Tinashe opens up her third eye as Notion's August Digital Cover star, dishing on the new, enlightened utopia of her fifth album, '333'.

How did you cope when the world stopped – and not in a rosé-fuelled Nicki and Bey “Feeling Myself” type of way? For many of us, the choice was simple: either morph into a glorified couch potato or grab yourself a roll-out mat and become the fitness freak you once swore death on. For Tinashe however, the road ahead meant an escape from the chaos on planet earth to a utopia far, far away. 

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Never one to do things by the book, the mononymous R&B icon known globally for her early 2010s smash “2 On”, or even as Hero Girl in The Polar Express (look it up), sought her freedom by conjuring up her own universe, founded on limitless principles of freedom, art, creativity, and love. The world in question, a mix of concrete plinths, shiny-robot beings with third eye’s and plenty of foliage, is the visual playground in which her genre-defying new album, ‘333′, takes centre stage.

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“I’m really interested in the space where science, spirituality and tech all intertwine,” Tinashe excitedly explains of the project from her home in Pasadena. Perched comfortably on her sofa, the 28-year-old singer waxes lyrical about recent advancements in virtual reality through simulation theory, openness in regards to mental health awareness, being a living part of this planet, and even Bezos and Branson’s billionaire space race.

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But what exactly do phallic rockets and lawless old men have to do with her fifth studio album? Well, it all starts with the idea of a journey, be it the singer’s own lockdown-induced road to spiritual enlightenment, or what awaits us on the world wide web. “I feel there’s opportunity for an interesting discussion on simulated reality and what that could mean in terms of killing our egos,” the singer explains, “or using it as an empowering situation to create our own destinies.” 

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Rather than dwell on the future as some kind of disastrous wasteland ruled by dodgy AI and climate change, utopia can be found in the singer’s fusions of atmospheric pop and sultry R&B. Take “Pasadena” for instance, a track soaked in sun-kissed coastal grooves, perky liquid drum beats, and sweet, sweet guitars. The singer explains that all the energies the song embodies, be it of freedom, nostalgia or comfort, epitomise the fun and freedom she was intent on bringing back to planet earth.

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But the thematic backbone of the journey doesn’t just stop here. Birthed from a long year of healing, the album’s title itself is an allusion to the angel number associated with messages from the divine of protection, love, and destiny that Tinashe champions within all her work. “I named it 333 because I really felt like I was on the right path, in alignment with what I was meant to do,” she shares, “I just wanted to acknowledge that.”

 

As the follow-up to 2019’s Songs For You, Tinashe’s first full-length project since splitting from RCA Records following the singer’s rightful fight for creative control, 333 allowed Tinashe to dig deeper than ever as she embraced the other selves that made her whole. But even when focus turned to escaping the peaks and pitfalls of lockdown, the singer’s palpable sensuality still rose to the top. “I think a lot of it does come through in a character-y way, because I don’t feel like that all the time,” reasons the singer of the project’s undercurrent of allure, chalking the ever-present passion down to the translation of her performance persona, “but I think, sonically, those different versions of me are exactly what I’m tapping into.”

Of course, the road to spiritual enlightenment doesn’t come without its many potholes. Despite mastering seamless blends of aloof, hip-rolling vaporwave ( “X feat. Jeremih”) to total, melodramatic pop splendour (“The Chase”), Tinashe reveals the hardest part of the process was missing out on direct feedback from her audience, which despite the many attempts, just isn’t the same via livestream. “In a way, I do make good art when I’m in my own zone,” she counters, likening the artistic process to a musical tunnel vision, “I was just creating whatever was inspiring to me. And I feel like when I do that, that’s when my work is the best.” 

 

Nowhere could this be more apparent than in tracks like “Undo (Back To My Heart)” or “Small Reminders” – known affectionately by the singer as the album’s “emotional bangers”. The former is a self-described ode to the ebbs and flows of life, from breakups to steamy romances. Perhaps sold short by the term ‘pop perfection’, this balladic blend of dynamic 80s synths and rumbling euphoria is an undeniable frontrunner for the record’s crowning jewel. It’s the type of tune Carly Rae Jepsen could tap into in one fail swoop, circling the singer in a sonic swirl of neon lights and roller disco magic as the glistening fragments of a disco ball twirl on. 

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And the latter? Now that’s a real sonic journey. Another of Tinashe’s favourite tunes, prepare for a recalibrated vibe of chill beats and the singer’s own effortless rasp to lull you into a false sense of tranquility, and even celebration, as the singer disguises deeply probing lyrics that lament the loss of time. “That’s the beauty of life,” Tinashe explains, “like, having that duality between living and knowing that we’re all going to die.” But before you can even digest your mortality, suddenly you’re launched into some of the bossiest, Pimp My Ride-esque hydraulic-pumping swagger you’ll ever hear in your life. Exploding with sizzling funk and pangs of raw attitude, Tinashe gets all up in your grill, before bringing you back from cloud nine with a thud and a head full of existential questions.

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“There’s not too much strategy or thought behind like the genres that I explore when I’m creating,” Tinashe says when asked about what inspired the thrilling territory of her new sound, “it just kind of naturally happens from whatever I’m imbibing, even on that day.” One thing is for certain though, she loves a collab, from Jeremih and Kaash Paige to Quiet Child and Kudzai, even Kaytranada gets a look in. The two reunite on “Unconditional”, having previously teamed up with the Haitian-Canadian producer for a slicker than slick dance-house banger on the Grammy award-winning BUBBA. If ever there was a more befitting offering for your pre-sex playlist, “Unconditional” is it. It’s got soul, it’s got shimmer, and it’s mellifluous, bassy rhythms bounce and twinkles around the singer’s heavenly falsettos in the most divine of fashions.

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Really, what’s at the core of Tinashe’s new era is a passion for blending sounds and grooves for the hedonists of the future. Whether it’s chopping and screwing the enigmatic, club-ready charm of “Bouncin’” into the wholly darker and creepily cavernous “Bouncin’ Pt. II”, or even just taking a moment to feel sad AND sexy a la “Angels”, 333 is an antidote to this year of utter carnage even anti-vaxxers can’t deny. If only it came with a booster shot come September. 

I suppose, for now, we’ll just have to settle for the 333 video game universe. Coming soon to a utopia near you…

Stream Tinashe's new album '333' below:

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