Col3trane — real name Cole Basta — is already a London heartthrob. The budding R&B star has harnessed a cult-like following across the Atlantic and been the subject of many features comparing his music to the likeness of legends — mainly Frank Ocean.
So why is he still an “Artist To Watch?”
Well, the breakout hasn’t happened yet. And while the buzz in London has reached a boiling point, many music fans in the U.S. have yet to be exposed to this emerging talent. Three EPs and a move to Los Angeles later, Col3trane appears ready to take the next step towards global domination, and it all starts in the States.
From Frank Ocean Clone To Coming Into His Own
From the second you press play on Col3trane’s biggest hit to date, 2017’s “Penelope,” you can hear why several publications have collectively dubbed the singer, “Trans-Atlantic Frank Ocean.” His soothing, angelic vocals dancing with the atmospheric soundscape is an obvious ode to the post-Blonde era of R&B. For up-and-coming artists trying to forge their own path in the music industry, constant comparisons to an already established act can follow their careers like an inescapable shadow. Col3trane? The 20-year-old takes these connections in stride, acknowledging his influences while also refusing to stop experimenting with his own sound.
“People feel more comfortable listening to something when they are able to compare it to something,” he told Clash in a 2019 interview. “So I understand, being a new artist, they will do it with everyone, and honestly, I do it sometimes too.”
Young musicians typically wear their influences on their sleeve — it’s a necessary step in the creative process for artists to eventually discover their own voice. You need a point of reference. There’s no doubt that Ocean’s dreamy vocals permeate throughout Col3trane’s early material, but the strides he has made since showcases an artist who has unearthed a goldmine of potential. In just over two years, the London sensation has matured from a Frank Ocean clone to a torch-bearing trendsetter pushing the boundaries of R&B music.
Every Project Is An Experiment Into A Futuristic R&B Sound
Col3trane treats each of his three projects like a separate endeavor into a different corner of R&B. Tsarina, BOOT and Heroine are checkpoints in the growth of an artist looking to make his mark in music wherever he sees fit — and the transition is seamless.
“I feel like I’m more open to experimenting musically now; just because I’ve traveled more and met more people who have inspired me,” the London crooner told Acclaim Magazine.
Tsarina in 2017 was an introspective and raw place to begin his career. The lyrics are dripping in emotional energy (“It makes me sad that when you call me / I can’t promise I’ll be with you”) with production that dramatically shifts on a dime from hazy and downtempo to energetic with booming hi-hats. Col3trane successfully maneuvers these unexpected beat switches with the grace of an Olympic ice skater, utilizing a skillful blend of rapping and singing.
In 2018’s BOOT, you can hear Col3trane’s vocal confidence reach another level. The melodies appear more polished and the hooks are radio-ready. Instead of the free-flowing, Blonde-inspired tracks that populated Tsarina, BOOT ties everything together into a more structured product with songs built to be replayed over and over again. The silky smooth voice remains but the soundscape takes more risks, relying on layered instrumentation and funky basslines.
Finally, last year’s Heroine leans into some Weeknd-esque trap influences while providing a bounce fit for the dance floor. You can hear elements from his previous hypnotic offerings on much of the EP, but with drums that pack more of a punch. All three brief projects are a different concoction of futuristic R&B and trap-infused hip-hop, achieving very different vibes and soundscapes.
A Less Claustrophobic 6lack With A Sprinkle Of GoldLink
As Col3trane morphs into the mature artist he is destined to become, I can see a lot of 6lack’s versatility within his music. The London musician can slow it down and soulfully croon with his synth-laden vocals (very reminiscent of 6lack) while also housing the ability to set the roof on fire with his rapping skill.
A difference that sets them apart, however, lies in the sonic atmosphere surrounding them. 6lack’s music feels confined to one space — a claustrophobic affair that feels melancholic and reflective of his innermost feelings. Col3trane’s sound has a bouncier backbone as he explores lighter grooves and brighter melodies. The sprinkle of GoldLink, who also appears with Col3trane on the cut “Superpowers,” is due to the dancey feel of some of the tracks on Heroine. If he continues to go down that route of sound, we will probably see more of GoldLink’s influence shining through.
Songs To Start With
Experimental cuts show off his artistry and potential, but Col3trane’s performance truly thrives when the production remains smooth and atmospheric, letting his voice be the main attraction. “Roses” is the perfect example of that, a song that pulls on the heartstrings in every way, with dense lyrics about a contrite man with a broken heart just looking for love.
“I been operating solo, I don’t want to smell the roses / I gave you a dozen of chances like a hopeless romantic, unnoticed”
“Roses” is Col3trane’s most complete song of his career — the verses, hook and bridge all work together in audio harmony. The perfect starting spot for any music fan looking to dig into a new artist.
“The Fruits” feat. DJDS & RAYE
While “Roses” is peak Col3trane as a solo artist, “The Fruits” taps into his more collaborative side. The dancey, bass-heavy aesthetic that DJDS provides is a sound Col3trane dipped his toes into quite a bit on Heroine, and instead of coming off as a forced combination, he seems right at home on the track. There are a lot of moving parts, sounds and verses being traded back-and-forth, but you never feel like the singer loses control of the song itself. A standout cut.
Moving from London to Los Angeles is a risky, but necessary, step for an aspiring artist to go global. Col3trane has a seemingly unlimited supply of potential collaborators and dozens of different paths to take his sound. And with only three sub-30 minute EP samplers in his discography, there’s no time like 2020 for a full-length LP to help lay down the groundwork of where his art is headed. Col3trane’s not rushing it though, as he told Highsnobiety in a 2018 interview — he just continues to live in the present while keeping his eyes on the prize:
“I fantasize about the future. But I’ll let you into a little secret: I don’t know what the f*** I’m doing. I just take it day by day. I have ideas, it’s just about editing out the good from the bad.”