“There’s way more to dvsn than we’ve shown. We’re just slowly opening the door for you.” Kudos to Eric and Jeff of ItsTheReal for always getting these gems out of artists. Music is biographical storytelling, but it is not always so easy to understand the plot in the present time. That is why artists’ commentary post-release is so important. They answer many of the questions that their music can create.
dvsn has treated their career so far like an abstract painting. They have given us music that truly connects with our feelings but barely pulled back the curtain to fully let us in. Now, we are coming to understand the intricacies of their world much more. A simple thirty-minute phone conversation is enough to spark curiosity about what the next dvsn project will sound like. The next addition to their gallery; an especially fun metaphor to use considering the art direction of the album is the two of them painting their muse.
This is not said to discredit or gloss over the project we received this past week. A Muse In Her Feelings, their third studio album under OVO Sound, is an example of steady, audible progress. Progress is defined as “forward or onward movement toward a destination.” A secondary, more elaborate definition is “advance or development toward a better, more complete, or more modern condition.”
Progress can both be seen and felt, whether within sports, music, love, and, overall, in life itself. Daniel Daley and Nineteen85’s catalog thus far has displayed the calculated growth that every artist ought to strive for. Everything has felt fluid and not forced, even with this album being their boldest effort yet.
dvsn isn’t rising stars anymore. They are up there when it comes to modern R&B. The duo is simultaneously restoring a feeling many felt has been gone and forging a new subgenre that continues to shapeshift itself. That is why through the 16 songs here, dvsn can say “Not only can we make your girl feel lusty or make her miss you, but now we have her dancing.”
It is a crime to hear jams like “Friends” featuring PND (plus pen work from Drake) and “For Us” without a “quaranting.” It is even worse we cannot enjoy the run from “Miss Me?” to the Jersey club-inspired “Keep It Going” outside right now. Just imagine hearing Verse 2 to “Keep It Going” when the function is at its peak, though.
“Why do you wanna be difficult?/Could be easy, but you’re insecure/You say I made you that way/You seem easily swayed/Then you bring up things from back in the day/Damn, that shit annoying.” Shoutout to Nija for her contribution to the writing here. Every man felt that falsetto on “annoying.”
Although these records are far from the direction one may have predicted for dvsn after hearing songs like “Too Deep” and “Hallucinations” back in 2016, it should not come as a shock. The seeds of these were planted in Morning After with the PARTYNEXTDOOR-penned, trap-infused “Don’t Choose” and the upbeat title track “Morning After.” A Muse In Her Feelings was a firm step into more lanes beyond R&B, but they took their time and truly nurtured the sound. Daley spoke on this with The Joe Budden Podcast.
“It is different. This is us finally opening certain doors that I think you guys and the fans didn’t know we had. Everybody thought we lived in an apartment, but we’re like ‘Nah, this is a whole complex. This is a whole house. We got closets, we have rooms, different ceilings for this shit that we haven’t even exposed you guys to yet.”
2016’s debut SEPT 5TH was a textbook post-move and layup. They established their bread and butter. 2017’s Morning After was them introducing the shoulder fake and a turnaround jumper to sauce up their arsenal. A Muse In Her Feelings was the big man stepping out to the three-point line and showing he can prosper from that range. Even in adding more to their sound, the songwriting has remained both the foundation of what they do and a major highlight of their music.
The Caribbean influence introduced here was a treat. They contextualized its incision nicely in this short quote following Rory saying they “Jamaican” the best out of the OVO crew on the aforementioned phone call. “We are proud Jamaicans, I’ll tell you that. Me and Nineteen, we’re both really from that. Our parents are from that, we grew up around that, so it’s second nature to us.” It felt that way. Where many artists have chased this sound, it is directly in their wheelhouse. It was simply a matter of timing.
They called in labelmate Popcaan and legendary Buju Banton for the 1–2 punch of “Dangerous City” and “So What,” respectively. Their presence helped to drive home how deadly dvsn can be alongside two leaders in that specific sound. It was very calculated to release “Dangerous City,” also featuring Ty Dolla $ign, as a promotional single because it was merely a pregame for the jolting follow-up, “So What.”
One of the best parts of this album is the seamless transitions both sonically and content-wise. Standout record “Courtside” featuring Toronto’s treasure Jessie Reyez and “Miss Me?” are nothing alike but the narrative of him thinking about his ex-lover and how she is about the games, only to reach out in the next song and reconcile makes sense. There is a certain disharmony to Daley and Reyez’s vocals which works for that song in the long-run, as they aren’t necessarily on the same page. “Spend your time and your money/As long as you’re spending something/She ain’t here for games unless it’s courtside.”
The announcer in “Keep It Going” requesting Flawless to the stage transitions perfectly into the Summer Walker-assisted “‘Flawless’ Do It Well Pt. 3.” It sets the scene for the stripper ballad, fusing some New Orleans bounce and giving us a new chapter to the “Do It Well” saga. We learned from their conversation with Jeff and Eric that they are figuring out how and when to give us Pt. 2. We’ll wait.
One truth that stands, now three albums in, is dvsn knows how to both open and close albums off in an impactful way. The difference here is they didn’t give us the seven-minute magnificence of “With Me” and the voice-note anchored masterpiece “The Line.” The duo did not even follow the five-minute, two-part song formula they nailed in “Try / Effortless” and “Nuh Time / Tek Time.” Why should they?
“No Good” simply felt like the opening to a conversation from a man who accepts the reality of his situation with a lover. It was oddly soothing. “Somehow I lost the vision/I’m not like you, I’m not so optimistic/I realized I’m just too realistic” and “Know I need you when I’m pushin’ you away/So I buy a little bag just to match your little waist/And yeah, I know, I’m basically the reason we can’t make this work” is the accountability we strive toward.
“Think I need space now, but I want you right here with me/I don’t know what’s going on/Even commitment is gettin’ lonely.” That is a dark place to be in a relationship, but it happens. For Daley and Nineteen to take us there from the onset is an early haymaker. The best line might be “This ain’t no competition/Both of us could be winnin’,” because love often feels like a tug of war against the person you should be working with.
“…Again” might have stolen the show. Shantel May is a hidden treasure I have been aware of since seeing dvsn live in February 2018, and I am so happy to see her have this moment on top of seeing dvsn finally put out songs featuring women. To say May held her weight would be an understatement. She ascended. Shantel’s voice is truly a gift from God, from the belting in the chorus to the soft repetition of “show you again” to close the song.
This was a result of patience, planning, and execution. Each album has built upon the last, but can never be called a direct replica. They dare to be different, as Daley acknowledged when speaking with the JBP.
“I think with dvsn people normally assume we’re gonna give you 12 bedroom bangers, or just an album of bedroom bangers or sit in your house and cry. No, this is not that. This is us — we’re letting you know that the whole thing behind dvsn is we don’t do boundaries. We don’t do rules. Whenever you start to expect something from us, we’ll fuck it up on you.”
The change in sound may not be your cup of tea initially, but based on their attitude, it may be something folks have no choice but to get comfortable with. dvsn understands the demand, but their career mural is being created at their own pace. When all is said and done, we may just look at the final version and see ourselves in what they painted. We will see lovers who have grown, listeners who have opened up, and humans that have progressed. We can’t cling to “Too Deep” forever.