Album Review: Tinashe, ‘333’

With all the talk about angel numbers on social media, you may not put much stock in their validity. People claim to wake up in the middle of the night and see them, they read them on grocery store receipts, and catch them when randomly looking at timestamps on videos. The easiest way to explain an “angel number” is a recurring sequence of numbers that hold a specific spiritual meaning. The angel number 333 is said to be a sign of reassurance; a symbol of confirmation that one’s current path is the correct one regardless of any uncertainty or insecurity one may feel. Tinashe, an artist whose career has been largely defined by the paths she has wandered down or abandoned, truly feels at home in the conceptual web of 333. The former RCA Records recording artist transitioned from acclaimed alternative R&B mixtape royalty to a major label signee that was unfairly forced into boxes and images that were at odds with her own vision for herself. Since being released from that contract, Tinashe has tapped into a new level of artistry marked by her fearlessness and her adventurous ear. In 2019, she dropped the stunning Songs for You album, and 333 follows suit as an album that showcases the many facets of Tinashe’s artistry while still finding time to explore new sounds as they come to her.

The meandering individual journeys of each song encapsulate the general message of 333. As Tinashe finds security and grounding in the path that she’s chosen, she’s also selected beats that switch and sputter into multiple songs within the same track. A singular song can pull from Black Water, Aquarius, and Joyride all at the same time. Songs for You was a quietly dark album, and those notes of somberness are still present throughout 333. “Let It Go” opens the album with gorgeous vocal layering, snaps, and atmospheric production that finds its anchor in echoes of drill. With a melody taken from The Wiz’s “Soon As I Get Home,” the opening track of 333 immediately situates us in Tinashe’s journey forward. After years of cruel major label drama and limbo, Tinashe — the independent artist — is finding her way back home to herself through her music. 333 is just another stop on that odyssey. Fittingly, the album then transitions into “I Can See The Future,” a more mystical take on trap&B that finds Tinashe sitting in her smoky lower range with hints of rasp. She’s rapping in a way that evokes her Nashe alter ego, but this is a more meditative iteration of it. On the other hand, there are tracks that recall the more loose and energetic side of the Nashe alter ego like the album’s second single: “Bouncin.” It’s one of the more singles-focused moments on the album, but that lighter feel is needed to balance out how serious the album can get at times. “Bouncin” is paired with a sister song in “Bouncin, Pt. 2” a more languid and immersive imagining of the song. There aren’t two sides of Tinashe, there are infinite sides. Nevertheless, the two versions of “Bouncin” are the most succinct way to display her versatility and how she can fit into the most left-field lanes of R&B and the most air-tight displays of pop prowess.

Some of 333’s strongest moments come courtesy of Tinashe doing pop on her own terms. Her previous pop records were great by virtue of her talent alone, but the pop records that she’s done since leaving RCA feel more authentic. “Undo,” which features production from Wax Motif, finds Tinashe devouring the pulsating synth-pop trope that soundtracked an era earmarked by “Love Me Harder,” “Style,” and “Do What U Want.” At the end of the chorus Tinashe sings, “We could turn it all ’round, no, it’s never too late / Findin’ your way right back to my heart.” As expansive as 333 is (there’s soul, hyperpop, musical theatre, etc.), Tinashe is primarily concerned with this journey back to wholeness and how gratifying the journey is. The back half of 333 also features its fair share of big pop moments. “Last Call” features one of the more comparatively traditional song structures on the album to illustrate the wistfulness of drunken phone calls between people for whom love doubles as a conflict. Then there’s “The Chase,” a blockbuster moment that hinges on epic drums and a vocal performance that showcases the beauty of catharsis. She croons, “No, I never will / Run back, baby, if you need that / But I won’t guarantee that,” again emphasizing the themes of journeying and security. 333 has a remarkably earthy quality about it; the overall production pulls from the mysticism that surrounds her more experimental work, but there’s a newfound grit in her voice that adds a muted contrast. Even the bouncy “Pasadena,” which under any other artist would feel out of place on 333, works wonderfully in its placement after “The Chase.” Tinashe follows up the closure-seeking “Chase” with a moment of sunny happiness in the oasis of Pasadena.

Tinashe Music

The centerpiece of 333 is arguably “Unconditional.” The track features one of the more standard beat switches where the instrumental matches the lyrical content. In the second half of the song, Tinashe ruminates on the ebbs and flows of relationships with lyrics like “Don’t understand why you’re so scared / Push me away, then wonder where / Where is the one who always cared?” This is one of the more lyric-focused songs on 333, and it provides Tinashe a chance to really flex her pen and her ability to interpret lyrics. The song also brings us back to “Shy Guy,” an interlude that appears earlier on the record. On that brief track, Tinashe sits squarely in her falsetto as she treads her way through the uncertainty and precariousness that comes with fully embracing love. It’s a moment that teases the more overwhelming moments of the album like the title track and “Small Reminders.” The former is essentially three songs in one; between the bewitching falsetto and strings in the background, there’s an almost supernatural feel about the song. “Don’t wanna come down, up here’s much brighter / I feel much lighter, I feel on fire,” she sings. Despite the ever-evolving production, Tinashe has found some semblance of security in the position that she’s chosen. Similarly, there’s “Small Reminders,” a track that houses yet another beat switch and balances elements of PC music with a funky bassline. Realistically, a lot of the combinations that Tinashe tries out on 333 shouldn’t work, but very few people have the ear and risk-taking fearlessness that she has. In spite of all of this, there’s also “X,” another singles-minded moment that features Jeremih and reminds us that Tinashe can, and absolutely should, be dominating every radio station. It may be too early to call 333 Tinashe’s best work, but it’s a completely justifiable call to make. 333 is an excellent body of work — one that continuously pushes Tinashe into new territory while further developing her aptitude for concept albums.

Key Tracks: X | I Can See The Future | Unconditional | Last Call | Small Reminders

Score: 85

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