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TDE's Lance Skiiiwalker can do without your labels

His debut "Introverted Intuition" is an interesting but unfocused project, complete with tapas-sized tracks that are enjoyable, awkward, and explorative.

It's natural to categorize music. Mostly, because it’s convenient. By defining tunes, we’re not only able to make sense of the rhythmic noise, we’re also able to appropriately measure them against others. But every once in awhile an artist comes along who defies our labels. In fact, he or she despises them. They’re completely uninterested in our categorization, solely concerned with realizing their creativity. Lance Skiiiwalker is that type of artist.

Born Lance Howard, the longtime contributor to Top Dawg Entertainment isn’t exactly the new kid on the block. He’s occupied considerable real estate on tracks by his labelmates Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, and Jay Rock. For all intents and purposes, he is TDE’s version of Nate Dogg. So when Top announced that the Chicago-bred artist was the latest act signed to the label — then later disclosed Lance’s upcoming project — it wasn’t exactly a surprise. If anything, the vocalist who stylizes his stage name with three I's was shrouded in intrigue and anticipation rather than mystery. What would Lance Skiiiwalker bring to the table?

Introverted Intuition attempts to answer this question, but does so without saying much of anything at all. The album itself is an ambitious exploration with undertones of unrequited love. It’s a risky proposition that provides a litany of rewards with tracks like “Lover’s Lane,” “Stockholm,” and “Could It Be.” However, the independent project hosts a considerable amount of misfires as evidenced by “Speed” — a dizzying production accompanied with a cringeworthy, static bassline — and “Forbidden Fruit” — an overindulgent misuse of Auto-Tune. There are also sophomoric skits that are tasked with providing humor but fall flat, occupying space that could have been used to expound on the album’s successes.

We find Lance at his best — and perhaps his sincerest — on “Advantage.” The track begins with a screwed voice over a soulful beat co-produced by newcomers O’bonjour, J. LBS, and Lance himself (under the surname Rocket). Skiiiwalker briefly tells us as he’s rushing out the door on a Friday with the essentials in tow how he cherishes life; he’s keen on taking stock of things, ensuring he doesn’t miss them. But like most of the album, Lance fails to explicate this promising notion, and after a mere minute and forty-five seconds the track transitions into an N.E.R.D.-like phase of random, anxious rhetorical thoughts. It’s a strange dichotomy that works in this instance but serves as an elucidation for the 13 track, 34-minute album.

The biggest takeaway from Skiiiwalker’s solo catalog isn’t necessarily the music, but rather Skiiiwalker himself — he’s a witty, peculiar, and extremely talented individual. When he expresses himself it’s calculated. And judging from his producer credits, Skiiiwalker has a keen ear; he is unafraid to experiment with varying musical components and understands tonal balance and nuance. Given TDE’s artist development and their talented in-house production team, this is hardly surprising.

The most glaring pitfall of Lance’s debut album is that it doesn’t properly flesh out compelling concepts; every track is treated equally, to a fault. Moreover, it lacks focus, attempting to provide a wide spectrum rather than a tailored approach.

Today’s generation of alternative R&B savants — namely Frank Ocean, Janelle Monáe, and The Weeknd — continue to push the boundaries of the genre. In that respect, Lance Skiiiwalker is similar given his approach to music. But what sets Skiiiwalker apart from his contemporaries is an eclectic sound that is neither alternative R&B nor familiar to that of his rivals. Introverted Intuition is an interesting project, complete with tapas-sized tracks that are enjoyable, awkward, and explorative. While it doesn’t fulfill the lofty expectations set forth by his previous collaborations and TDE's growing empire, the entire body of work provides splendor and hope for the vast possibilities ahead. Its shortcomings will certainly affect its replay value, but it remains a solid debut from a gifted artist whose brand of music remains uniquely his own.

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