On September 5, 2015, then-unknown R&B artist dvsn (pronounced “division”) released two songs, “The Line” and “With Me,” to the popular music streaming website SoundCloud. Fast forward to this spring, when dvsn has released its aptly-titled debut album “Sept. 5th” — exclusively on Apple Music on March 27 and elsewhere on April 1 — through OVO (October’s Very Own) Sound, one of the most highly regarded labels in hip-hop.
How did this ascent happen? How did dvsn go from absolute anonymity to being signed by Drake and flying up the iTunes charts?
The answer is simply talent. The first two SoundCloud releases were quickly followed by two others songs, “Too Deep” and “Hallucinations,” in December. By February, the artist was signed to the OVO Sound record label and on March 27, the album dropped. The world took notice quickly.
Dvsn is comprised of Canadian singer Daniel Daley and producer Nineteen85. The latter is well-known in hip-hop circles for producing Drake’s smash hit “Hotline Bling,” while Daley was a complete unknown until very recently. Make no mistake, however, dvsn is still an enigma, though that may not last for much longer after striking gold with “Sept. 5th.“
The album is one that every R&B artist can only dream of making. With it, dvsn has raised the bar for their label mates iLoveMakonnen, Majid Jordan, PARTYNEXTDOOR and Roy Wood$.
“Sept. 5th” is at times new age rap, old school soul, traditional R&B, alternative EDM, sultry blues and soothing electronica. It is as much an enigma as the duo that created it. From the first beat in “With Me” to the melancholy, moody closing of “The Line,” audiences are taken on a seductive, emotional and passionate ride.
The album shines with “Hallucinations,” its best offering. As the seventh song in the collection, it takes a sharp left turn. Gone are the boasting and bravado of “Do it Well” and “Try/Effortless.” Instead, “Hallucinations” is a raw, humble and mature look into the emotions of heartbreak. It is a hauntingly relatable portrayal of the pain of losing something or someone you previously loved. The lyrics are beautiful and the production, standout throughout the album, is at an all-time high here.
But the attractiveness of “Sept. 5th” isn’t limited to just “Hallucinations.” The album succeeds because of its flexibility and way it moves through different influences and genres. The song directly after —“Another One” — is reminiscent of Michael Jackson and the Weeknd, “Angela” could easily be a Prince track, “Try/Effortless” meshes Justin Timberlake and Miguel, “Do it Well” has shades of early 2000 R&B stars like Usher and “Too Deep” is chalk full of Aaliyah nods. This isn’t just lofty praise or baseless comparisons. Dvsn is clearly a team of students of the genre they are attempting to redefine. “Sept. 5th” is as much a unique entrance as it is a tribute album to singers before them. Dvsn respects their predecessors by meshing sounds from previous decades while also creating something that feels undoubtedly modern. It is a tricky balancing act.
“Sept. 5th” benefits obviously from the timing of its release. It comes in the wake of three other debut albums: Majid Jordan’s self-titled February 5 release, Charlie Puth’s January 29 offering “Nine Track Mind” and Zayn’s “Mind of Mine,” which dropped March 25. Jordan, Puth and Zayn have all attempted to introduce themselves to the R&B community with a strong album. All three have ultimately fallen short, instead putting forth rocky, uninspired and generic collections. That isn’t to disparage those artists. It is simply to point out how hard it is to create a debut album that respects and pulls from R&B legends but is simultaneously on the level of those legends. “Sept. 5th” is a confident offering. The album doesn’t have painfully low moments like “Majid Jordan” does. Dvsn also doesn’t suffer from tired songwriting, like Puth and Zayn do. There is a stark difference between these three and dvsn.
Jordan, Puth and Zayn have created albums that beg for respect from the R&B world.
Dvsn demands it.
It is one of the best R&B debuts since Bryson Tiller’s “Trapsoul” or The Weeknd’s “House of Balloons.” Both of those artists shocked listeners because their work was fresh and unable to pigeonhole. That is precisely where dvsn succeeds. “Sept. 5th” is comfortable and relatable enough to keep listeners engaged while also boldly stretching the boundaries of what traditional R&B should sound like. It is at its best during those moments that take what we are used to hearing and change that sound ever so slightly. The result is a beautiful, stunning and exciting effort.
The last song on the album, “The Line,” is almost prophetic. It closes with Daley repeating over and over the lyric, “we crossed the line.”
Indeed they have.