Tasman Keith – ‘A Colour Undone’ review: a resonant debut full of ambition and emotional vulnerability

The Gumbaynggirr artist makes forays beyond rap into bittersweet R&B and pop, assisted by Kwame, Jessica Mauboy and Genesis Owusu

“People have been sleeping on me and my ability,” Tasman Keith told NME in 2020. The Bowraville rapper sets out to correct that with a bold debut album, ‘A Colour Undone’, which is simultaneously ambitious and unguarded: Keith gravitates to R&B and pop and taps into his deepest feelings, meditating on “love, loss and abyss”.

If Keith is slept-on, it’s due to his unpredictable, winding career. He broke out with 2017’s hardcore ‘Might Snap’. But, two years later, he dropped ‘Evenings’ with Darwin indie-rocker Stevie Jean, a left-field mini-album chronicling a one-night stand. Recently, he featured on Midnight Oil’s single ‘First Nation’ alongside Jessica Mauboy, off ‘The Makarrata Project’.

On ‘A Colour Undone’, Keith’s range heightens his storytelling as he reconciles dual selves: the egotistical and emotional; outer and private. Western Sydney polymath Kwame, whom he first connected with on 2020 mixtape ‘To Whom It May Concern’, is executive producer; the impressive features list includes Mauboy and Genesis Owusu.

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Conceived around an ill-fated romance, ‘A Colour Undone’ finds Keith questioning masculine codes and his emotional unavailability, ultimately rejecting the transactional view of relationships articulated by the track ‘Politics As Usual’. As such, the LP has love songs – but it also charts Keith’s soul-searching following the passing of his rapper cousin Knox.

Keith hasn’t abandoned his trademark “hard rap shit” – his wordplay is wounding and his boasts brazen. The opener ‘Watch Ur Step’ lurches between jazz-hop and Vince Staples-mode IDM, Keith warning against self-destructive tendencies and peer pressure: “Do you love yourself or do you love the set?” The flexing lead single, ‘5ft Freestyle’ pays homage to bumpin’ West Coast lowrider anthems.

However, it’s the vulnerable, bittersweet pop that elevates the album. On ‘Love Too Soon’, Keith AutoTune-sings over a throwback boogie, acknowledging past immaturity and pleading for a second shot, with Western Sydney newcomer Kymie on back-up. Beholden to André 3000 and T-Pain alike, it’s a standout track.

On the jaunty ‘Heaven With U’, Keith duets with Mauboy. Australia’s queen of R&B has previously collaborated with US super-rappers – infamously Snoop Dogg for ‘Get ’Em Girls’ – but ‘Heaven’ feels grassroots. Ironically, it’s more about self-love than intimacy, Keith learning to be present: “My world’s been quiet, I walk through the depth / Found peace in silence, seen more in the less.” Less instant is the synthy ‘How 2 Leave’. Its guest Thandi Phoenix, known for ripping up drum ‘n’ bass, is under-utilised for an extended interlude.

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The most epiphanic track is the poignant ‘Tread Light’. Keith performs a Shakespeare-level soliloquy with jazzy grooves and nocturnal sax. He expresses anguish over Knox, but then addresses himself as his cousin. The Gumbaynggirr man laments intergenerational trauma among First Nations peoples, street culture and cops. Yet, emotionally empowered, Keith resolves to live his best life: “I will step right, I will tread light / And I will overcome the barriers I’m met by / I take my father’s last name and get it set right / I turn our stolen into golden in their next life.

For ‘A Colour Undone’, Keith courageously looks inward, re-emerging with universally resonant music. His endgame, too, becomes apparent: Tasman Keith aspires to be an artist, not merely a MC. ‘A Colour Undone’ can’t – and won’t – be ignored.

Details

  • Release date: July 8
  • Record label: AWAL Recordings
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