PARTYNEXTDOOR 3 (P3)
The fanfare preceding PARTYNEXTDOOR 3 suggests its intent to be the album that defines PND as a top-tier, contemporary R&B artist. His last full body of work came before a total of three guest appearances on two Drake projects (two on the now double-platinum mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and one on the record-breaking Views), a writing credit and leaked demo track for the nine-week number one Rihanna single “Work,” and the announcement of a highly-anticipated collaborative project with Jeremih called Late Night Party. Pair these events with some leaked tracks in the spring (two of them reference tracks for Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late) and a Snapchat-premiered Kylie Jenner cameo in his “Come and See Me” music video, and what you have is undeniably the most exposure and hype PartyNextDoor has experienced in his career. More people are watching and listening for PND than ever before. These conditions establish P3 as the moment in which Party either achieves great success, retaining a hoard of new fans and possibly carving out a distinct identity in an industry of trend-followers, or crumbles under the pressure, exposing that he is nothing but a second-rate R&B crooner who found his way into the limelight through the all-powerful Drake cosign rather than his own talent.
I am of the opinion that, prior to P3, Party has failed to make a well-rounded, full body of work. PARTYNEXTDOOR and, especially, PARTYNEXTDOOR TWO suffer primarily from what can be boiled down to the same mistake by PND. His own attempt at channeling some of the most popular sounds of the time into his own work results in a messy bundle of inauthenticity. The triplet flow Migos employ in nearly all of their tracks, The Weeknd’s cynical, hubris-charged lyricism over dense soundscapes, and Drake’s (usually) seamless transitions from rapping to singing are just some of the tactics the listener can hear PND trying to duplicate with less success than the originators. While there are some clear standouts from these two projects in which Party executes his not-so-subtle copycat R&B approach with great success (“Break from Toronto” and “Wus Good Curious” from PARTYNEXTDOOR and, unsurprisingly, “Recognize” from PARTYNEXTDOOR TWO are some definite highlights), as a whole, neither can hold a torch to most of the projects released around the same time by his R&B counterparts, such as The Weeknd’s Kiss Land in 2013 or even Ty Dolla $ign’s Beach House EP in 2014. Save a handful of tracks that were very likely created during a fleeting stroke of originality and inspiration, PND’s work preceding P3 usually sounds like less memorable versions of songs already created by his R&B peers. PARTYNEXTDOOR and PARTYNEXTDOOR TWO are far from unlistenable. In general, they are pretty easy to sit through. However, they are just as easy to forget the moment the final song ends. That has been the essential pitfall with PND’s past work—it is forgettable.
P3 does manage to break away from some of the shortcomings found on PARTYNEXTDOOR and PARTYNEXTDOOR TWO. Although it could be more focused and consistent, Party puts forth an honest effort to engage the listener more grippingly on P3 than what was seen on his previous projects. The album as a whole does not represent a new chapter for his overall sound and content, but several moments on the album mark a noticeable attempt by PND to incorporate production and singing that is more interesting than anything we have heard from him before.
“High Hopes,” the bold opener and a definite highlight on P3, displays Party pushing his own boundaries just enough on almost all fronts. His singing travels freely across a spectrum of very different sounds and styles throughout the seven-minute track. From resembling the soulful serenading of 80s and 90s R&B to the incomprehensible mumblings of Desiigner, PND succeeds at keeping the listener guessing for nearly every second of the seven minutes. The production helps achieve this same success, complementing the erraticism of PND’s singing with samples of echoing rain drops, sirens, animal howls, and other sounds that are so unusual and unique I won’t bother trying to pin them down in this review with words. In general, the production on P3 hits its high points at its most surprising, unpredictable moments. “High Hopes,” the outro on “Don’t Run,” and the opening reverbed bells of “Brown Skin” are some of the well-produced, abrasive flashes of the album that reveal the traces of PND’s steps towards pushing the scope of his sound as an artist and, more specifically, as a producer (ten of the sixteen tracks are produced or co-produced by himself).
