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Tyla Cements Superstar Potential With Debut Album

Tyla Cements Superstar Potential With Debut Album

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Tyla is a wonderful debut album that announces its artist powerfully to a very attentive world…

By Yinoluwa Olowofoyeku

The “Afrobeats to the World” movement has taken the world by storm and led to several meteoric rises in recent memory. African musicians and the African sounds they embody are capturing the rapturous attention of the global audience. Various artistes have been emerging as flagbearers of this new wave, and Tyla has now cemented her position amongst those pushing the global demand for Afrobeats and African sounds.   

Tyla Laura Seethal, professionally known as Tyla, has fully emerged onto the global music scene as a dynamic force to be reckoned with. Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 30th January 2002, Tyla’s journey to stardom began with a fusion of diverse cultural influences and a passion for music deeply ingrained in her upbringing. From a young age, her musical prowess was evident, drawing inspiration from her multicultural heritage, which includes Indian, Zulu, Irish, and Mauritian ancestry. She is known to have wanted to be a singer right from when she could say the word. Growing up surrounded by a diverse array of musical genres, she cites the likes of Michael Jackson as the inspiration for the songs she began writing in her diary at a young age . While music was always a hobby for her as she grew up, the switch came when she dropped out of university (where she was studying Mining Engineering) to fully pursue her musical interests.

In 2019, Tyla burst onto the South African music scene with her debut single, “Getting Late“, featuring her producer, Kooldrink, which quickly garnered national acclaim. The song’s momentum was propelled by a viral TikTok challenge that swept the social media platform and carried the song to the American market. Tyla’s social media savviness and dancing skills connected her with a wide receptive audience during the downtime of the COVID-19 pandemic. This audience ensured that the official video for this debut song garnered millions of views effortlessly. With this solid foundation laid, a record deal was struck with Epic Records in 2021, seeing Tyla double down on her building reputation with two singles, “Overdue” and “To Last”. Then came “Been Thinking” and “Girl Next Door” with fellow rising starlet Ayra Starr.

However, it was Tyla’s 2023 single, “Water”, that catapulted her to global superstardom. The infectious track resonated with audiences worldwide, climbing the charts in sixteen countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States. The song was a fixture on TikTok and eventually made history as the first song by a South African soloist to enter the US Billboard Hot 100 in over five decades. The accolades continued to pour in for Tyla, culminating in her groundbreaking win at the 66th Annual Grammy Awards in 2024, where she received the inaugural award  for Best African Music Performance for the single. At just 22 years old, Tyla became the youngest-ever African artiste to win a Grammy, cementing her legacy as a trailblazer in the music industry.

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Tyla receiving her Grammy award

So, with the stage set, the singer unveiled her highly anticipated self-titled debut album, Tyla on 22nd March 2024. She described the album as experimental, where  she explores the infusion of her preferred R&B and Pop sounds with the rhythms and energy of the continent-representing Amapiano and Afrobeats. 

The album is introduced with the voices of Kelvin Momo and others seemingly recorded in the studio as one of Tyla’s in-progress songs blasts in the background. This segues into “Safer” which comes right in with percussion-focused Afrobeats drums. Soft key chords are juxtaposed against the energetic drums and log-drum-esque 808 basses. The song is anchored by a grand chorus, featuring electrifying gang vocals and a strong melodic run “I know that it’s danger, I know I’m safer runnin’”. The group vocals and melodic riff come together in a package that is reminiscent of a Fela Kuti song. Tyla’s singing is light and airy over the rumbling 808s and her simplistic lyrics boast some succinct storytelling, getting the point across without requiring wordiness. 

The kingmaker “Water” is up next and sets the sonic throughline of the album featuring smooth mellow R&B-adjacent keys, sparkling pianos, Afrobeats drum patterns, and a light sprinkling of the signature Amapiano log drums. Big group vocals fill out the catchy earworm of a hook while the verses see Tyla delivering unsurprisingly sensual lyrics with a lightness usually found in the most sincere of love songs. “Hopefully you can last all night / Don’t get too excited (Ooh)/ Oh, privacy (Mm)/ You ain’t gotta go nowhere/ You can stay inside it”, she croons with the odd subtle harmony.  

