“There’s no need to knock the hustle, when you kind of are the hustle” says Quinn at the very start of her self-titled second album. It’s a complex reflection from a young artist renowned for her work ethic, a 17 year old who has dropped a pyramid of tapes in the last year and routinely outranks Drake on Pitchfork. Her impact is known by now. This opening sentence, “…when you kind of are the hustle”, is at once defensive and boastful, singular and all-encompassing. It’s also a tone-setter for an album full of strong statements about fame and its effects on emotional development. There are no beginnings or endings that are both concise and comprehensive on “quinn” – this record is decidedly mid-process, journaling the limitlessness of an emerging career against a backdrop of severe societal and mental constraint. It’s also an updated portfolio for one of the scene’s best writers, yet another gallery of outstanding sounds.
As on “Drive-by Lullabies”, her debut, quinn uses her sophomore record to reckon with the spotlight. On the closer, “y’all don’t gotta be here if you don’t wone’a”, she sings “Why did y’all invite me to this raggedy ass party with these raggedy ass people and this raggedy ass music?”. It’s a veiled attack on the industry she comes superficially closer to with every success, and also a warning to her listeners not to process her as data, and genuinely think about the presence behind the microphone. quinn builds thematic bridges between online discourse and personal relationships, perhaps owed to her time at the front of the online underground. She does this with a renewed sense of musicality, sequestering the distortion and decay of older works in smaller pockets, giving the melodies beneath some much needed air. This is best felt on “please don’t waste my time”, a bumping tune that radiates confidence and puts quinn’s feelings on the table as a matter of business; “I got a plan and gas money if you wanna go, but when you call me you gotta have it under control”. It’s a lot barer than some of her past work, as are many of the record’s more substantial songs. Ironically, this gives “quinn” even more immediacy, as well as far more staying power; “the trust game” stutters along in roller coaster waves, a solid bass tone anchoring quinn’s layered vocals, “been a minute” recalls early Joji with its starkness, and “rare jawn” has a soulful glow.
“quinn” finds its emotional core in a very different place to the artist’s debut record. Resistance is key, around every corner are traps. Bars about perception are anchored in arduous emotional change. quinn remains one of the scene’s best writers, building narrative through snowballing emotion and immediate shock. On “two door tiffany” she feels the weight of hypocrisy as she begs to give a partner the freedom she can’t allow herself, the start of a snaking fear that builds through the album’s 36 minutes – the song also features a fantastic instrumental breakdown, a joyous moment in a pretty heavy listen. More than ever, quinn’s writing creates a puzzling blur of emotion; “I get underwhelmed by their response” is followed by “I don’t need anyone else to know I’m the shit” on the ranting “warm and fuzzy“. Things come to a halt on “i’ve heard this song before” we hear that in the “four years since [she’s] been sane” the imbalances have taken over. She’s wandering through mountains of music gear – literally the album art – and swinging between making some of the best music going and deeply paralysing imposter syndrome. The sense of rejection that flows through parts of “quinn” is stoked by oppression, injustices as personal as they are widespread. They form an unignorable part of the album’s emotional fabric. Impossible expectations about race and gender surround quinn; they come from the audience, the country, and even family. Dissonance grows on the withering “american freestyle”, a blunt, hard assault on the racism in America’s veins.
Only a handful of the 16 tracks on “quinn” break two minutes in length – the ones that do feel operatic by contrast. The longer tunes have real momentum and a relatable lofi aesthetic, and quinn remains a master arranger no matter how spare the components. These tunes have “All My Heroes”-era JPEGMAFIA energy, with a slightly sinister, impatient, and knowingly skilful tone. Tracks like “oh” and, crucially “american freestyle”, are given weight by quinn’s excellent flow and writing, each a triage for past interactions, societal ills, inner monologues. A core strength of quinn’s music is the way it reflects the unique faces of her reality. There’s still abrasion, still disharmony, but less so than her debut; the turbulence quinn faces has inspired her to turn inward, which she does with commendable honesty and sonic plasticity. Her confident and magnificently crafted self-titled album exists as a dedication to one constant, the sense of self her art relies on. Though it’s published as entertainment, it’s essential to remember that “quinn” is firstly in service of its author – just as the title suggests.
Listen to “quinn” here.
– Jamie (Managing Editor @108MICS)