By: Robert Kyte
Photos by: Robert Kyte and Mikko Castaño
What is it about an artist that draws a crowd? How does a person go from singing in church to having thousands of people sing along to a song you wrote in the shower? For a Toronto-based artist like Daniel Caesar, a laudable musical talent and an ethereal voice have played no small part in his success. But it is the sense of genuine, palpable authenticity woven into Caesar’s music that delivers a truly special sound and experience rarely found in developing musicians.
While Caesar has put out most of his previous singles and EPs on his own and explored a wide range of emotions and ideas, his debut album, Freudian, is a study of love. Perhaps that’s why he chose to collaborate with a multitude of artists in its production, most of them being women. Vocalists like Kali Uchis, H.E.R., Syd, and Charlotte Day Wilson are featured throughout the project, giving voice to Caesar’s narratives on love and sentiment. The unsung (or sung?) heroes of Freudian, however, are the women of the CaDaRo Tribe. Present on six out of ten songs, the Toronto trio provides depth and cushion to Caesar’s melodic soars and descents. In place of the usual one-sided reflection, the pervasive presence of women throughout the LP gives shape to what is instead a dialogue between an artist and the ones that he’s loved. Unlike most current R&B, Freudian is not an emotionally-charged soliloquy: it is an ongoing conversation.
Caesar’s music falls right in line with artists like Frank Ocean, Childish Gambino, Khalid, and Leon Bridges. With an evident gospel influence comparable to that of Chance the Rapper, Caesar has been forced to distinguish himself from other artists of his craft in an incredibly competitive market for new music. But in juxtaposing his own Toronto flair with bluesy guitar riffs, rumbling piano progressions, and a truly angelic voice, Caesar has set himself apart. Rather than fleshing out the hurdles and heartbreaks of a human in love, Caesar masterfully floats through the feelings of falling into it.
Perhaps that sense of escape is why Caesar has managed to amass over 30 million streams and maintain an ever-growing fan base, selling out shows worldwide in less than two minutes. Whether it’s beneath the rolling waves of “Streetcar” (a refurbished cover of Kanye’s “Street Lights”) or through the 90’s alleyway vibrations of “Neu Roses,” there’s a certain element to Caesar’s music that prevents it from fitting into one genre.
However, if there is one overwhelming essence throughout Caesar’s music, it is his honesty as an artist. In an interview published online by Forbes back in February, Caesar noted that most artists today are “aspiring to fill an archetype as opposed to being themselves. Even if they can’t quite put their finger on it, fans can tell.” On the contrary, fans latch onto artists willing to expose themselves and share genuine feelings that an audience can relate to, an aspect of the music business of which Caesar has taken full advantage. In the same interview, Caesar was asked to explain the source of his recent success. “Honestly man,” he replied, “it’s just the music.”
I recently had the privilege to see Caesar perform on his Silver Spring stop for ‘Freudian, a North American Tour’. On October 21st, soft blue and lilac shades cascaded over a dark room as Caesar chimed “if life is a movie, then you’re the best part.” At this moment, one man packed among 2,000 felt that the sublime combination of light, sound, and color giving life to the Daniel Caesar experience was the perfect time to get down on one knee and ask the most important question of his life (spoiler: she said yes). With a wide smile, Caesar looked out at the crowd: “Did somebody just propose during ‘Best Part’?” he asked, “Oh my God, that’s so cool. I love that. Congratulations.”
Fans flock to Daniel Caesar not only because of his music and his no-holds-barred personality, but also the fact that he exudes authenticity and operates under a down-to-earth attitude that establishes steadfast listener loyalty. In an encore, Caesar later dedicated his claim-to-fame single “Get You” to the happy couple, a final and resounding illustration of an artist seeing the fruition of his unshaken honesty.