Photo Credit: Zamar Velez/Epic Records
Giveon Evans’ biggest hits – with the exception of “Heartbreak Anniversary” have been thanks to other, bigger artists featuring him on their music. Two collaborations with Drake (as a co-artist on “Chicago Freestyle” in 2020 and a featured artist on “In The Bible” in 2021) led to two Top 20 hits. Joining Justin Bieber and Daniel Caesar on “Peaches”, last year, he earned his first chart-topper. The song has since been certified 3x platinum and earned four Grammy nominations and a VMA award.
Many of these songs have felt like they undermined, or at least failed to utilize, Giveon’s greatest strengths as an artist – namely the warmth of his music and the versatility of his voice. “Peaches”, like much of the album it accompanied, was a tacky attempt at genre infusions plagued by awkward choices – like cries of “That’s that sh*t” and “Badass b*tch.” Meanwhile, “In The Bible” is a drudge – like most of Certified Lover Boy.
On his first full-length album, Giveon attempts to establish himself as more than someone mainstream artists can tack onto their songs to pander to a new audience. Unfortunately, Give or Take succumbs to mainstream trends more often than it subverts them; ultimately subsuming any of Giveon’s idiosyncrasies into a predictable and impersonal sonic palette. Across 15 songs, minimalist R&B-pop arrangements backdrop Giveon’s autotune-subsumed voice and his lyrics about heartache.
By some standards, Give or Take, could be seen as a concept album centered around heartache. But in contrast, to the emotional depths, Giveon had promised to deliver, Give or Take ultimately has all the depth of the shallow end of a pool. There are clichés and predictable rhymes abound and potentially interesting themes are reduced to their crudest form. “Scarred”, for instance, sees Giveon admit to closing himself off in a new relationship due to the unhealed scars of a past love, but he ultimately can’t find anything to say other than, “My last love was cold // So now I gotta be the coldest.” The first few seconds of “This Will Do” hint at a welcome diversion towards classy soul-pop, a la Corrine Bailey Rae and Lianne La Havas, however moments later, he retreats into the false security of the familiar – soulless, autotuned R&B.
Giveon’s two 2020 EPs – which were created by a way smaller team than the over two-dozen producers who contributed to Give or Take – showed an artist far more interested in pushing the boundaries of his sound. Give or Take, then, is the sound of an artist without a career-defining solo hit or a masterpiece project, prematurely resting on their laurels.