulnerable lyrics, the melody sounds familiar and lacks innovation. ‘To Last’ seemingly pays homage to 2010 South African house music and is positioned appropriately next to ‘Priorities.’

 ‘Water – Remix’ features the highly acclaimed rapper Travis Scott. The song does not add much to the project and leaves the album open-ended and incomplete. Scott’s verse seems like an odd addition, with his signature auto-tune taking away from the fluidity of the song and Tyla’s vocals. 

I hope to see more experimentation and diversity in sound from Tyla in the future.

The album is mostly monotone with a few attempts at experimentation that shine and show the album’s potential, fuelling my disappointment with the final product. The collaborations are successful but mostly feel restricted. The project seems rushed, considering a few songs had already been released and, apart from the collaborations, the newer songs sound similar to Tyla’s previous work. The ordering of songs lacks creativity and seems more like similar-sounding songs were grouped. I expected more from Tyla’s debut album, especially following her newfound international recognition and success. I hope to see more experimentation and diversity in sound from Tyla in the future.

Rating: 6/10


Enjoyed this? You might also like…

Live Review: Simple Minds

Album Review: Olivia Rodrigo- GUTS (spilled)

Live Review: Yonaka

Comments