Dante Jones and Andrew “Drew Love” Neely are thankful AF. THEY., the popular R&B duo from Los Angeles, took their love for Kurt Cobain, Babyface, and Taking Back Sunday (to name a few)—and turned it into commercial and critical acclaim. Songs such as “Working for It” and “Say When” endeared them to the world — a feeling they had themselves while in the process of making their first EP. “‘Motley Crüe,’ off of Nü Religion, was an important song for us,” the broadie Drew Love shares with me via email. “It was the beginning of what felt like our platform being used to speak fully on our experiences as young Black men in L.A. It’s really been a full circle moment from that [project] to The Amanda Tape — which feels like a full 360-degree representation of who we are and our experiences in the world.”
Those experiences resonate with yours truly in a major way, so this week’s edition of ESSENCE’s The Playlist is focused on thankfulness and brotherhood. “As artists, we share a passion for music that’s bonded us from day one,” Dante professes. “As collaborators, our symbiotic relationship is what creates the music. [And] as brothers, our relationship, going through everything we’ve been through, is something neither of us would ever imagine going through alone.” I’ve always wished to have a brother, let alone one into music like THEY. are.
With The Amanda Tape out now, today, the Avant Garden Records duo stresses the importance creating memorable moments that all can be thankful to experience. “When we came in the game, we wanted to make a statement,” THEY. say as a tandem. “Before we started touring neither of us had been out of the country, so it has been amazing to have the opportunity to travel to all corners of the world and see people reacting to our music. With time and knowledge, we are most grateful for our ability to evolve and improve over the years. These experiences, really influence us and we look forward to the day when we can get back on the road.”
1. THEY. — “On & On”
The first pick from THEY. is their new single from The Amanda Tape. “The song has dual meaning to it,” Drew Love confesses. “On the surface it’s a song about a relationship, but when writing it, we were also speaking about our relationship with the world around us. Things have changed so much, so rapidly and we must believe there’s hope that things will change for the better. From day one we’ve wanted to use our platform responsibly to shed light on issues that affect us. This song was an opportunity to keep the conversation going about police brutality and social injustices that have afflicted our community for years.”
2. VanJess — “High & Dry”
Favorites here at The Playlist, VanJess returns with a sultry follow-up to their “Black-in-the-day,” nostalgic-inducing number “Come Over,” which is repeat-worthy to say the least. With a pen game as creative and alluring as this striking visualizer, The Sisters Nwokike advance their unique brand of “ooh, come hither” R&B that makes me thankful that listening to “High & Dry” behind closed doors can be a magical experience.
3. Leon Bridges — “All About You” (with Lucky Daye)
For numero dos, Dante chooses a hybrid mix by Leon Bridges and Lucky Daye, two charismatic rising stars. “This song is one of the more refreshing R&B songs we’ve heard! These are two of our favorite artists’ at their best on one record. It’s been on repeat since it came out. Drew has had the pleasure of working with both of them and they are really bright spots in today’s music scene. It’s amazing to see so many Black R&B singers speak their truth and we’re just happy to be apart of that community.”
4. Cory Henry — “Don’t Forget”
There are a lot of painful things we’re all facing in one way or another. Even with it being Friday (here in New York City) and the sun is finally creeping from being those dark clouds, Cory Henry’s electrifying “Don’t Forget” is a melodious reminder that through all the hurt, to keep trying and keep loving is the most important. The renowned instrumentalist with the penchant for ”future soul” sounds is right on time with this message to remind us all to not forget what we’re living and fighting for.
5. Young Bleu — “You’re Mine Still” (ft. Drake)
For the third pick, THEY. chose to make the earth sick with this fast-rising number. “This song grew on us really quickly. The melody on the hook is so infectious and, of course, Drake came through and slayed his verse. The song is very laid back, but still has an energy to it we love,” Drew says confidently. If you haven’t yet found yourself discovering the sounds of Young Bleu, don’t worry, you can thank us later.
6. Mndsgn — “Truth of the Matter”
In expressing thankfulness and gratitude, I wanted to show some supreme love to the famed Los Angeles producer and musician, Mndsgn. “Truth Of The Matter,” a cover of Sofie, a singer-songer whose debut album Cult Survivor is a favorite of ours both — is taken to the stratosphere with Mndsgn’s signature sound of lo-fi, left-field pop coloring. If you’re just thankful for the space and time to breathe fresh air and invite peace, then this song should fit your comfort zone easily.
7. Ty Dolla $ign — “Spicy” (ft. Post Malone)
The return of Ty Dolla $ign this week, for this music writer, has been a sign that winter might not be so bad (if outside of the country!). “Ty has been one of our day one supporters and good friends,” Dante says. “He’s one of the best, so it’s dope hearing him team up with Post [Malone] and make another banger.” Add in that Featuring Ty Dolla $ign is a spot-on, perfect name for his next project, and THEY. and I have no worries that you’ll be keeping this one in rotation for the next 52 weeks.
8. Poppy Ajudha — “Watermelon Man” (Under The Sun)
Add this name — Poppy Ajudha — to your friend’s list, social media, and everything else. Why? Simply put, all should be thankful for the beautiful imagination of one of the UK scene’s most exciting young talents today. Featured as part of Blue Note Re:imagined, a new collection of classic jazz numbers, Poppy’s soul-stirring version of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” celebrates Blackness in a way that you can’t help but to express gratitude towards.
9. H.E.R. — “Damage”
For the final pick from THEY., they (pun intended) have chosen the crush-worthy crooner of the 21st century. “We love this song. H.E.R. is an amazing artist and definitely holding it down for Black women,” Drew says. “We love her and she’s someone we’d definitely [want to] work with. She’s creating her own rules and living by them and making music that’s true to her.” In short, H.E.R. and THEY. need to connect on a song called, “WE.”, and put all that magic on a record.
10. Genesis Owusu — “Don’t Need You”
Medaase paa! Very, very thankful for the broadie, Genesis Owusu, for finally hitting the U.S. with his first jam. Most people are familiar with “WUTD,” an equally satisfying bop that made its way onto television sets in a few commercial and movie placements. Now, the 22-year-old Ghanaian-born, Australia-based talent smashes expectations with “Don’t Need You”. For anyone who finds themselves amongst the un-needed, you’ll find yourself grooving to this song simply because Genesis is the beginning of an “emphatically empowering musical force” that’s needed now more than ever.