Album review: Giveon’s ‘Give or Take’

Giveon went viral recently for all the wrong reasons.

The Long Beach native and Poly High School alum was performing live on national television during the BET Awards as part of the tour promoting his first full-length studio album, “Give or Take,” out a few weeks ago from Epic Records. He was singing “Heartbreak Anniversary,” the hit single from his first studio project, when things went wrong.

The auto-tune effect for the song was in the wrong key, causing Giveon to miss a note in the chorus, with things devolving from there. The video went viral with millions of views, but the young R&B star took it in stride, cracking jokes about a sabotaged mic.

The unfortunate mishap was good online fodder, but fortunately, it hasn’t overshadowed “Give or Take,” which debuted last week on the Billboard 100 at No. 11. It’s been a meteoric rise to the top of the R&B world for Giveon, who burst onto the national scene in May 2020 when Drake included him on his hit, “Chicago Freestyle.”

Shortly after the Drake nod, Giveon released a pair of EPs on Epic, and then a combined LP called “When It’s All Said and Done…Take Time,” which came out last year and peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard 100 charts, and No. 2 on the R&B charts.

Giveon’s new album, like his previous projects, is dripping in beauty and pain. Giveon has said in interviews he fell in love with R&B listening to heartbroken ballads his mother would play from Anita Baker and Mary J. Blige.

He coupled that modern sensibility with a passion for old-school crooning that developed while he was a student at Poly, when he participated in a program at the GRAMMY Museum and fell in love with Frank Sinatra’s vocal style. The old-school singing mixed with modern production and subject matter has become Giveon’s hallmark, and it’s all over his new project as well.

The album opens with his mother telling Giveon how proud she is of him. “I’m so proud of you, I feel sick right now,” she says. “I feel like this is a dream and I’ll tell you about it when I wake up.”

The album’s shape is that of a conversation between the singer and his mother, a young man in his mid-20s catching up with his single mom about the ups and downs of his personal life. Giveon comes across as a simple soul looking for love and connection, but unable to get out of his own way, and unable to keep things simple in a life that’s becoming more complicated by success.

One of the verses on “Get to You” deals with that conundrum. “I’m on the road each night, need someone to hold me,” he sings. “That’s what you told me, can’t help it, they wanna know me.”

Another song, “dec 11th,” details the frustration of a missed connection with a woman at one of his shows, who he noticed in the crowd but couldn’t talk to because he was too busy on stage—singing about wanting to find a woman like her.

His mother’s voice is a comfort throughout, her caution is a patient and opposite force to his youthful abandon.

“No matter how good you think somebody is, always protect your heart,” she tells him. “There’s no such thing as a perfect relationship because there’s no such thing as perfect people.”

If there’s any quibble with the album locally, it’s that there’s less of a Long Beach flavor than in his previous projects. His debut EP opened with “THE BEACH,” and he did the video for an acoustic version of that on Jackrabbit Lane in front of his alma mater.

Of course, as the young singer/writer makes his way into the world, his influences and connections are increasingly international—he’s currently on tour in England. That makes it all the more meaningful that he’s still keeping a foot in Long Beach: His album release party and signing were at Long Beach’s Fingerprints.

“Give or Take” is available to stream on all major services; physical copies can be purchased at Fingerprints.

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