It’s release week for Giveon, and just as he jokes, things feel theatrical. As he sits in a director’s chair on Zoom like a movie star, he’s surrounded by white flowers and an enormous cardboard image of his album cover for Give or Take. “It’s feeling like a film rollout,” he laughs.
His observation is fitting. While his debut–released on June 24– isn’t going to earn Giveon any IMDB credits, the baritone-voiced ballad-churner’s first full-length project has all the ingredients of a music blockbuster. The anticipation, for one, is there. Fans have been waiting for a Giveon record since he was introduced to the world with his feature on Drake’s “Chicago Freestyle” in 2020, as he released his first two EPs Take Time and When It’s All Said and Done. There’s a concept there, too, he says. The album follows–and is sandwiched between–a conversation between Giveon and his mother, through voice notes she sent him over text. Those were indirectly inspired by Kendrick Lamar’s GOOD Kid M.A.A.D. City, Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, and Adele’s discography as a whole, he explains.
Giveon’s excitement for his debut is contagious, as he gushes over his journey from waiting tables just a few years ago to topping the Billboard Hot 100 with Daniel Caesar and Justin Bieber on “Peaches,” earning six Grammy nominations in a single year, and now piecing together an LP with his assembled team of producers in Boi1da, Leon Thomas, Sven Thomas, and more. The breakthrough Drake co-sign may have led the way, but it was all Giveon’s work that made him a star, and of course the work of a golden voice that sounds unlike anything else on the radio today.
When he hops on Zoom, Giveon reminisces on his opening tour slot for Snoh Aalegra in late 2019. It was during those shows that he uploaded a snippet of a freestyle he sang in Chicago to social media. With very little music out at the time, covers and freestyles gave his set room to breathe. And as history now shows, Drake got a hold of it via his manager, and “Chicago Freestyle” was born. It’s been an eventful three-year run since.
“I always say, ‘I wonder how my old self would feel about right now.’ I just can’t even imagine how I would think. My mind is so into right now I can’t even think but I know, for sure, I’m still grateful,” he says. “That’s one thing I try to maintain just to keep myself grounded. And just to make sure I don’t become overstimulated and start to develop a certain type of complex.”
As he offers his first full-length project, despite his connections, the 27-year-old is positioning himself as a one-man show with Give or Take; an album without any features. Because of this, it slides deeper into the Long Beach-born musician’s personal life than we’ve heard before. There’s stories of failed near-marriages like on closer “Unholy Matrimony,” admiration for an unnamed fan he spotted in the crowd at a Houston show on “Dec. 11th,” and “Another Heartbreak,” which is yet another reason for the guy to make us cry over a song with “Heartbreak” in the title after the success of “Heartbreak Anniversary.” With the LP, Giveon wants fans to know that he’s now more courageous, and open, with his pen than ever before.
“I think what makes a good lyricist is knowing how to really paint the nuances of everyday situations, and just knowing what words to say that’ll feel like conversation or just feel real,” Giveon says of his growth as a songwriter. “Like, someone who knows how to portray just the natural motion of what’s actually happening, even if it’s not the grandest thing.”
For the last two years, Giveon has been billed as, more or less, a ballad guy. His first top-20 solo hit “Heartbreak Anniversary” still manages to get radio play, and most of his singles fall into the category, but Give or Take has moments of fast-paced surprise that might shake that classification. Opener “Let Me Go,” a drum-heavy jam produced by Boi1da, kicks the album off with a new pace on the 15-track project.
“It’s like a splash of water in the face before you get to the [album] because you definitely get right into the pocket of more down-tempo songs and all this. But I wanted to make sure I woke you up first. To not just really just start in that somber and melancholy place if I wanted to. It had to start with a hit first.”
Singles “For Tonight” and “Lie To Me” still follow Giveon’s foolproof ballad formula. A strong slower track is all about the right piano chords, a “driving” melody, and a “powerful” chorus, he says. “That’s the thing about ballads. They’re some of the easiest songs to make. But if you don’t do the right thing, you could get it wrong so quickly, or it could be so cliche or corny. You kind of just have to have the right balance of everything.”
With his ear for ballads and newfound journey into more uptempo territory, Giveon wants Give or Take to shine a light on this versatility, and challenge how listeners perceive him. As he explains, things are moving fast, but he’s not looking too far ahead anymore. He’s just now learning to pause the film he’s living through during the good parts. “Sometimes I’m busy thinking about the next thing that I didn’t get to really enjoy while it was happening,” he says. “So, I think for this moment, I want to just make sure I’m just actually just taking it no matter what.”