The stylistic trend continues on “Truth or Dare” as Tyla frankly addresses a past lover over spacious Afrobeats drums, a filtered chord progression, and occasional summery guitars. Again, the gang vocals add a scale and punch to the chorus that anchors the song in the hook’s mantra-like energy. At this point, the sonic direction of the album is firmly entrenched to the listener, having heard it in three consecutive songs. 

Tyla to perform at Coachella - Afrocritik
Tyla

“No. 1” begins in a similar vein and it would be understandable if fatigue began to set in here. However, producers Alex Lustig and Sammy Soso are able to vary the sonic tapestry, giving the song a bass-heavy slant with incessant kick drums and a prominent 808 bass rumbling under the deep frequencies of the instrumental and injects the song with her signature emotional twinge with her querying lyrics. “How dare you call me ‘babe’ when you can’t be trusted?/ Holding me back, boy, when you make me exhausted”, Tyla’s voice joins up with Tems’ in the subsequent chorus to crescendo the song to its emotional climax. As the group vocals blend into the medley, the song gradually fades out on that strong emotional note. 

“Breathe Me” adopts a similar kick-heavy composition to that of “No.1”, grounding the song in deeper frequencies that allow Tyla’s lofty sultry delivery to pierce deep into the listener’s soundscape. Something about this song makes it feel like a thematic extension of “Water”. Perhaps it’s in the instructional nature of the sultry innuendos delivered in the lyrics. As the song crescendos, producers Sammy Soso & Rayo infuse lighter and higher-pitched accompanying instruments into the mix. The signature group vocals also creep in here, broadening the soundscape and leading the song to its final climax before it fades out. 

“Butterflies” provides us with our first drastic sonic diversion, mostly comprised  of frantically strummed acoustic guitars, a sole bassline synth, and sporadic orchestral strings. Here we also get one of Tyla’s most impressive vocal performances as certain passages of the song demand that she performs vocal gymnastics. “Plus you the type to leave me confused/ In a maze, trappеd in your rules/ Many tried to cleansе me of you/ But my heart wants more”, she sings, leaping into her higher vocal register, floating around her falsetto range, dancing with vibratos, and seamlessly tumbling back down to her comfort zone. Other passages of the song feature ethereal harmonisations that meld into the emotive instrumental landscape being created.

“On and On” is a downtempo party anthem built on the rattling shakers, and steady syncopation of a soulful Amapiano song. However, the rest of the drums are closer aligned to Hip-Hop stylings with sharp hats and thumping 808 drums. In all this, Tyla herself seems to be coming from the world of R&B as she delivers her lyrics with a sparse soft-spoken delivery and a strong melodic focus. “I’m not goin’ home/ ‘Cause I swear thе DJ’s playin’ all of these songs for me”, she sings, yearning for the kind of nights that were rampant before her time. 

“Jump” is our second drastic sonic diversion. Tyla invites Skillibeng and Gunna to assist her on this Dancehall-inspired banger. Minimal instrumentation is employed atop a speaker-bumping bassline that does the heavy lifting. “From Jozi to Ibiza/ They say it doesn’t get sweeter/ Feel my body banging like speaker Ooh/ Sweating out my concealеr”, sings Tyla with a belted delivery we haven’t gotten from her anywhere else on the project. 

“Art” was one of the lead singles preceding the album and it returns us to the project’s established stylistic core; buttery keys, Afrobeats drums, and Amapiano log drums. By this point, we are very familiar with the formula, both sonically and thematically, as Tyla asks to be handled in a manner similar to that of “Water”. Even the group vocals in the chorus don’t strike the same chord at this point in the project. The song is not bad by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just unfortunate that we’ve heard many others like it by this point. 

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“On My Body” could have fallen victim to the same weariness, however, the Becky G feature manages to inject a tiny bit of novelty with her Spanish and Latin-influenced melodic choices. The Sammy Soso and P2J instrumental here feels even less developed than many of the other Afrobeats beats on the album, failing to include the prominent Amapiano elements and remaining a largely stagnant loop through the song’s runtime. 

