PLAYING DETROIT: Sam Austins Shines on Ode to Rihanna, “Fenty”

photo by Bre’Ann White (@breannwhlgn)

Twenty-one-year-old alternative-R&B artist Sam Austins released a fun as hell single this week, named after Rihanna’s cosmetic line, “Fenty.” The song is a lighter follow-up to Austins’ anxiety-ridden 2017 debut album, Angst, and celebrates widening cultural perceptions of beauty. The release was accompanied by a massive billboard in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood that shows a gorgeous Austins donning bold lips and a glimmering eye, a testament to his allegiance to the brand.

Photo: @alecaretakis

Although Austins isn’t the first hip-hop artist to challenge societal stereotypes of beauty, masculinity, and gender, he is one of the few. While icons like David Bowie, Prince, and Boy George made room for more fluidity in the rock/pop realm, hip-hop culture has been historically less forgiving of alternative expressions of masculinity and style. Frank Ocean helped in starting to shift hip-hop’s homogeneous image in his 2017 music video, “Nikes,” where he spends part of the video clad in eyeliner and glitter. Austins’ glamorous cover art follows suit and has inspired people all over to share their own versions of feeling themselves.

Since the release of “Fenty,” dozens of fans – including beloved Detroit visual artist, Ellen Rutt – have sent Austins and his affiliated residency, Assemble Sound, videos of themselves singing, dancing, and glowing the fuck up to the infectious song. Produced by Sergio Romero and Detroit’s Ice Pic, the song’s bouncy beat and entourage of background hype-men are the perfect compliments to Austins’ feel-good lyrics: “I’m still fresh off the drop like it’s Fenty / Sitting front row at the show like a Fenty.” There’s arguably no better high than feeling like you are Rihanna.

“Fenty” is a continuation of Austins’ artistic evolution and an excuse to sing into your selfie camera at full volume, no matter who you are.