Holding out for a Hero? Tunde Olaniran Comes to Save the Day
Hailing from Flint, Michigan, Tunde Olaniran is an adept singer whose range seems boundless. They have been known to quickly change from heavenly falsetto to gruff hip hop bars on a dime. Their thematically-rich 2018 record Stranger supplied plenty of varying rhythms to exercise Olaniran’s voice, as they waxed poetic about what it means to be known. Their lyrics contain multitudes; they can speak on the Black experience, Celine Dion, and science fiction, and float seamlessly between subjects with grace.
Olaniran’s solo career seemingly began in 2011, with the release of The First Transgression EP, the first of several so-called misdeeds. After putting out the EP’s direct sequel eighteen months later—The Second Transgression—a full-length album called Transgressor came in 2015. The titles refer to Olaniran’s style of music, which was a disarmingly chaotic mix of hip hop, punk, and dance music. But the release that put Olaniran’s career on the map was Yung Archetype, a 5-track EP that came in 2014. The sound was more unified than the Michigan artist’s earlier work, yet also more experimental, incorporating industrial samples into hard rap beats. Olaniran’s voice was still developing at the time, though their grip on rhythm was ironclad. Not to mention their creative language—the EP’s title is the easiest example of a pun with mileage. (Philosopher Carl Jung’s proposed archetypes are considered universal and innate.)
There was a lapse in Olaniran’s releases after Transgressor; then, after three idle years, they revealed Stranger, and it was worth the wait. The record’s 13 tracks are packed with bleeding emotion, soul-baring and self-affirming all at once. Much of the hip hop influence that had entrenched Yung Archetype appears in a few verses and comes through in Olaniran’s musical swagger, but most of the instrumentation could be described as simply pop. Luckily, indie music discourse has evolved since their career began, so this is less an insult and more a sign of artistic growth.
Olaniran’s lyrics are intensely human, and, as if to prove this fact, one is never far from a pop culture reference. The Fifth Element and The Revenant are mentioned in the standout power ballad, “Miracle,” alluding to characters who were both presumed dead until they completed their hero’s journey. The song provides hope through our shared commonalities—recognition of these stories allows fans to relate, if not to the message, then to Olaniran themself.
Action movies and pop divas are just a couple of the pop culture passions of this self-professed X-Men stan. Last year, Olaniran released a song based on the brainy Omega-level mutant also known as Dark Phoenix, whom they related to most from the franchise, to coincide with the 2019 film. It is more than a fan’s ode—Olaniran uses “Jean Grey” as a mantra meant to uplift and embolden those who cannot see beyond their struggle.
Echoing the sentiment behind the X-Men character, Olaniran wrote “Jean Grey” as a rallying cry to fight external battles even when internal ones are ongoing. It opens with a low, ominous hum typical for a James Blake cut. Their hallmark falsetto appears in bursts, flanked by lower pitches on the chorus and rapped verses. “Baby you got wounds/I have my wounds too,” Olaniran sings in reassurance. Told through desperate gasps, the final verse is an account from Jean Grey herself, struggling to destroy evil as she battles her own demons. Yet listening to the track puts real-life demons at bay. Maybe Tunde Olaniran is a superhero, after all.
by: Zoë Elaine