August Alsina, an R&B heartthrob with more than just a sexy sound


August Alsina performs at the Howard Theatre. (Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post)
June 9

August Alsina doesn’t give roses, he gets them. At least he did Sunday night at the Howard Theatre. The New Orleans native doesn’t need to use the old R&B heartthrob trick of passing out roses to make fans swoon; they were already swooning, so much so that some threw flowers at him. And those weren’t the only gifts tossed onstage: a pair of bras and an assortment of condoms also landed at the singer’s feet.

Despite oppressive heat, two hours’ worth of opening acts and Game 2 of the NBA Finals providing competition on the venue’s televisions, Alsina’s crowd showered him with gifts and screams for the duration of his set.

Although the 21-year-old Alsina is plenty dreamy and a fantastic singer, the key to his undeniable appeal seems to be that he’s not the typical R&B singer.

There are love songs in his repertoire, but he also sings about the drugs and violence that surrounded him when he was growing up, about loss as much as love, and about the dangerous allure of street life as much as the allure of sex.

Some of his best songs seem to have titles and lyrics suggesting they’re about love or making love but actually explore serious topics. “Downtown” is about growing up in a tough part of New Orleans, “Let Me Hit That” is an ode to weed, and “Make It Home” (from his debut album, April’s “Testimony”) isn’t about rushing home to be with his love but about worrying that he might not live to see another day.

But the thing that makes Alsina so refreshing — that his personality hasn’t been buffed and polished away by the major-label music machine — has drawn scrutiny. In April, he was criticized for cursing while challenging a host of the BET music countdown show “106 & Park” when he was asked about a dispute with fellow R&B singer Trey Songz, after he had said earlier he wouldn’t discuss it on air.

He drew fire again this month for an incident during a performance in Little Rock. He became angry after his hat fell into the crowd and fans would not return it. (It was later revealed that the hat was a prized possession that had belonged to his deceased brother.)

While both incidents are understandable, nothing of the sort took place at Howard. Alsina was the consummate gentleman, even kissing the hands of some of his fans. (“I really hope y’all hands is clean!” he joked). He gamely flashed his ink to the crowd during the sultry “Kissin’ on My Tattoos” and explained that his smash “Ghetto” isn’t an insult: “It’s an acronym: ‘Going hard everyday trying to overcome.”

During his signature hit, “I Luv This,” an atypical R&B song that celebrates vice but also seems to speak to self-destructive human tendencies, he even indulged in a bit of traditional R&B heartthrob showmanship by removing his shirt.

Godfrey is a freelance writer.

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