On their debut EP, Neo-Soul trio, Nicotine’s Famous Honey delivers a solid debut drawing upon influences like Noname, Frank Ocean, and an early Anderson .Paak.
In the aptly titled An Open Letter, Nicotine intimately encapsulates the challenges young adults face when they finally achieved their independence.
Most young people look forward to the time they can leave the nest and become truly independent. Rarely do we ever think about all the challenges we will face once we finally do strike out on our own. This album is about those problems as experienced by Nicotine when she went through her own first taste of freedom. Throughout the album, she dismisses any starry eyed notions that everything is perfect.
The album starts off with a letter to an ex-lover, who constantly cheated on her.
Using a spoken word style, Nicotine talks about the problems she faced during a one-sided, abusive relationship. She speaks of how her ex-lover cheated on her, lied to her, and “beat down [her] encouragement.” This theme continues onto the track “Tired”; which goes into more depth about the relationship, citing that she ignored all the warnings about her maligned lover from everyone else.
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” restarts the narrative by flashing back to the time she first left home.
Here she talks about how her mother didn’t want her to leave, but Nicotine responds by saying, “But this time I know best.” From there the album proceeds to a spoken word interlude by New Orleans rapper, Sol Galeano, which continues the narrative by providing an outside perspective on Nicotine leaving home and the solitude it creates.
“Bantu Knots and Boudain” continues the themes of loneliness solitude that Sol Galeano talks about in the previous track. Nicotine describes how she is having fun living by herself, but is then constantly reminded that despite being surround by friends, “every night [she] still feel[s] alone.” In the track, “Running”, Nicotine seems to finally realize that she is miserable living alone.
The last track, “Closure: the Outro”, returns to a spoken word style, previously displayed in the introduction and interlude. She also returns to the open letter format from the first track, and tells the listener what to do if she died young. She tells the listener to tell people that “love is the most powerful force in life and that it could never die” and to “embrace their outs and take care of their ins”. At the end of her verse, she challenges expectations by saying that she will never die; also that if “[her] music will play everyday, [she] will be alive.”
The album’s instrumentals compliment the songs perfectly.
The very minimalistic jazz instruments compliment and often enhance the themes of solitude prevalent throughout the album. The finger snaps, light bongo rhythm, and the light, jazzy keyboard riffing enhance Nicotine’s soft spoken word style in the opening track. The funky jazz guitar, prominent in tracks 2, 3, 5, and 6, blends into the rhythm while also driving the melody forward; very much resembling the instrumentals of Anderson .Paak’s “Malibu” and Frank Ocean’s track “Self Control”. The bass guitar and drums in the same tracks provide the basis of the laid-back feel of the album. The instrumental performance of track 7 in particular is near perfect. The jazzy rhythm section flow perfectly underneath the spoken word vocals and piano melody, while also driving the emotions of the track.
Although the instrumentation is excellent, by far the strongest performances on An Open Letter are brought by Nicotine’s vocals. The singer puts her stylistic range of her voice on display in this album, mixing soulful singing and spoken word poetry; which was very reminiscent of Noname’s album Telefone.
This album had me hooked from the very beginning.
Perfectly mixing the sounds of Noname, Frank Ocean, and Anderson .Paak is a daunting task for an artist on their debut album; however, Nicotine’s Famous Honey pulls it off perfectly. From the intimate lyrics to the laid back jazzy feel of the instrumentals, this is an incredible project. In fact, this album might be one of the best debut EP’s I’ve heard in a long time. With the genra of Neo-Soul currently going through a revival, I am truly surprised this album is so under the radar. If you have around 30 minutes of free time, I would highly recommend you give this album a listen.
Best Tracks: “Tired”, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, and “Closure: the Outro”.
Worst Track: Honestly, there isn’t a terrible track on this album.
Related Artists: Noname, Frank Ocean, Anderson .Paak, Cosmo Pyke, Herrick & Hooley, and King Krule.