“Looking for revenge all summer ‘16,” Drake announced earlier this year on his single “Summer Sixteen”. At the time, we knew another huge commercial success was in store for Drizzy in the form of Views, but it wasn’t yet clear just how active other artists on his OVO Sound roster would be. OVO artists Majid Jordan, dvsn, and Roy Woods have all dropped well-received projects this year in Majid Jordan, SEPT 5th, and Waking at Dawn, respectively, securing the continued relevance of OVO’s sleek, icy aesthetic. Now comes PartyNextDoor’s PartyNextDoor 3 (P3), an album inspired by late nights of thick blunts, Don Julio tequila, seemingly endless sex, and, maybe more than anything, love and loneliness.
PND, the Mississauga, Ontario-bred R&B singer born Jahron Brathwaite, was actually the first artist Drake signed to OVO, with Drizzy picking him up in 2013. PND’s rise since then has been gradual but steady, and 2016 feels like his biggest year yet, the year he’s fully realizing his own potential as an artist. For one thing, he was a co-writer on Rihanna and Drake’s “Work”, arguably the biggest song of the year. In March, with the Drake-assisted “Come and See Me”, PND’s first Hot 100 hit as lead artist, he had a song that succeeded because of how stripped-down it was, as opposed to his futuristic, almost robotic (but in a good way) singles like “Recognize”. “Come and See Me” was evidence that PND’s pure songwriting skills were getting better, and that P3 could be his best project yet. As it turns out, that’s exactly what it is.
Even with its heavy emotionality, P3 is remarkably throughout its runtime, which, at 65 minutes, is on the longer side of things. Produced by PND himself, Noah “40” Shebib, Nineteen85, Boi-1da, promising newcomer Bizness Boi, and others, it’s a more fully formed collection than 2014’s PartyNextDoor TWO.
Commercial expectations for the album are high, especially coming just three months after Views, but rarely does it seem like PND is particularly concerned with immediate catchiness. The first clue: The Blackstreet-referencing opener “High Hopes”, which introduces the album’s moody, nocturnal aesthetic and comes in at about seven and a half minutes. (Its first chorus doesn’t come in until the three-minute mark.) Later, “Transparency” has a similarly epic feel, sweeping the listener up for what seems like longer than its nearly four minutes. Especially when it comes to R&B, people might consider this kind of length “boring,” sapping the music of its potential catchiness and danceability. But that was never Brathwaite’s aim, instead focusing on deep intimacy.
Still, PND is a guy who helped write “Work”, a massive pop song with countless hooks within hooks. When it comes to melodies, he knows what he’s doing. “Not Nice” is the most immediate song here, a bouncy, dancehall-influenced success. Potential single “Only U” is PND’s upbeat, undeniably catchy assurance of romantic commitment: “Nobody’ll catch my eye, girl, it’s only U and I.” By the time the masterful “Come and See Me” shows up as the album’s penultimate song, in the 15th of 16 slots, PND’s ever-improving songwriting has long been proven.
None of this is guaranteed to bring PND’s cultural visibility to the level of R&B guys like, say, The Weeknd or Jeremih. Massive popularity, however, doesn’t seem to be PND’s goal. Mysterious and mostly interview-averse since the start of his career, PND has been an enigma for a while, and P3 feels ahead of its time. Still, it’s likable enough in the present that it will keep him in the public consciousness for years to come.
Essential Tracks: “Not Nice”, “Only U”, and “Come and See Me”