Devonté Hynes, Photo by Nick Harwood

Devonté Hynes is a London-born, New York-based singer, songwriter, producer, composer, and instrumentalist whose array of musical talents is paralleled in his various pseudonyms and accompanying genres. He first was a part of indie punk rock trio Test Icicles in 2004, then transitioned into solo work in folk-rock under Lightspeed Champion in 2007, finally settling into Blood Orange in 2011.

At the intersection between synth-funk, neo-soul, alternative R&B, and hip-hop, Blood Orange creates truly masterful works of art with characteristic layered vocals and dynamic collaborations with other artists. A queer Black man, Hynes incorporates much of his identity into his music as a form of protest for minoritized groups. He elegantly embeds topics such as feminism, police brutality, transgender rights, and queer expression throughout his albums as a protest to finding community and hope through suffering.

How Dev Hynes, English Misfit, Became Blood Orange, R.&B. Miracle Worker -  The New York Times
Devonté Hynes, Courtesy of The New York Times

Freetown Sound was Hynes’ third album under Blood Orange, and his first to discuss social concepts and systems of oppression. The album is a lengthy accumulation of both hypothetical and reported experiences that are representative of the experiences of the entire community. They are songs intended to exercise both universality and specificity, so listeners can connect to the music individually while simultaneously feeling the larger community.

Born in the context of the shooting of Michael Brown in August of 2014, Freetown Sound celebrates difference, identity, and unity under Black culture as an extension of Hynes’ experiences with bullying in adolescence. The album is highly collaborative with mostly female artists such as Carly Rae Jepsen on “Better Than Me”, Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry on “E.V.P”, Empress Of’s Lorely Rodriguez on “Best to You”, and Nelly Furtado on “Hadron Collider”, an aspect which reinforces the album’s feminist overtones.

The most notable feature on the album comes not from a singer, but spoken word poet Ashlee Haze on the first song off the album: “By Ourselves”. Haze powerfully and urgently delivers her poem “For Colored Girls” (The Missy Elliot Poem) in less than sixty seconds as she unapologetically describes feminism and Black feminity. The song acts as a reminder of worth and as an ode to being who and standing for what you’re told not to – to transcend.

I will tell you that right now

There are a million Black girls just waiting

To see someone who looks like them

lines from “For Colored Girls” by Ashlee Haze

“Desirée”, the 9th song on Freetown Sound, expands into trans lives, specifically the experiences of Black trans women. The song opens with a spoken intro by Venus Xtravaganza, a transgender American performer, as she describes “working girls” and their engagement in ballroom culture and sex work. “Desirée” continues to discuss ongoing anxieties and harassment of trans women who are evolving into their identity in a world that will never let them settle.

The 10th song on Freetown Sound, “Hands Up”, highlights the Black Lives Matter movement as Hynes recognizes the vilification of young Black boys and the ways in which racism drives police brutality. The unnerving lines (“Keep your hood off when you’re walking ‘cause they / Hands up, get out, hands up, get out”) speak to the ways in which Black youth are forced to maintain an awareness of how they may be perceived in order to appear less of a threat, only to continue experiencing disproportionately negative and violent encounters with law enforcement. 

Keep your hood off when you’re walking ‘cause they

Hands up, get out, hands up, get out

lyrics from “Hands Up” by Blood Orange

Devonté Hyne’s discography under Blood Orange is loaded with nods towards social justice movements as he expertly juggles sonic and thematic boundaries. His familiarity with composing and the inclusion of those from the communities he’s representing fosters a truly immersive experience of unique sounds and personal testaments for the listener to enjoy. Hyne’s meticulous and intelligent construction ensures each track is full of deeper connections and allusions to contemporary references, making Blood Orange’s music something everyone should have the pleasure of experiencing.