‘Midnight in Brooklyn’ by YawnyBlew is my 2022 Album of the Year

This album is a masterpiece, and once you listen to it all the way through, I hope you feel the same.

YawnyBlew is the enigmatic brainchild of Dominican-American songwriter John Gonzalez. Making his debut in 2020, YawnyBlew has released a stream of singles mixing elements R&B, Pop, Hip-Hop and House while exploring themes of identity, love and nostalgia.

YawnyBlew’s song’s has been featuring on FOX, HBO and SlayTV as well as covered in RollingStone, Billboard and Paper Mag.

In 2019 he scored his first Grammy nomination as a background vocalist on H.E.R’s “Hard Place.” In 2021 he scored a NME nomination as a songwriter on Pyra’s “Yellow Fever.”

His full length debut Midnight In Brooklyn dropped in April and features production from Rodney Jerkins, Sean Hamilton and Reezytunes as well as collaborations with Cocoa Sarai, BlvkM0nd4y, Chris Jackson, Lili K and ACEXXI.

The album opens with “Dusk,” where a dreamy chorus sung by Yawny’s beautiful voice immediately enamors us and pulls us in. I find myself singing this catchy hook almost every day when I wake up or when I see the sun going down. The verse shares some of Yawny’s story with the end of the verse really striking my heart. The last few lines stick with me the most. This track is such a perfect opener, setting the tone for the masterpiece that is “Midnight in Brooklyn.” 

The second track is the title of the album, “Midnight in Brooklyn.” The chorus eloquently ties in the lyrics from Fench Affair’s classic 90s hit “My Heart Goes Boom (La Di Da Da)” with a Fu-Gee-La sample on the instrumental, giving us this ghost-like deja vu feeling as if we were hearing the song in a car passing us on the streets of Brooklyn. The verses combine so many clever references to Brooklyn, with street names, alleyways, and neighborhood references.

One of the most notable and powerful references is when he talks about getting on the wrong A train and ending up in the wrong side of Manhattan. This express train in New York City is easy to hop on and end up several stops away from any local destination. Throughout the track, you can hear the pain and yearning in Yawny’s voice. This track is definitely a certified hit, and one of the most unforgettable tracks of the album. 

“R.I.P” is the third track on the album, where Yawny serves us a darker approach to his pain lyrically and instrumentally. The clever wordplay he uses in the hook is one of the best uses of “rest in peace,” where you can feel the pain in his voice from the situation he’s singing about. Yawny leads us through this song with his beautiful vocal melodies and leaves us wanting more by the end of it. This song is quite addicting to sing, if I do say so myself. 

“Sirens” is one of my favorite tracks on the whole album. With a stacked guest list of features on the song, the highlights truly include Yawny’s catchy lyrics, the high level of production, and of course the addition of the feature. After living in Bedstuy, Brooklyn for a year myself, I have to say, I definitely heard sirens a lot, ESPECIALLY when I happened to be recording demos in my bedroom. The line that sticks with me most in this song is by Yawny where he says “I’m never alone in Brooklyn. I get by with a little help from my friends.” New York City is tough to live in, but speaking from experience, having the right people in your corner makes all the difference. The featured verse is the icing on the cake for this track, leaving us with heavy emotions yet humbled and empowered. 

“Almost You” is absolutely my favorite track on the album. I recently went on a trip out of the city, and when I flew back and stepped onto the concrete outside of LaGuardia Airport, this song was playing, and the first thing I heard was the sample in the track of the MTA announcement “stand clear of the closing doors please!” It made my heart sink, and reminded me of why I moved here in the first place, reinvigorating my love and adoration for The Big Apple. The instrumental combines samples of the Subway announcements along with a reworked jazz inspired touch that just feels oh so Brooklyn. The hook is very NYC, expressing the fast paced life New Yorkers experience daily. I really adored the breakdown at the end with the layered vocals and harmonies, tying this track together perfectly. 

“Almost Blew” is such a great follow up to Almost You, as it reworks that jazz sample from before and brings a more lighthearted vibe to it. I just find Yawny’s voice to be so beautiful, and when you combine that with his phenomenal songwriting, it really captures the essence of the concept. This song is an excellent example of these skills and talents, combining elements from the last song and the entire concept of the album into one song. 

“Remember” is probably the most lovable track on the album, with more pop influences and a catchy chorus that’s easy to sing along with. I find myself singing this song throughout my day, during my commute, at work, in the shower. It’s just such a feel good song, and worth every listen to get you in a good mood! It will leave you feeling reminiscent of times in your life in the past that you remember fondly. 

“fallinlove” is a perfect song to near the finish of the album, pitching the prospect of potential love. I know I’ve said it a lot during this review, but the chorus in this song is just so catchy, I can’t NOT mention it! I’ve played this song for several of my friends only to have them asking me days later what it was. An earworm for sure, this song is a must listen on this album. 

The closing track Interim perfectly wraps up the album in a somber, nostalgic, and powerful way. With more New York City references and a slow R&B vibe with jazzy percussion and bass, followed by the beautiful backup vocals, it feels like we are in a dive bar with the spotlight on YawnyBlew singing his heart out for the entire venue. The chorus powerfully summarizes the album, and leaves us wanting so much more. I can only sit here and press repeat on the album at the end of this song, because after just one listen, this song reminds me that it just wasn’t enough. 

I truly cannot get this album off repeat. It reverberates from my eardrums to my heart on my commute, at work, at home, and everywhere I choose to listen to it. This is why I believe this is my favorite album of 2022 so far, and I strongly urge you all to give it at least one listen all the way through. 

I had the blessing of interviewing YawnyBlew himself about the album, the inspiration, and what’s next. Check it out below!

Bryce Quartz: What was your main inspiration behind creating this album?

