Daniel Caesar: A ‘Case Study’ of Melody and Atonement (Review)

With ‘Case Study 01,’ Daniel Caesar is back with heartbreak and romantic yearning subdued for another type of want. We reconvene with the Toronto artist, now seemingly apathetic about the world of fame and wealth. It has been a hard year for Caesar. Social Media has not been his friend. Dave Chappelle’s bizarre gay accusation on Instagram Live was lame and homophobic – no fault to the singer. Caesar did, however, became a surprising opp to Black Women, when they demanded grace within Hip-Hop culture. He was substantially “canceled” by Black Twitter and denounced by many Black media blogs. Caesar is looking for atonement and the album becomes a very interesting ‘case study’ of the contemporary artist within an ever-evolving socio-digital landscape.

If speaking objectively about the music, the first half of the album is very strong, “Cyanide” and “Love Again” being standouts. “Cyanide” because it is a refreshing and unexpected track, with Caesar gliding through the first verse in pseudo-Jamaican patois. The reggae attributions so gracefully compliment his Gospel and R&B marriage. And the hook is infectious. Then there is “Love Again”, a duet with none other than the Vocal Bible herself, the Black Cinderella, Ms. Brandy Norwood. The vocal acrobatics she brings to the song, and the ease of her skill is a reminder of Brandy’s staple position in R&B. Daniel Caesar has mastered the art of crafting simmering duets and making them feel both current and everlasting.

There are some tracks that sound like self-righteous clapbacks – with aims at the Black community specifically. In “Too Deep to Turn Back” Caesar positions himself as savior, and places us lyrically in a biblical landscape. “Follow me to salvation/ Your mind still pon plantation…” is cringy and it’s hard not to see that as a direct response to Black Twitter. His opening track, “I hated myself when I was boy, / and now that I don’t they wanna steal my joy” can read as dismissive, by way of victimhood. “Superposition” is the closest we get to vulnerable accountability. On this track he’s God, we’re all connected and he should be ‘taken easy’ on his past transgressions.

Daniel Caesar’s sophomore LP is solid. His talent as a musician is self-evident, and he solidifies himself as a very confident, pioneering songwriter. If the question is whether he is still canceled, that is truly up to the individual. It is very crucial for those interested in the prospect of a liberated society to point out allegiance to white supremacy. We have all been socialized by the same hegemonic order, and it does take time to unlearn internalized bad behavior. So it is a tricky balance, to silence the problematic and still give people space to grow.

Either way, everyone is entitled to no longer support what no longer gives them joy. If his falsettos sound less sweet, you know what your answer is. And according to his early first week sales, it seems his base has made their answer very clear as well.


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