Channel Tres – ‘i can’t go outside’ review: Compton’s dancing king enlists Tyler, The Creator for lockdown-busting project

The LA rapper, singer, producer and dancer is joined by Tyler, the Creator and Tinashe on his post-isolation mixtape

Known for his energetic live dance parties but with no clubs or festivals to play because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s safe to say Channel Tres’ year didn’t look like it was going to plan. His music, as much as any, is best served live and direct in sweaty, dark clubs and late-night festival showings. Little wonder that following last year’s array of singles – including ‘Sexy Black Timberlake’ – he’d been booked for his first Coachella appearance.

Rather than letting lockdown restrictions disrupt him, the LA rapper-singer-producer made the best of a bad situation. He collaborated with SG Lewis and Robyn on the euphoric single ‘Impact’, remixed King Princess’ ‘Hit The Back’ and ignited a French-touch revival with Disclosure on their team-up ‘Lavender’. He also hosted a Black Lives Matter election night event and launched his Art For Their Good label, on which his ‘i can’t go outside’ mixtape is released.

Inspired by a summer of isolation, racial injustice and protests, this seven-track project is the result of Tres making music daily, alone in his bedroom, “trying to make sense of everything that’s happened, and digging himself out of his own skull”.

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Fittingly, the first sounds on the mixtape’s strangely pastoral opener ‘i can’t go outside – intro’ are a cigarette lighter being flicked and Tres enjoying a long-awaited smoke outside, taking in the fresh air. It signifies a feeling of renewal and pent-up freedom that pervades the entire home-demo-style DIY project.

Inspired by memories of cruising the streets of Compton in his first car, the windows-down sun-beaming cruise of ‘2000 chevvy malibu’ yearns for better times. ‘broke down kid interlude’s disjointed offbeat stutters to a near-stop halfway, Tres channelling all our confused minds over the past year. Aside from the club-ready bumping house of ‘skate depot’ and upbeat drum-led ‘unfinished business’, things are less obviously groovy compared to his 2018 self-titled debut EP and 2019’s follow-up ‘Black Moses’ – arguably because it was made during a dancefloor-deprived party-less period of reflection.

But the appearance of two big-name collaborators proves Tres’ star power has continued to rise despite the “dumpster fire” of 2020. Returning the favour for remixing his track ‘EARFQUAKE’, Tyler, The Creator jumps on the woozy ‘fuego’ which, flowing from freaky bedroom provocation to a blissed-out jazz-piano climax, sounds like an EP in itself. On ‘take your time’, alt-R&B singer Tinashe’s sensual vocal effortlessly compliments Tres’ over twinkling piano keys and a pulsating drum heartbeat. The pair sound perfect together.

With this mixtape, then, Channel Tres expands his sleek fusion of classic house meets West Coast rap, cleverly layering sounds together while packing contrasting feelings and textures into concise vignettes that capture the nostalgic times we’re living in.

  • Release date: December 11
  • Record label: Art For Their Good
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