Review: The Angel You Don’t Know Is Amaarae ‘s Finest, Yet
On her debut album THE ANGEL YOU DON’T KNOW (TAYDK), Amaarae trundles within the halls of debauchery, money, and mystery. Served on a sonic plate of RnB, punk rock, and Afropop, the 26-year-old Ghanaian singer showcases the boldness of her generation: boisterous, unapologetic, confident, and unhinged in her edicts on the themes that helm the album.
TAYDK had been in the works for a couple of months. According to her, the initial plan was to release this album as an EP. That plan was revised as she started working on it with her creative team. Recording sessions for the album were held in Ghana and Gran Canaria in Spain. The influences of her itinerant lifestyle thus sips through the album. Prior to its release, Amaarae had offered a peek into what was to come on songs like “FANCY” (a boss bitch anthem) and “LEAVE ME ALONE” (an introspective look on life); songs with different sonic template traits. What remain constant is her infectious falsetto voice which, like a quicksand, consumes you without you realizing.
Despite her amazing talent, Amaarae’s profile as a musician is not high up on the mainstream radar. Her music, however, is well received within the growing alté music space. Her collaborations with Nigerian alté powerhouses – Cruel Santino, Odunsi, Show Dem Camp- has helped build her artistic currency in Nigeria. In Ghana, the more “artsy”, music Scouters have been fucking with her for a while. And, just like any gifted artist aware of the taste buds of their fan base, she has offered nothing but high-quality art, both in audio and video. Just visit her Youtube channel.
The album title, THE ANGEL YOU DON’T KNOW speaks with ambivalence – it broods a sinister motive and a cautionary footnote. These two sides are illustrated on records such as “JUMPING SHIP”, the Caribbean toned record about finding a new lover. Featuring Cruel Santino and her cousin, UK rapper and poet Kojey Radical who initially owned the song, the trio capture a party-like mood where drinks, blunts, and sex aplenty. (Did you catch the interpolation of Zangelewa’s Zamina Mina?)
A closer listen to the album, particularly the song sequencing reveals a tale of Amaarae’s escapades in a club with each song as a chapter in her nightly reveries.
This is demonstrated on the alluring FANTASY, where she is captivated by someone she seems to know (perhaps an ex). “Who can I run to when you ain’t there?“, Amaarae rhetorically quips, adding “give me a little to keep me here“. The plot feels like the two are trying to rekindle a lost spark on a couch in the club. Maesu, who plays her lover appeals for another chance at the relationship singing: “Try again, I was gonna fuck up that time, let’s try again” and “you know how to push my buttons“, over soft percussions that undergird the beat.
Confessions, finger-pointing, and accepting blame along with desiring a new start can not be done in isolation thus the lyrics “bottles are empty, we gon’ need more Hennessey” serving as the closing parentheses to the tale sharing. After all, alcohol loosens the tongue, they say. “I heard you have a fetish for dollar signs” as echoed by CKay on “FANTASY” feeds perfectly into “TRUST FUND BABY”, where Amaarae admits her bougie-ness with a line like “Trust fund baby with this pussy, nigga you really should treasure it“.
Amaarae’s diverse background – a Ghanaian raised in America- seeps across the album. Trap rhythms as heard on HELLZ ANGEL is borrowed from her years as a resident of Atlanta (the home of trap music). On the song, she flexes her bougie lifestyle: “Rolls Royce windows tinted/… diamond in the bag, fucking up a bag, pimp on and proud”. The cape of materialism and indulgences she wears typifies a confident black woman who is not allowing society to cow her desires. And, in an era of Snapchat, Onlyfans, Twitter, Instagram, and more, women living their best lives in the open is affirmed on TAYDK.
A distinguishing quality of the album lies in how the songs are sequenced. The transitions are very seamless. Sometimes, unnoticeable. For instance, HELLZ ANGEL ties in excellently with fan favourite “CELINE, the RnB cloistered record featuring Kyu Steed & 6. The same experience is felt on the electrotro-pop interlude DAZED AND ABUSED IN BEVERLY HILLS.
SAD, U BROKE MY HEART reflects Amaarae’s Ghanaian-ness as the record embraces afro-soul inflections with a bit of Nigerian Lamba (or vibes) while singing in Twi and interpolating a melody from Runtown’s “Mad Over You”. The uptempo 3 AM sees her pouring over reasons for which she’s in love with her partner. Dawn is the best time to perform such musings. She does not only sing in English but also in Yoruba while interpolating a famous line from “Broken Heart by Ofori Amponsah”
If SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY featuring Moliy (an interesting title to be honest) with its electrifying feel, both in production and lyrics is about partying, PARTY SAD FACE/ CRAZY WURLD with Odunsi (The Engine) and KZdidit takes a mellow, chilled out, tone where pills are popped to cope with the mood of pain and sadness.
THE ANGEL YOU DON’T KNOW is 14-track long yet its length might not be noticeable due to how well it is packaged. The songs are well sequenced, the production is excellently helmed, and the songwriting is superior. Amaarae’s dexterity is present on the album – her ability to switch across styles is enthralling. Beginning the album with the synth-heavy, rock fuelled “DANGEROUS” was deceptive. (The song interlude reminds you of “Hills” by The Weeknd). The featured guests on the album also added their brilliance to the overall outcome.
The highs notwithstanding, TAYDK carries some negligible lows among which includes her decision to lend SAD, U BROKE MY HEART an afro-soul colour. It sounded much like Amaarae trying to “belong” no matter her good intentions (You’d understand if you listen to “Spend Some Time”). Similarly, 3 AM could have been off and the story arch would not have lost its substance. Again, why is TRUST FUND BABY under 2 minutes?
In all, THE ANGEL YOU DON’T KNOW is an album for the avant-garde music lover. The diverse soundscapes would fit the musical taste of numerous music enthusiasts. Amaarae has proven herself to be an artist that cannot be pigeonholed. She is aware of what her fans want. And, she is feeding them that whiles attempting to rope in new ones. TAYDK is Amaarae’s finest piece of art, yet. Her wish to become the African pop princess begins with “TAYDK”. And, what’s up with the style of writing the song titles? A nod to 2PAC Shakur or the Dirty South?