This past summer, DVSN shook the room more than they ever had. The duo kicked off the campaign toward their fourth album Working On My Karma with “If I Get Caught.” Over a sample of Jay-Z’s “Dead Presidents,” singer Daniel Daley sings that love can remain in a relationship even if he hypothetically gets caught cheating on his partner.
The direction shocked listeners, especially to those who’ve been beside the duo since their early days. With lines like, “You wouldn’t want me if you thought I never had h*es” and “Women like men other women like,” to start the record, the shock wasn’t surprising. Daley defended the song for many reasons, including that it’s a part of a narrative that will make sense once the album arrives. Still, the song was in numerous debates that interrupted a normally smooth campaign toward a DVSN album. It led me to ask Daley if he would pick another single to start the Working On My Karma rollout, if given the chance. “No, no, definitely not,” he replied during our Zoom call ahead of the album’s release. “It did what it was supposed to do.” While causing a ruckus wasn’t the main intention behind the song, Daley admits that they didn’t want to be pushed aside as releasing another ol’ record. “We were not trying to have the same thing of dropping a song that’s a great song, an amazing song, whatever it might be, and people being able to pass over it with a ‘yeah that’s dope.’”
True to his hopes, “If I Get Caught” didn’t get brushed aside by listeners. Additionally, the song does make sense within the narrative of Working On My Karma. What follows that record is “Stay Faithful,” a remorseful and pleading number that lays the regrets of infidelity on wax. Next, Jagged Edge arrives to provide vocals on “What’s Up,” a song that presents a bit of a double meaning depending on how the listener interprets it, which Daley confirms. In his words, the song can be viewed as the “downfall of the city boy” or “somebody trying and struggling with providing somebody else with what it is that they expect for themselves.” There is no right option between the two, but your selection does affect the listening experience to conclude the album as one love story ends and another begins. A perspective outside of your own is something DVSN aims to provide with Working On My Karma, and they sought to do so with blunt truths of the world that connect back to the album title. “It deals with a lot of brutal honesty,” Daley concludes about Working On My Karma. “Whether that’s looking at yourself with that lens, or looking outward at relationships with that lens, or the things that you’re hearing or dealing with in the world today.”
Contributions from music greats Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox on Working On My Karma helped DVSN plate something new in front of their fans. What started as an “impromptu meeting” between them, as Daley describes it, led to “a real friendship and understanding and connection and bond” by the end of a weekend of recording music. Together, the group joined forces to achieve a new goal: “press the reset button on the R&B game.” In looking at the state of R&B today, Daley concludes that the genre needs “somebody to come in and kind of lead the way,” a task that he believes DVSN is more than equipped to take on. “We know that to do that, [the music] had to progress and go back to its roots at the same time,” he notes. “You can’t just go straight back, and you can’t just go further and further away from what made it what it was.” In addition to Dupri and Cox’s contributions, the past comes alive on Working On My Karma through a guest appearance from Jagged Edge and DVSN’s natural connection to traditional R&B. The future sees life thanks to a feature from Bleu and DVSN’s focus on constantly progressing and evolving to stand out from the pack.
Looking at Working On My Karma, infidelity and the numerous consequences that can come from it play a foundation role throughout the album. To DVSN’s credit, they aren’t for social media-esque debates about whether cheating is a forgivable act or something alike. Rather, DVSN wants us to look in that mirror, recognize our faults, and correct them. “Trying to get it right at the end of the day,” Daley notes when asked about the meaning of the Working On My Karma title. “Trying to be better than you’ve been, you know? Because [you] realize that you can only get out of life when you put into it.” Daley has no issue admitting to a past far from the straight and narrow, and through his admissions in and outside of music, he hopes others can be as open as he is. “These are the real-life stages that we’re going through and that everyone is going through, so I’m narrating it,” he says. “Sometimes people don’t want to look in the mirror for a second, but this is what it is, this is what R&B is supposed to be. We’re supposed to narrate the love stories that we’re dealing with. This is where we are, we don’t like it, we should change the reality because the art is only imitating life at this point.”
This love story that DVSN provides for their fourth album ends in an ironic way. After explaining why he’s hard to love and why he struggles to love on “Daniel’s Interlude,” Daley sings about rediscovering love on “Get Even.” Moments removed from losing a woman due to his infidelity, we expect karma to leave him to suffer heartbreak. Instead, he falls for a woman that can’t fully love him as he loves her because, with Daley, she is stepping out on the main man in her life. “I just thought it was a dope way to be like don’t always think that things come back to you the way that you planned them to or expected them to,” he explains. “Me cheating on somebody maybe didn’t come back as I got cheated on, maybe it came back as I ended up falling for somebody who was just like me.” That somebody is a person who is “not even fully available to me” leaving Daley to “sit here and play this position, who knows, temporarily? Or maybe this is it.” All in all, it’s a new perspective that DVSN provides to conclude the album, which highlights the price of righting your wrongs, or as DVSN calls it, working on your karma.
Looking back at all the concerns and questions that arrived ahead of Working On My Karma, Daley believes they were premature to say the least. “It’s like, c’mon you know us,” he says. “You don’t have to all of a sudden be like, ‘Oh, you guys are pushing this toxic narrative.’ It’s like no, if you know us, you know we’ve been making love songs, sex songs, wedding songs — every different kind of song about relationships and songs that deal with some brutal honesty at times. To me, this was no different.” However, what is different is what DVSN brings to the table for each project. During our conversation, Daley acknowledges fans repeated requests for a release similar to Sept. 5th, DVSN’s debut album that lives as a classic of sorts within their fanbase. While the love is appreciated, Daley knows that their debut “spoke to certain people and not others.” He adds, “I think we just have to realize that you’re never going to be able to completely do everything that everybody wants.” Daley also notes that recreating something from the past isn’t all that stimulating for their artistry. “For us to remake or go try to make something in the vibe of or in the lane of — especially when it comes to the Sept. 5th sound — it’s literally nothing to us,” Daley says. “That’s the easiest thing. We could go make a record that will sound like it could’ve been a part of that in a second. It’s second nature. It’s like saying telling Jay-Z, ‘Give me some hustler dope boy raps.’ It’s like, ‘Oh, okay.’”
At the end of the day, DVSN simply wants to continue to stand out and separate themselves from the pack, and Working On My Karma is their latest and most direct attempt at doing so. “I really want it to be a new marker of when R&B started to shift in this direction,” Daley says toward the end of our conversation. “I think we’re all kind of tired of having to be fed all the same things now.”
Working On My Karma is out now via OVO Sound/Warner Records. You can stream it here.
DVSN is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.