YawnyBlew: This album came about in such a unique way, because initially most of its songs were demos for other artists. I was cataloging a ton between 2016 and 2019. Eventually, my partner sat me down and said “I think there’s an album buried in this.” He knew that I wanted to work on my own project and played me 5 demos that felt like they belonged on the same EP. When I approached my producer about it, he agreed and we decided together to pursue it and see where we ended up. 

Eventually I started to form an album concept around these records, and realized how much Brooklyn and ‘90s hip-hop and R&B had influenced the type of music I was gravitating towards. The title track, “Midnight In Brooklyn,” was one of the ideas I had already written and became the backbone for everything because the title really defined what we wanted to create. 

I started my music career at 16 years old and I remember riding the A train through Brooklyn to get to and from sessions. I remember feeling so isolated coming home after midnight listening to the songs I’d made on an empty train, and there was always something so poetic about that for me. I didn’t realize it at the time but some of that isolation had to do with me being closeted and trying to find myself in the music.

That feeling of being alone in one of the biggest cities in the world is a unique emotion that I wanted to capture through these songs. Eventually it became a mission for me to score those moments in my life where it was just me, Brooklyn & my emotions, and that’s really the core of this project. 

BQ: How much time do you think you spent on this album in total?

YB: “Remember” is the oldest song on the project, written in March of 2016. It was not until 2019 that I decided to consciously develop an album and began working on the rest of the songs. So it’s been a long time in the making. 6 whole years. 

BQ: What were some of the challenges you faced creating it?

YB: Some of the challenges I faced making Midnight in Brooklyn was staying inspired. I had to really dig deep to finish these songs because so much was changing in my life, but I still wanted to stay true to the concept and story we had created. Also, trusting myself and my vision. Sometimes it all felt too big and too avant garde, but I really wanted to see it through and I’m happy I did. 

BQ: What are your top 3 songs from the album?

YB: “Dusk” is my number 1 for sure. That was the first original song I made specifically for this album and it really set everything into motion for me. 

“R.I.P” is my second favorite. We recorded this record in Rodney Jerkins house and I just remember feeling so super charged from my move to Los Angeles and all the amazing things going on. I really wanted to challenge myself to write something different and haunting. This song was heavily inspired by James Blake and Frank Ocean. We originally wrote it for Zayn Malik, and then I was approached by SongLand for it. I am happy it stayed with me and ended up on my album.

“Almost You/Almost Blew” are my third favorites. They were the last additions to the album and came about after I’d heard “Almost Blue” by Elvis Costello. Initially I wanted to cover it, but felt like I needed to tell an original story. I wanted to pay homage to Langstons in Brooklyn, a black own gay club that I used to frequent. It is the only record on the project that uses male pronouns, something that for so long I avoided in my songwriting because I wanted records to feel accessible to everyone. However, it felt important to tell a story that was specific to my queer experience being a young black man running around New York trying to find myself. They are two separate songs on the project but are meant to be listened to together as one. 

BQ: I’ve seen this phrase in your lyrics and you even named a playlist after it. What does “the wrong side of 11:59” mean? 

YB: I wrote “Dusk” as an album intro and wanted it to capture the idea that all day you’re fine and its only after midnight that the emotions and everything kicks in. So, wrong side of 11:59 just felt like a cool way of saying when the clock strikes 12, the real story starts. I also contemplated making it the album title for a bit. I love it as just a secondary phrase associated with the project. I did name a playlist after it, which was like my pre-album playlist for fans that featured songs that inspired the album. 

BQ: What was it like collaborating with others on this album?

YB: It was so organic and fun because everyone on this album I consider family. Working together just felt right and easy. Everyone in my circle is from New York so it was easy to tap into those vibes even though we finished the album in Los Angeles. 

BQ: Was this album influenced sonically by any other artists you listen to and enjoy?

YB: Yes, for sure. Notorious B.I.G was a massive influence when it came to sonics and energy. He had an incredible ear for production and cadence. James Fauntleroy and Frank Ocean inspired me a ton when it came to melodies and performances. The Beatles were a big inspiration when it came to vocal stacks, harmonies and vocal manipulation. Also, Kanye West’s “Late Registration” and Usher’s “Confessions” were inspirations for me because they are amazing albums with strong concepts. 

BQ: Now that you live in LA, can we expect music influenced by west coast styles from you in the near future?

YB: Yes! 100%. Midnight is the first in a series of projects that explore the local sounds and energies of different cities, with LA being next. I’ve been listening to a lot of John Mayer, Beach Boys and Sublime prepping for this next project. I do have the first single done already and it draws heavily from my love of punk rock and the TRL heydays. Hopefully that’ll be out by the fall. 

In the meantime I am doing one-off releases that I’m really excited about and will explore more rapping and house music, so stay tuned for those. I repacked my single “EvRyDay EvRy Nite” with new verses, that’ll be out on 6/3 with a fun TikTok open verse challenge tie-in. 

BQ: What are some of the songs and artists you have on repeat right now? 

YB: I’ve been getting mentally prepared for Pride Month and according to my Spotify ‘On Repeats’ its a lot of Charli XCX, Kim Petras and Pyra. I co-wrote a record for Pyra called “out!” that she dropped for Pride and I’m really proud of it. Honorable mentions would be Yebba, Harry Styles and Tinashe.

Be sure to stream “Midnight in Brooklyn” by YawnyBlew on Spotify, Apple Music and all platforms now!
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Bryce Quartz

Bryce Quartz is a queer, cubby rapper currently based in Brooklyn. In addition to contributing to Bear World, he is also a writer for Ryan Cassata’s music blog Rock The Pigeon. He has performed at bear events across the US and has worked with popular drag queens, including RPDR alum Brita Filter.