“Priorities” begins with heartfelt electric guitars. “My first mistake/ Thinkin’ that I could be everything/ Look how spreadin’ myself thin/ Became my priority again”, confesses Tyla over these guitars. A steady four-to-the-floor kick pattern is introduced here but the inclusion is almost jarring as one would expect the song to flow acoustically almost like “Butterflies” did. More drums are introduced as the song goes but they never really make themselves at home, constantly feeling like strangers forced into this introspective and intimate song. For the first time on the album, sticking to the idea of multi-genre fusion is actually detrimental to the track’s makeup. 

“To Last” pulls off the balancing act much better, throwing Tyla’s heartbroken lyrics and sombre singing atop similarly subdued percussions and morose pianos. Domineering log drums and a sparkly synth arpeggio arrest the listener at the restrained dance breaks that don’t compromise the emotional centre of the song, sticking the landing in an impressive show of balance. 

The album closes out with the Travis Scott-assisted remix of “Water”, a shrewd move by Tyla’s team that demonstrates their strategic and creative nous. Travis Scott’s idiosyncratic penchant for trippy ad-libs and psychedelic melodies fuse perfectly with the Pop energy that carried the original song as far and wide as it did, resulting in a remix that is both substantially additive and different enough to merit its creation.

Tyla is a debut album that was always going to come under a fair amount of scrutiny considering the artiste’s newfound positioning firmly in the world’s gaze. The young debutante handled the moment spectacularly, sticking to her artistic roots and intentions to largely successful effect. 

There is a clear mission statement with the sound. With the stellar and technically pristine production across the board, Tyla and her producers found a clever and distinctive way to combine her R&B, Afrobeats, and Amapiano influences into a tell-tale signature that is identifiably hers. Across the album, there are moments that display the different ways and degrees to which these individual ingredient genres could be combined and that goes a long way in preventing listener fatigue. Unfortunately, they were not always successful as there are a number of moments where the distinctive sound crosses into formulaic. In these moments, Tyla herself keeps the album afloat. Her singing prowess is undeniable. She sings with crystal clarity and ease, hitting her notes without any fuss or loss of control. For most of the album, she resides squarely in her comfort zone, but then once in a while, she pulls out an ace from her sleeve in a run or melody that I was not expecting. “Butterflies” and “Jump” show the various extents of her range and I wish she had taken a few more opportunities to put that diversity on display. “Priorities” could have been a great example of such an opportunity had it been allowed to dwell more in the realm of R&B. The tracklist was begging for a bit more genre diversity as the little we got proved that Tyla could have handled it. 

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When it comes to songwriting, Tyla took a lot of inspiration from Pop music. The verses are really brief, allowing the hook and chorus to dominate the song structure. As such, it is discernible that the songs are designed to be catchy and contagious. This intention is evident in the consistent use of group vocals at those critical stages, driving the melody and lyrics deep into the listener’s mind. Impressively, Tyla is still able to maximise the use of these short verses and straightforward lyricism as she manages to sow the seeds of the themes and emotions of each song with very few words. Again, this means that the handful of words chosen are easy to remember, easy to connect with the emotion being communicated, and subsequently easy to recall and re-sing. 

With that all said, Tyla is a wonderful debut album that announces its artiste powerfully to a very attentive world. It capitalises on the moment and trend that propelled Tyla to global stardom, locking in the set of fans that admire what she did with “Water.” At the same time, it manages to provide glimpses of the other things she is capable of, hinting at massive untapped potential and piquing the curiosity of those interested in where she could develop in the coming years.  While I would have loved a bit more range and diversity from the singer right here from the jump, I also can’t fault a young artiste in the early stages of their career for doubling down on what works and what makes her who she is so far. This album is fun, charismatic, sassy, energetic, bold, and genuine. Tyla’s trajectory is looking impressive and I can’t wait to see what other heights she can attain as she continues to bloom as a creative. 

 

Lyricism – 1.6

Tracklisting – 1.4

Sound Engineering – 1.8

Vocalisation – 1.7

Listening Experience – 1.6

 

Rating – 8.1/10

Yinoluwa “Yinoluu” Olowofoyeku is a multi-disciplinary artist and creative who finds expression in various media. His music can be found across all platforms and he welcomes interaction on his social media @Yinoluu.

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