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Review: ‘TYLA’ is a refreshing, self-assured debut

Courtesy Epic Records

By Ashley Wang     3/26/24 11:09pm

Rating: ★★★★

Top Track: “Jump” (ft. Gunna, Skillibeng)

At 22 years old, singer Tyla has already seen a level of success most musicians can only dream of. In the past year, she’s had her viral, platinum-certified hit “Water” top the Billboard U.S. Afrobeats Songs chart, collaborated with Travis Scott and Summer Walker and won the first-ever Grammy for Best African Music Performance. 

Tyla’s self-titled debut album shows she’s trying to climb the musical ranks even higher. On “TYLA,” the singer introduces herself to the world through a gorgeous intermixing of amapiano (a South African subgenre of house music), R&B and pop, topped off with silky-smooth vocals.

Months out from its initial release, “Water” is just as addicting as ever. The song first received attention on TikTok last August from its dance challenge, where users imitated Tyla’s performance of its energetic, Bacardi-inspired choreography onstage, complete with her pouring water down her back. “Water” is now sitting at half a million Spotify streams, and it’s easy to see why. The floating synth that opens the song, Tyla’s sweet, sensual delivery of every line and the log drums that feel like they’re bubbling up all culminate in a chorus that’s just begging to be sung along to.

A recurring theme on “TYLA” is prioritizing yourself over a relationship that’s more give than take, as expressed on the sonically bold “Safer” and the more laid-back, warm “Truth Or Dare.” But perhaps the song that conveys this message best is “No.1,” a standout track with fellow hitmaker and vocalist Tems. 

On “No.1,” featuring Tems, Tyla shifts into a slightly huskier tone and a lower range of her voice. Tems’ aching verse precedes a velvety duet with Tyla in the second chorus. It’s a pitch-perfect collaboration, resulting in a song that is at once both danceable and vulnerable. 

Following “Breathe Me,” which is captivating despite its questionable use of strings,  “Butterflies” is a misplaced break in momentum. Tyla’s breathy delivery over a glittering guitar line creates an ethereal feel, but the song sounds more like a forgettable album closer than anything else.

“Jump,” a collaboration with rapper Gunna and dancehall artist Skillibeng, is bursting with confidence. “They never had a pretty girl from Joburg / See me now, and that’s what they prefer,” Tyla opens. In the chorus, Tyla hits each syllable with clarity and a staccato precision. For anyone concerned that the album is too sonically similar and is starting to bleed together at this point, “Jump” jolts listeners awake, inviting them to the dancefloor. 

On “ART,” the certainty of Tyla’s vocals just barely saves the song from the triteness of an extended metaphor comparing her to a work of art. This track employs all the Tyla hallmarks, with log drum hits over airy synth lines and stacked vocals in the chorus emulating a crowd — somehow, it all still works and doesn’t feel too formulaic.

“To Last” is an enchantingly intimate track. Tyla draws us in with whispery vocals, leading into a chorus of circling synths, echoes of her own voice and a bouncing beat that almost has a melody of its own.

Some tracks may be more memorable than others, but “TYLA” is consistently unapologetic. For a debut, it’s also remarkably controlled: its mix of genres and collaborators never feels forced, and Tyla adjusts her vocals to each song perfectly. “TYLA” is a statement debut album from an artist who’s unafraid to take on the global music industry.

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