Credit: Marcus Cooper
by Kayla Beardslee Music

Best Albums of 2021: Tinashe | 333

January 8, 2022

#24. 333 is the second studio album Tinashe has released since becoming an independent artist, and you can hear it in the music. Maybe even more so than her first post-RCA release, 333 feels free — free to play outside the confines of genre, free to be as unconventional or straightforward as each song demands, and free to focus on crafting an entire album experience rather than chasing after hit singles. Although there are plenty of overlapping genre influences on the project, they all work in harmony: this is not the kind of product made by combining one-third pop, one-third R&B, and one-third hip-hop into a monogenre mass. 333 is fully a pop album, but it’s also fully an R&B album, and at a couple points it feels like a hip-hop project as well. It contains all these genres at once, but at the same time doesn’t have to be defined by any of them — Tinashe has created a project with its own constantly shifting sound that blurs genre boundaries.

333 shows its genre mastery in how its standout tracks (of which there are many) cover all different kinds of musical styles. “Let Me Down Slowly” and “Last Call” are delicate, slow-burning R&B ballads, while “Undo (Back to My Heart)” and “The Chase” are passionate, pulsing pop tunes that hold nothing back. (It’s worth noting that these four songs are all next to each other in the tracklist; although albums typically start and finish strong and sag a bit in between, the middle third of 333 — the five-song stretch from the title track to “The Chase” — is a surprising, stunning career highlight.) Second single “Bouncin” is a playful and, as the lyrics say, “just vibing” pop-R&B cut, and even though its beat sounds a bit like clothing commercial music, it has one of the best toplines of the year, packed with hook after hook and a winking performance from Tinashe that brings it all together. Even “Pasadena,” which wasn’t the strongest calling card as a lead single, is much better when its laid-back, summery hip-hop vibes play as just one piece within the tracklist whole: after the intensity of “The Chase,” it’s a much-needed breather.

333 perfectly captures the ideal of the mixed-genre album. Although it feels like a cohesive whole, none of the songs quite capture the entirety of that whole on their own, and so every track becomes an invitation for the listener to go deeper and immerse themselves completely in the album’s world. For that reason, the project works best when listened to in full, but many of its songs are standouts even in isolation. It’s especially impressive when looking at the tracklist credits, where very few writer/producer names are repeated — except for Tinashe. Her voice, both literally and metaphorically, is what ties this album together, and 333 is a masterful execution of her singular creative vision. It’s some of her best work yet — and it still seems like she’s only getting started.