Ever since Brent Faiyaz dropped Wasteland last week I’ve had it on repeat. Why? You may ask. Because I’m an emotional masochist and this album is my kryptonite. Unlike the popular tweets and billboards that say “I’m sorry for the person I’m about to become when Brent Faiyaz drops” alluding to the ingrained toxicity in his music, the album doesn’t evoke feelings of being on my worst behavior but brings me to the emotive depths of past relationships. I’m not alone, whether Wasteland charges your toxicity or your tears it’s being played enough that Faiyaz is on track to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart according to early sale projections. This would make him the first independent R&B artist to do so since Summer Walker and her 2018 Still Over It album. Wasteland is a cinematic masterpiece that tells the story of toxic love in all its glory, complete with skits depicting both sides of a relationship, beautiful melodies, and literature-like lyrics. The standout for me is the transparency in his storytelling allowing listeners to connect with whichever perspective relates to them. Hence, choose your fighter: tears or toxicity. Still, I refuse to be a simp (or a typical Pisces) and can always count on Twitter to keep it real so allow this tweet to preface the musical and psychological deep dive I’m about to take into this album.
The first song is “Villain’s Theme” which starts off with ominous production and muffled voices before dialogue between Faiyaz and Jorja Smith begins. The concept for Wasteland as told to Rolling Stone magazine is that we’re living in a post-pandemic “cluster-fuck of emotions” and are guilty of giving into vices to soothe the chaos inside our heads. The song reframes “toxic tendencies” as “temporary euphoria” or an escape. Faiyaz challenges the concept of “toxic” as an internet word that “people like to attach to shit”. Jorja’s dialogue tries to dispute these claims in a back and forth that sounds like gaslighting, further proving his toxicity. It ends by saying “let’s just keep that shit honest” and Jorja’s voice chillingly asks “what purpose do vices serve in your life?”
Ha—that’s just the intro so brace yourselves. “Villain’s Theme” is like the beginning of the end, setting the tone of what’s to come on the album and if you listen to Faiyaz—you know it’s about to get worse. Demon time, baby! Having the knowledge to see problematic dynamics without the haze of emotion that clouds your judgment in real-life experiences feels like getting into a relationship that you know is going to destroy you. Still, you have to sit back and watch it unfold like a car crash. My commentary isn’t a critique, but rather an exploration of the tendencies and tactics of unhealthy relationships that Faiyaz has unapologetically weaved into his lyrics. Exploring your demons can be just as cathartic for the listener as it is for the artist. After all, self-awareness is the agent of change.
Next is “Loose Change” and the production immediately stands out (Faiyaz, NO I.D., Raphael Saadiq, Paperboy Fabe, and Jordan Ware) along with Faiyaz’s falsetto melody that ties the chord progression into the lyrics. Some highlights include, “I remember when you couldn’t tell me a thing / Now you talk so much, it drives me insane”. Harsh but on brand, I could see this ending up in a humorous TikTok about exchanges with exes. “And what we see ain’t what it seems or feels, girl / What is love?” introspective and valid, oftentimes your perspective in a relationship differs from your partner which differs from third-party perspectives.
Finally, “Sometimes I wanna beat your ass / Wait, but you know I won’t do that / (I’m sorry I say that, you know I ain’t mean it)” Any reference to domestic abuse is a no-go but my read on this is the person singing would never physically hurt their partner. However, they’re calculated enough to use it as a manipulation tactic. Those heated in-the-moment comments often linger after the fight is resolved and are designed to slowly break down the person receiving them over time. The song ends with the GTA meme “ah shit, here we go again”. Ha ha ha, here we f*cking go.
“Gravity” featuring Tyler, the Creator, and production from DJ Dahi is melodically one of my favorites from the album and lyrically sees Tyler and Faiyaz explore the strain their jet-set lifestyle puts on their relationships. Let’s examine the chorus:
But you want me home (Yeah)
I’d get you what you want (Ooh)
But you want me alone (I’m gone, baby, I’m active)
You held me up when I was down and out
But I don’t want you waitin’ ’round for me (She hold me down)
I don’t want you waitin’ too long (She hold me down)
I don’t want you waitin’ too long (Yeah, yeah)
His solution to his partner’s pleas for more time at home is material gifts. Sorry, babe can’t be home this weekend but pick out a new [bag, shoes, necklace…etc], works every time, right? He acknowledges his partner held him down during rough times, which are now over, and he reframes rejection as consideration by not wanting her to wait. There we have, drumroll please….relationship breadcrumbing! The “consideration” angle intentionally makes it harder for the other person to walk away by giving them just enough to romanticize the connection in their head. Does he loves me but he just has a lot going on right now, sound familiar? I reinforce the above with these lyrics later on in the song “It’s not that I’m over you, not over, girl (Come on) / But I got things to do / It’s too much to be your boyfriend, too much”. I’m still bopping my head to the chorus as if I haven’t fallen victim to the same tactics because the song is *chefs kiss*
The “Heal Your Heart” interlude gives you a glimpse of blissful moments in the relationship where Faiyaz is expressing his love and intention to make his partner happy. If there’s one thing about destructive relationships it’s that the lows are low and the highs are high, and those few and far between moments of happiness carry you through the trenches. A listener with different life experiences may connect to this and empathize with Faiyaz’s words arguing that they’re genuine even if he’s unable to follow through.
