Dev’s Dark & Handsome Reflection

If you’re one of the many Americans who cannot afford proper health care, including therapy, I feel for you. I’m privileged enough to (sort of) afford the fix me in forty-five minute method we resort to “figuring ‘it’ out”. It helps, but it isn’t the only necessary emotional outlet. You would not be reading this if it was. One such person (though I use this term loosely when describing the Negro Swan Dev Hynes) currently turning towards multiple methods of self-care and expression is noted multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, artist, director, model (and probably other labels) Blood Orange.

A few months ago, when Dev Hynes aka Blood Orange performed ‘Something to Do’ & ‘Dark & Handsome’ live on the James Corden show, I knew I had my SOTY. Dev, alongside the Union Jack and backed by familiar faces such as Ian Isiah and EVA, delivers a gorgeous sing-song rap about nostalgia and moving onto better things. The song is meditative and enchanting, reminiscent of “Futura Free” by fellow non-conforming artist Frank Ocean. Pain and sadness, with a slight tinge of hope fill his voice throughout the song. Dev, a POC at age 33, has lost a lot. The man never stops creating in the meantime. As he repeats on “Something to Do” he is, “Waitin’ for something to do / Waitin’ for somethin’ to lose.” The older we get, the more that is taken away from us. While Dev’s sense of pain and suffering from loss are apparent in his voice, the sense of peace the song evokes tell me that he may be okay. 

It’s rare that an artist can leave the audience obsessed with a live recording, but Dev Hynes is just that. After obsessing over the live performance for months and playing it repeatedly off YouTube, I was dismayed to see the song taken down. I should have known than that Dev would be dropping the new studio version sooner than later. The new mixtape Angel’s Pulse has been described as “somewhat of an epilogue” to the last album Negro Swan. It is another solid project that cements Dev as one of the best songwriters around right now and shows his production and directing capabilities are strong enough to bring a cast of all-stars with him that are stronger than the results of DJ Khaled. This is apparent on “Dark and Handsome” where Chazwick Bundick aka Toro Y Moi shows up to spit a hot verse. If you didn’t know by now, R&B pop funk synth loving dudes got hella bars too. 

Over laid back production and harmonious layered background vocals, Dev has crafted another mind easing, anxiety reducing piece of music. While enjoyable for people of all races, Dev’s music is inherently racial and politically driven. This is especially true for “Dark & Handsome.” Given the context of his background (black Brooklynite by way of the UK), it makes sense that Dev often finds himself appearing trapped between different identities and emotions on the song. When he raps, “Losing touch with everything I know / Praying for my heart to turn to stone,” you can literally feel the past fading away as Dev struggles to accept and trust the newfound levels of fame he is finding now, an uncomfortable move for someone already deemed an outsider for his forward thinking ideas on sex and gender. Dev’s sensitivity and hyper emotion as an empath make it difficult for him to exist in a world that is so careless with the lives of the marginalized. When he raps, “Fears because the past and future scare me” most POC can relate, especially those seeking asylum by the border.

As he reminisces on the pain he felt, “Cryin’ for the ones I lost in ’18 / IG3, 2014, unhappy Nothing ever makes you get past it / 33 and still can’t stop,” Blood Orange is bleakly reminding his audience that trauma often does not heal as we age, but rather takes on a life of its own. It becomes us, negativity and all. This can be difficult to accept for many, myself included. When Toro reminds the listener “Shit’s broken by design, it’s a tantrum” you have to wonder who is throwing the tantrum: POC or the corrupt patriarchal system in which we exist. Dev seems content to explore the relation of self and identity through poetry, hip-hop and R&B, and classical instrumentation. His artistic therapy is a necessary outlet to keep him going. So far in his short career, it’s done the same for me. 

This is a song you play on repeat while on vacation or while making moves to improve your life. If you cannot afford to go on vacation, seemingly cannot get your life together, nor afford therapy and healthcare, you can throw on this tune. It will definitely help. 

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