A pleasant influence from neighboring subgenres on a few tracks does not go unnoticed. The dancehall-inspired “Not Nice” and “Only U” offer some well-needed sonic variety. The soft standout “Joy” does the same and is also probably the closest PND has ever gone to crafting a simple, sweet ballad. These moments are a welcome change of pace in a sixteen-song album that, at times, can begin to feel tiresome. PND’s formulas are executed too similarly across some songs, leaving the inferior tracks to be forgotten or skipped on following album listens. In this way, Party only partially avoids the mistakes he made on previous projects.
With P3, it is hard to distinguish if PND has finally established his own, original lane within contemporary R&B or if he has just adopted the sound of his more successful peers with more confidence. At the end of the day, it’s probably a little bit of both. However, this time around his replication of other artists is less noticeable—P3 sounds the most like a “PartyNextDoor” album than either of his other two full-length projects. Even so, P3 is still plagued by flaws that further solidify PND’s status as a runner-up to his competitors.
One glaring weakness of P3 is Party’s writing. There is an utter lack of depth and consistency with the lyrics throughout the entirety of the album. When I listen to someone like The Weeknd, for example, I am fascinated by the character he creates throughout an album (and even from album to album) by his lyrics and the delivery of those lyrics. I hear a complex, honest depiction of a real-life human being. Someone who says something, but means something else. A heartbroken Casanova who is haunted by his tragic flaws, unable to escape his mistakes and addictions, resulting in self-loathing thinly masked by his braggadocio of sexual conquest and luxury living. Perhaps I am giving The Weeknd too much credit here (I don’t think I am), but regardless, this vivid characterization and lyrical profundity is nonexistent in P3. Party is never really seen blaming himself for his failed relationships—he prefers to play the whiney victim and call women out for their behaviors. Which is annoying. And I can’t help but point out the hypocrisy of PND not considering his own actions (sleeping with countless women, being on the road constantly, etc.) as being a contributor to his unsuccessful relationships, being that the mantra of his OVO camp is to “Know Yourself.” But I digress. At times, Party is admitting his love and desire for a relationship. At others, such as “Come and See Me,” he is trying to maintain casual romantic relationships while his partner wants to get more serious. These inconsistencies could be explained as simply being the result of isolated stories within each individual song, but, unfortunately, Party makes it difficult to even make that inference by failing to incorporate enough detailed lyrical content throughout the album. Even if the listener was to make the assumption that PND did not intend for there to be any semblance of one fluid narrative on P3, his imagery is still bland and his storytelling lacks serious detail. The subpar lyricism and absence of direction on the album may bother some listeners less than others, but at the end of the day it is something that separates the more thoughtful, A-list R&B artists from PND.
This flaw is made even more clear over the almost 66-minute length of the album. P3 is, by far, PND’s lengthiest body of work with PARTYNEXTDOOR clocking in at around 29 minutes and PARTYNEXTDOOR TWO around 45 minutes. Now more than ever, it is becoming apparent that Party struggles with carrying a full-length project on his own as a handful of the songs on P3 run together and sound much too similar. “Spiteful,” in particular, is a 5 ½ minute waste—the very definition of album filler. The writing, singing, and production of the song is so forgettable and lazy that it could have been taken off of the album completely and no one would have ever cared. It almost feels wrong to bring attention to the song by mentioning it in this review since it could result in someone listening to it and consequently wasting 5 ½ minutes of his life. So just take my word and don’t listen to “Spiteful.” It sucks. And although “Spiteful” is the definite low point of P3, there are several other tracks that could have also been removed or changed in some way—many of them just sound that similar. If Party wants to make another more successful 66-minute album in the future, he will have to push himself outside of his own comfort zone during the song-making process. Or he will have to determine the songs that sound too similar (which shouldn’t be too hard) and cut the ones that are not up to snuff.
Even after P3, which is an improvement from PARTYNEXTDOOR and PARTYNEXTDOOR TWO, the fact remains that other artists are still doing contemporary R&B better than PartyNextDoor. When listeners reflect on the best projects of 2016, it is very likely that P3 will not come to mind at all. Once again, PartyNextDoor has crafted a project that, as a whole, is largely forgettable. Is it a step in the right direction? Yes. Is it the defining career moment that PND wanted? No.