Tems’ “For Broken Ears” is an impressive and complex debut – Joy Dennis

Tems is the kind of artist you could call an overnight success.

The way she rose from literally nobody anyone knew, to stardom is a mystery. She’s a talent, all right, the kind that only comes around once or twice, in like a decade. But does she deserve all the hype she got? And the hype she’s still getting?

Now, that’s not a question you can answer by just listening to one solid track and a couple guest verses or chorus. There had to be a body of work, there had to be something people could listen to before they could pass a valid judgement on her artistry. For most people, it’s the debut project, especially for someone like Tems, who was already popular and already in conversations in so many circles. It had to be her debut. LP or EP, it doesn’t make a difference. She had to make that mark; she had to.

Tems blew up with the single, “Try Me,” a song that not only showed she had the talent, but is also genre-bending. Because you never know, someone that flows like that; she might jump on some up-tempo house beat and do the Niniola thing and not lose a sweat. Or she could just keep her cool and do the more relaxed alternative R&B music. It wasn’t clear. Especially after she was on Show Dem Camp’s album doing some Afro tunes, not to mention that her other single “Looku Looku” had some Afro vibe going on. Guess she is just some Frank Ocean kind of artist and her sound wasn’t going to be boxed.

“For Broken Ears” was expected to give some kind of definition, and introduce us to Tems’ sound. Well, can we say it did just that?

Tems happens to be an artist with a powerful voice. Some guys even say she’s new school Asa. Whether or not that’s true is not important. What is important is that Tems sure has a voice that can send a message. I mean she could do an acapella and it’d touch your soul. On “Interference,” the first track on the EP, Tems expresses herself over a soul-filled piano instrumental.

“Ice T” is mellow too. Very cool, but there’s more, her voice, for sure. Then there’s the beat, it’s just R&B. It got Tems doing it like H.E.R, with the infusion of chants, and all the samples underneath.

“Free Mind” has a ‘palmwine music’ feel, a cool afro-fusion song. Her voice, however, overshadows most of the other details on the track, until she does that little R&B outro on it. Felt like another song, she didn’t want to lose even though it doesn’t  sound like losing it would have been such a bad idea.

She gets  to catch her breath on “Higher.” The instrumental is hard, triple kicks, there’s a trap feel. But for Tems, is just the Rhythm and Blues, as she vows to wait for who she’s addressing the song to.

“Damages” was released before the EP, as the first single and the reason isn’t far-fetched. It’s got some tempo, and would fit into Afropop, afro fusion or whatever afro there is, easily. So, easy, more playlisting! Before you realize it, it’s a hit. It’s got the potentiality. Not everybody would connect with what she’s saying about breaking off a toxic relationship, but sure most people will enjoy the vibe.

“The Key” is afro too. The kind most alté guys are on, these days.  This is another number where Tems is just flexing her voice and rhyming.

Final Note

Listening to this EP, it’s easy to miss Tems’ lyrics, or become lost trying to work it together, as she flows. And although, this isn’t a concept album, she can do better by being clearer.

For someone who’s got a voice that is best described as “powerful,” Tems doesn’t disappoint with the vibe. She isn’t all over the place sounding flat or minor notes.  As debuts go, “For Broken Ears” is impressive, yeah. But it’s a very complex style to grasp, and Tems can make it easier.

If there was any doubt before about Tems not being as good as people have said she is, “For Broken Ears” must have cleared that doubt. She is even better. Her powerful voice is both a blessing and a curse, though.

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**Joy Dennis is a savvy writer and Philosophy undergrad at the University of Lagos. 

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