In his highly-anticipated debut single, “Chemical Smiles,” indie R&B singer Ronin wears his heart on his sleeve in a lyrically-driven masterpiece of pop melodies and urban grooves, the likes of which had been previously missing from airwaves this year. Summer brings with it an ocean of dance tracks that, admittedly, are tough for casual fans to pick through, but curious parties really should take note of what this young man is doing in the studio at the moment. “Chemical Smiles” isn’t a world-altering watershed single, but I think that if it’s given the right platform to shine, it could be a game-changer for the American R&B underground, to put it quite mildly.
From the moment that it makes its first appearance here, the bassline is very moody and unpredictable. Its instability is countered with a rigidly-arranged drumbeat, which yields an intriguing contrast between the two that is reminiscent of 80’s-style glam pop. The bass doesn’t rebel against the rhythm in the vocal track, but it does plenty to carve out its own unique place in the mix, and when everything is said and done, I think that it gives the song some extra zest in the more stock moments that it features.
The vocal is super-textured, even more so than what I would anticipate out of an artist in this genre, and it adds to the narrative in the lyrics in a way that no other component in the music could have (or does). The emotion in Ronin’s voice, the sheer urgency that carries him from one verse to the next; it’s a constant presence in “Chemical Smiles,” reminding us that we’re listening to a flesh and blood man, and not to some form of artificial intelligence that was programmed to croon alongside a fun-loving rock n’ roll beat (as I’ve come across a little too frequently in the last years of writing about music professionally).
I would love to hear Ronin experiment more with heavier bass tones in the future, as I think that it’s overwhelmingly clear in “Chemical Smiles” that he has the right palate to do so. You have to have a pretty in-depth range as a vocalist to go toe to toe with a bass-oriented R&B song, but that’s essentially what he teases us with here. The bassline doesn’t blast us in the face the way that, say, a more abrasive trap-style track would, but what I’m saying is that even if it were a little more visceral, Ronin’s lead vocal would still be stealing the lion’s share of our affections in this single.
The underground, collectively, is turning out some real stars right now, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Ronin is among the cream of the crop. He’s wielding some big weaponry in “Chemical Smiles,” and when I consider the fact that this is his first official release, I’m all the more excited to see what he can do with some additional time to cultivate this sound and exploit his rich tonality for every drop of melodic wonderment that it’s worth. This guy’s skillset is impressive, and through this release, his brand’s value has nowhere to go but up.