Following a six-year hiatus from releasing his own music, Musiq Soulchild returned to the scene in early March 2023. Victims and Villains is a collab album with producer Hit-Boy. This new album comes nearly 23 years after the release of his debut studio album Aijuswanaseing (I just wanna sing), but he still continues his E.E. Cummings-esque aversion to conventional capitalization and syntax.
Musiq Soulchild is a veteran of the music world and a foundational figure for modern R&B artists. Songs like “Love” and “Halfcrazy” are timeless classics, with the latter even being heavily sampled on Lucky Daye‘s 2022 breakout hit “Over”.
Hit-Boy is known primarily for working with rappers and is no stranger to working on collab projects. Burden of Proof with Benny the Butcher along with all three iterations of Nas‘ King’s Disease series are some of his most notable recent work.
The album opens with a question: will i touch the sky. Backed by a groovy bassline and enhanced by smooth vocal layering, Musiq’s talent and artistry is evident on this track. This is the most personal song on an album where almost every song is about love or a relationship. He laments in the chorus, “Feels like I’m drownin’, tryna keep my head up / Don’t lеt this broken smile tell you a liе / Lost in the crowd with myself to find.” This feeling of anguish is a relatable phenomenon, and it provides context for his mindset on the rest of the album.
Track two, i remember you my ex and track three, imreallytrynafuckwichu, serve as foils. The former is a vulnerable male breakup anthem in which his decision to stop the relationship outweighs his fond memories of the past. On the other hand, the latter is a more macho song where he lets a girl know that he’s down for whatever. It also has the album’s only listed feature, The Husel, who in reality is Musiq Soulchild’s rap alter ego.
The crux of the album is the title track, victims and villains. On my first listen, the simple drum beat and the expressive piano clued me in that he was about to really speak from the soul. He feels fooled and betrayed by a woman who has falsely claimed vitcimhood but in truth is actually a villain. He asks her, “Just how far will you go / Your mask is comin’ down / Thought no one would ever know.” The song’s strength lies heavily in its simplicity and repetition. It feels cyclical in the same way that an argument normally does when it comes to relationships.
On the seventh track, white rice déjà vu, he employs several similes and metaphors in his descriptions of a woman like, “You would think it’s white rice by the way we spoon”, “Love like a shot of Henny, I would chase it”, and “She wanna ride like an ’84 Caprice / You’ll be my passenger all between the sheets”. This track made it evident to me that Musiq Soulchild has definitely been influenced by popular R&B singers of the last few years. These lines feel more like rap bars rather than the lines of a love song, a stylistic choice that’s characteristic of contemporary acts like Brent Faiyaz and Bryson Tiller.
The final track, we were just binging, ends the album and a relationship, comparing them to a TV show that you would binge. What was once the source of joy and fun has now become tired and bored. It’s a somber but poetic end.
Yeah, we put on quite a good show
Now it’s time’s up, next episode
No need to re-up our subscription
The season has come to an ending
Oh, and I know in good time
You’ll find someone just right
Ain’t no victims or no villains
We wasn’t in love, we were just bingingMusiq Soulchild & Hit-Boy, “we were just binging”
With recent features on projects from Kehlani, Freddie Gibbs, Robert Glasper, and EARTHGANG, this project is likely the proper introduction to Musiq Soulchild for many new-generation fans. It details either different perspectives for a single relationship over time or a collection of multiple love stories accumulated by one man with different women. It doesn’t have the same sort of magic to me that his first few projects do, but sticking too closely to his traditional style would only beget music that’s tired and forgettable. As a whole though, this is a cohesive project and a worthy return for a music legend.
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.