Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak will stand the test of time; while definitely not his strongest record, it’s undoubtedly his most influential. The new-found superstar status he once strived for, disillusioned him; loneliness and the longing for companionship – he lost both his mother and fiancée prior to the release - inspired his music, serving almost as a therapeutic exercise. A drastic departure from his earlier works, this introspective, ‘pop art’ album served as the groundwork for many of today’s leading artists, including Drake, Kid Cudi, and The Weeknd.
It also served as the turning point for one of 2015’s brightest new talents, 24 year-old Yannick Ilunga, otherwise known as Petite Noir. Raised in South Africa, Ilunga’s musical interests lay within metalcore – that is, until he heard 808s. His interest in electronic music burgeoned, with his prior musical experiences culminating in one of the most captivating EPs in years, The King of Anxiety. On it, his voice readily floats between an effortless baritone, and controlled falsetto, and the layered production feels seamless and assured.
From opener “Come Inside”, which stems loosely from a blues-based background, to closer “The Fall”, whose influences are evidently R&B, Ilunga is constantly testing boundaries on the EP - yet never loses touch with its calm sensibility. Think of him as a restrained TV on the Radio, or a withheld Autre Ne Veut, but with the slow-burner capabilities of LCD Soundsystem.
It’s in the stunning “Chess”, where his potential is truly highlighted. Written during a break-up period, the track balances the negative and positive delicately, ultimately serving as a regenerative outlook; “And I can smile again, it’s possible / with or without you.” He exercises both his falsetto and baritone at will, as the production slowly builds and layers onto itself ever so precisely. It’s triumphant, absorbing, and one of the best tracks of the year thus far. Coupled with the successive, dreamlike “Shadows”, Ilunga demonstrates the talent that had him recently signed to Domino Records - who he’ll release an LP with in the near future.
Though his works are reminiscent of acts such as TV on the Radio, and Bloc Party, there are sure to still be many developmental surprises to occur, as should be evidenced when his full length rolls out. Thus, it’s an exciting time for the young starlet, who’s likely already released the EP of the year. In 808s highlight (and quite possibly my favourite Kanye song), “Street Lights”, he ponders, “I hopped in my cab and I paid my fare / See I know my destination, but I’m just not there.” A bracing reminder regarding the struggle of the journey, and the uncertain future; Ilunga is proof that sometimes there’s no need to be the passenger in your own story - when you’re as versatile, creative, and talented as he is, sometimes you can back yourself to take the wheel.