The Weeknd set for UK tour
Soulfully-voiced Toronto Canadian eschews rap's chiches
All the familiar tropes of hip-hop’s seedy side – narcotics, booze, girls very much in the plural – lurk in the shadows of The Weeknd’s spacey, chilly synthscapes, as nights typically become day and then night again. But if there’s a marked contrast between this soulfully-voiced Toronto Canadian, AKA Abel Tesfaye, and so many of his contemporaries, it’s his readiness to also speak of the guilt, insecurities, doubts and self-loathing that will dog rappers just as they might anyone else as a hangover breaks with the dawn. ‘Bring the drugs baby,’ he sings on ‘Wicked Games’, the best track from his major-label debut mixtape anthology Trilogy, ‘I can bring my pain.’
Together with the likes of Frank Ocean, Tesfaye’s in danger of rescuing some of mainstream hip-hop’s credibility from the horrible spiral of booty-slapping self-parodic machismo and egotism it’s been stuck in for years. At last, it seems, rappers can show more vulnerable sides to their character (‘The party’s finished … I’m all alone,’ he sings, voice trembling, on ‘Coming Down’) than simply the one that brags about sipping cognac with breakfast. Still, Tesfaye and other party trash are ‘drinking Alizé with our cereal’ as sun seeps through drawn curtains on ‘The Morning’.
If there’s another of rap’s clichés The Weeknd eschews, it’s that of the loud-mouthed trash-talker; a welcome development indeed in light of Azealia Banks’ dismally boring habit of late for picking Twitter spats with practically anyone who can be bothered to check their @ feed. Clearly mindful of the value of enigma in this social media-saturated age, Tesfaye doesn’t say much publicly at all outside of the stage and some elliptical tweeting – he’s yet to give a single media interview (we did ask).
If the mystery man currently putting the hip back in hip-hop turns out to be half as complex and intriguing a character as his music suggests, he’s going to prove one of the best things to happen to the genre in a generation.
O2 ABC, Glasgow, Thu 21 Mar