Up-and-coming R&B singer Khamari released his debut album, A Brief Nirvana, on May 26, 2023. The album is littered with recognizable samples, interpolations, and strikingly personal lyrics. His voice and strong songwriting are reminiscent of a Channel Orange-era Frank Ocean. He has writing credits on every track and production credits on all but the last, making this a distinctly personal album. Prominent (soul) samples, bittersweet lyrics, and heavy personal experiences are common threads that bring everything together but above all this is a journey into Khamari’s experience with growth and isolation.
Built on top of a sample of Bill Withers‘ classic track, “Use Me”, the opening track “Wax Poetic” is oxymoronic. The title phrase is often used to describe writing that is excessively verbose and flowery. Khamari, however, flips this notion on its head. He sings, “Wish that I could wax poetic / Paint a Picasso with these words like Kendrick.” He also interpolates the chorus from “Sixteen” by Rick Ross and André 3000 where André sings “Sixteen ain’t enough”. 16 bars is the standard length of a rap verse. By invoking André and Kendrick in this way, two of Hip Hop’s greatest and most wordy lyricists, he is telling the listener that he has a lot to say on this record and we need to be ready to hear him.
The third track, “Drifting”, uses a sample that rap fans may recognize from “New Day” by Kanye West and Jay-Z. That sample is “Feeling Good” by the legendary Nina Simone. On that song, she joyfully sings about finding freedom while on Khamari’s track, he sings about escapism, substance, and addiction. The album title is actually mentioned in the chorus: “Visions of a brief nirvana / Smoking way more than I should / Couple sips had more than I would.” Inspired by the monotony of peak COVID times, “Visions of a brief nirvana” describes Khamari finding happiness and letting go of his self-destructive behaviors. The sample, a poignant but soft string section, a simple drum beat, and a prominent piano come together to create a beautiful instrumental. This song evokes feelings of longing and fragility, but most importantly it is hopeful.
“A Sacred Place”, is the fifth and saddest track on the album. Speaking on a failing relationship, Khamari starts the song with, “What if I can’t make a believer out of you / What if it’s easier to change my point of view?” His worries have turned into resignation and bargaining. He asks himself if letting go of this love is worth letting go of his own opinions and way of being. The lyrics “How fickle a mental state / Set fire to a sacred place” encapsulate the song as a whole. This relationship wasn’t built on solid ground, but it was still special and sacred, and coming to terms with this just isn’t an easy process. Concerning both structure and instrumentation, this is a simple song, making use of two distinct short verses, strings, and a piano. The simplicity concerning the instrumentation and structure of the song is juxtaposed by the layered nature of its lyrics. All things considered, this track reminds me of Faye Webster songs like “Hurts Me Too” and “I Know You”.
The seventh track, “Changing Yourself (Gil’s Interlude)” is a ten-second sample of poet, spoken word performer, and Hip Hop progenitor Gil-Scott Heron.
Of course you want to change yourself for the betterGil Scott-Heron, Changing Yourself (Gil’s Interlude)
You want to make yourself
A better father
A better son
A better brother
You need the help of those that you’re trying to improve for
This short segment helps tie together the album narratively. As he subtly discusses in the third track, Khamari is in pursuit of bettering himself. This sample asserts that Khamari needs to seek the help of more than just himself to improve.
Continuing with his streak of prominent sample usage, the eighth and tenth tracks each sample songs that have been sampled more than 50 times. “Right My Wrongs” samples “Didn’t I” by Darondo and “On My Way” samples Al Green‘s “Love and Happiness.”
“These Four Walls”, track nine, is a song expressly about isolation. Khamari also recorded A COLORS SHOW version that was released just over a week after the album. In Khamari’s own words, “It kind of has undertones of ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’ by Kanye West, where I’m making peace with what I have, and I’m happy because at least I know this is guaranteed.” The song’s chorus ends with “I’ve got these four walls / Even when you don’t call.” Despite struggling after having moved to Los Angeles, he is able to find solace in the things that he does have, like the four walls that he calls home. Sonically, Khamari goes higher up his register and softly stacks vocal harmonies, creating one of my favorite refrains on the whole project.
The album finishes out with “Requiem.” A requiem is a piece of music written in remembrance of someone or something. Over the course of the album, Khamari has learned about himself and grown accordingly. “Not guaranteed a second chance / Thank God I’m waking up / Please don’t play my requiem.” Still struggling to “escape ephemeral darkness,” he hasn’t finished growing yet. His pain is fading and he feels himself coming back to life, so he exclaims that he isn’t ready to die, to have his story finished, to fade away. He doesn’t want to “play his requiem” because there is more for him to do and more for him to be remembered by. Again, he uses his upper register, in what I feel is the most beautiful song on this record. It feels cinematic. He has awoken and come to terms with his isolation. And with this renewed spirit, he feels free in the fact that he has the rest of his story to write.
Adeboye Adeoye is a student at the University of Georgia studying Economics, Sociology, and Music Business. As an avid playlist maker, he always looks for connections and themes across albums and genres. He listens primarily to Hip Hop but enjoys R&B, Neo-Soul, Pop, Afrobeats, Indie, and more beyond that as well.