Of the many projects Dev Hynes has been involved with during his career, Blood Orange is arguably his most personal and challenging. With each release, his themes have put greater emphasis on the struggles facing marginalized communities. 2016's politically minded Freetown Sound examined themes of prejudice and racial injustice while offering a broad view of black culture.

Those themes are present on Negro Swan, but here, he gives them a more personal take. Negro Swan is, as Hynes puts it, "an exploration into my own and many types of black depression, an honest look at the corners of black existence, and the ongoing anxieties of queer/people of color."

Considering the increasingly hostile climate of a post-2016 election America, an album like this couldn't have come at a better time. For all of the introspection, frustration, and anger, it makes for a cathartic experience. 'Charcoal Baby' is a celebration of black skin; a not so silent protest and 'Chewing Gum' is a cheeky reference to oral sex that confronts the fatigue that comes from constant outrage, anger, and fighting for a space of your own.

'Smoke' closes with the clearest offer of hope yet with lines like, "The sun comes in/My heart fulfills within." That's the key to Negro Swan: It's exhausted, burned out, angry, and fearful. Yet it's defiant and determined, a spirit that refuses to be broken.

It's no less diverse than Freetown Sound either as Hynes draws from a wide range of styles from soul and hip-hop to r&b and funk. 'Jewelry' is lush r&b guided by a breathy sax; on 'Charcoal Baby,' a rubbery funk groove is colored in with bent keyboards, hints of flute, and a humid sax capable of recalling the desperation and urgency of some of Marvin Gaye's more compelling work, and 'Holy Will' draws from soul-stirring gospel as a source of strength and inspiration.

'Smoke' is arguably the most stripped down thing Hynes has done consisting of nothing more than intricate acoustics and sampled crowd noise. He once again works with a diverse cast of collaborators, from Puff Daddy, Tei Shi, and Project Pat, to A$AP Rocky, Ian Isiah, and Internet’s Steve Lacy.

But the most important voice here is that of transgender rights activist Janet Mock. Her dialogue more than anything embodies Negro Swan's underlying thread of hope and also lends the kind of support and encouragement to those who feel powerless and voiceless. She describes her favorite images on 'Jewelry' being those of marginalized people occupying spaces they aren't normally welcome and refusing to be intimidated and emphasizes on 'Family' her idea of a family is an inclusive and supportive community not necessarily limited to blood relations.

Compared to the fireworks display of Hynes' last effort as Blood Orange, Negro Swan is more subdued in its approach. But it doesn't lack the same emotional depth or power, the difference is that it challenges the listener to allow it time to unfold and reveal itself. It's a rich and rewarding experience, one that offers a powerful glimpse into the everyday lives of those members of marginalized communities struggling for acceptance in an increasingly closed, divided, and hostile society.