Okay, skit #1 “Egomaniac” (if this title isn’t a warning I don’t know what is) let’s get into it. Faiyaz’s fictional baby mama expresses her frustration at feeling alone during her pregnancy and calls out his false promises of being her support system. “I feel very fucking alone, and if you meant what you said that should really concern you,” she says. In my experience, no matter how eloquently you try to communicate your emotions, a problematic partner will always find a way to invalidate or dismiss them. Faiyaz’s phone buzzes and then….
You respond very fast to every bitch except the person that’s carrying your child, wow
Texting every bitch? That’s crazy. This my manager texting me
But it’s cool though, I’ma kill this drink and just wait downstairs for my ridе to the airport. ‘Cause I don’t wanna make you morе upset
The skits are so cinematic you hear the phone buzz and the glass being put down making you feel like you’re in the room. Notice how the only part of her dialogue Faiyaz acknowledges is the passive comment about his phone and quickly dismisses it with “that’s crazy”. Not validating your partner’s emotions, especially time and time again, makes them rethink validating their own emotions. Am I being dramatic? He’s not that bad, maybe I’m overreacting are common thoughts if you’re consistently invalidated.
“All Mine ” is a sensual love song that’s also telling of the timeline between Faiyaz and his partner. The song is near the beginning of the album and mirrors the early stages of the relationship. “We had our downs but we had way more ups / Let’s make love,” Faiyaz soothingly sings. This is the temporary euphoria that you grasp onto as the lows become more frequent and you gaslight yourself into believing that if it was that good in the beginning you can find your way back. In the pre-chorus, he sings “I know now that I’ve been the worst (Oh) / But I’ll love you better (Ooh)” before he doubles down in the chorus crooning to his partner about how they’re all his. He’s contradicting himself, it’s been established he won’t commit but he wants his partner to be his without giving them the same exclusivity. Playing devil’s advocate, he may mean what he says but it’s not consistent and that’s what has his partner’s emotions all over the place like a yoyo. “All Mine” succinctly captures the feeling of lust-filled love, in the most beautiful way, allowing the listener to transcend time and experience something that’s so fleeting in real life.
I could go into heavy detail about the rest of the album but I’ll save it for my R&B dissertation. There’s so much opportunity for connection, “Price Of Fame” shows the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and “Ghetto Gatsby” is a soulful collaboration with Alicia Keys. If you pay close attention you’ll see the lyrics where Faiyaz is self-aware, saying “I’m probably faded when you see me on the TV, I can’t help that / I’m just playing cards, I was dealt bad” in “Ghetto Gatsby”. The second skit, “Oblivion” is proof of Faiyaz’s infidelity, nestled among the album’s songs that are full of the boastful and audacious lyrics fueling Twitter’s claims. “Addictions” and “Role Model” are for the toxic stans everywhere. The final skit “Wake Up Call” is jarring and climactic but absolutely necessary for the storyline. Without spoiling it, keep in mind that everything on the album is for artistic purposes and not an autobiography.
If you’ve made it this far, bravo, maybe you’re equally obsessed with Wasteland because it’s definitely making my Spotify wrapped 2022. The way Faiyaz constructed a movie-like character arc to go along with the audacious lyrics is the perfect execution of a theme that doesn’t feel repetitive. The dreamy melodies, smooth vocals, and pulsing production prove why he’s such a revered R&B artist. It’s those sonic qualities that carry me through the album’s emotional pain in the most cathartic way.
To answer the question posed in “Villain’s Intro”, vices typically serve as a coping mechanism for unhealed trauma. Drugs, alcohol, and sex are the most obvious vices in Wasteland but I implore you to examine how unhealthy relationships can be a vice too. Replaying the same dynamic and patterns of behavior that were detrimental in developmental years stunt your personal growth and ability to heal. R&B is often told through a biased perspective which limits the number of listeners that can connect to it. Breakup anthems from the likes of Jorja Smith, Summer Walker, and SZA tell one side of a relationship but Faiyaz allowed room for both. Wasteland’s power lies in the duality of perspective, giving anyone the opportunity to introspectively examine their life experiences and how they can relate.