Not many artists can say that by their 21st birthday they have writing, production and feature credits spanning the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Vampire Weekend, Solange, Dev Hynes, J Cole, Kali Uchis and Mac Miller. Never mind doing it all alongside their own burgeoning career and membership in one of R&B’s most revered groups today, The Internet. But on ‘Apollo XXI’, released today, the day after his 21st birthday, Steve Lacy reminds us once again that age is just a number.
From the get-go, his highly-anticipated debut album delivers exactly what it promises with its stylish, nostalgic artwork: a distinct world filled with hazy strings, warped synths and vocals that range from a flawless ’70s-style falsetto to laid-back speech. It’s retro-inspired through a modern lens.
Bookended with some of his strongest tracks to date, the album eases you in with ‘Only If’, a romantic ode to time travel and hindsight, before launching into a nine-minute statement of self in ‘Like Me’. Punctuated with syncopated drums and echoed inner voices as he unpacks his anxieties – perhaps with reference to coming out as bisexual – and the need to relate to others. Featured artist DAISY then sings on grappling with labels, before the song transitions into surprisingly modern electro instrumentation and then flows back into a smooth, melting outro. In one fell swoop, Lacy demonstrates not only that he is sonically adventurous, but also his broad talent and success on execution.
There are brief intermissions like this throughout the track list. ‘Amandla’s Interlude’ is a sweet acoustic duet of guitar and violin, played with friend, actor and activist Amandla Stenberg, and on the last track of the album Lacy delivers an impossibly cool freestyle preluding a striking gospel-esque outro, reminiscent of ‘Life of Pablo’-era Kanye.
Even on the tracks that do sit within his unique field of sound, the balance between his wistful throwback musical aesthetic and his authentic – and by default incredibly youthful – lyricism and attitude is one of the most endearing things about the record. On ‘Like Me’, he clarifies, “I only feel energy, I see no gender”, and on ‘In Lust We Trust’ he croons breathlessly, “Let me live inside of your car”.
Although Steve Lacy is already fairly established through his collaborations, it’s exciting, on this album, to see his own personality shine through, as well as his ambition and inspirations (he’s cited Mac DeMarco as a production influence before), as he experiments, fills out his own catalogue and sound, and speaks for himself.