Within the insular internet music world, and the realm of pop in which #Blood_Orange’s music often moves, #Dev_Hynes stands out as a beacon of dissent, anger, courage, and empathy. His social media presence flickers with notes on injustice in pop culture and society, writ large. Last year, he was assaulted by security at Lollapalooza after a set in which he spoke out against police brutality whilst wearing a T-shirt bearing the names of black men and boys murdered by law enforcement: #Trayvon_Martin, #Eric_Garner, #Jordan_Davis, and #Oscar_Grant.
On the somber, pulsating vocal collage “Do You See My Skin Through the Flames?” he connects these percolating thoughts and attendant, mushrooming feelings of isolation and exhaustion through music for the first time. “I have nothing left to give when you don’t notice what’s wrong,” he sings, “Charleston left me broken down but it’s just another day to you.” It follows a voicemail snippet from Talwst, a Toronto artist and curator of Trinidadian descent, telling Hynes, “I understand what you’re going through being surrounded by friends of privilege who don’t get it.” So yes, on this song Hynes is thinking about institutions that perpetuate incidents like Charleston and McKinney and kill black people like Tamir Rice and Rekia Boyd and dehumanize artists like Kanye West, but, more powerfully, he pulls back and names his immediate community—fans included—as complicit as well. The message is simple: A gun-toting racist is deadly, but so is your silence.