Column | Daniel Caesar’s ‘Never Enough’ is flawed yet praiseworthy


Photo courtesy of Genius

On April 7, Daniel Caesar released his most recent album, “Never Enough.”

By Alexis Ramirez, Staff Writer

Daniel Caesar, born Ashton Dumar Norwill Simmonds, first captured the attention of critics with the release of the extended plays “Praise Break” and “Pilgrim’s Paradise.”

Caesar’s debut studio album “Freudian” received wide critical acclaim and earned him a total of three Grammy Awards nominations: Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance for “Get You” and “Best Part” respectively. The latter earned him his first and only win.

Prior to the release of his sophomore album, “Case Study 01,” Caesar received backlash for defending social media personality Julieanna Goddard, known online as YesJulz, while drunk on an Instagram live broadcast on March 19, 2019.

“Why are we being so mean to white people right now?” he said. “That’s a serious question. Why is it that we’re allowed to be disrespectful and rude to everybody else and when anybody returns any type of energy to us … That’s not equality. I don’t wanna be treated like I can’t take a joke.”

Caesar addressed the situation in his recent interview with Nadeska Alexis for Apple Music.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

“I completely understand the response,” he said. “And in time, after taking time to get over myself and to really honestly look at myself and everything that was happening, I was wrong. I was wrong, and I’m sorry about that.”

After retreating from the public sphere for nearly three years, Caesar released the album “Never Enough” on April 7. It features Mustafa, serpentwithfeet, Omar Apollo and Ty Dolla $ign. Caesar explores themes of insecurity, infidelity and dependency.

On the opening track, “Ocho Rios,” Caesar apologizes to his lover for burdening her with his problems: “Girl, I don’t deserve you/ You’re the one I turn to/ Never meant to hurt you.” 

The first third of the album contains three standout tracks that are particularly well written and more uniquely produced: “Valentina,” “Let Me Go” and “Do You Like Me?”

The vocal experimentation that featured prominently on “Case Study 01” returns on “Buyer’s Remorse.” Caesar’s layering of falsetto, Auto-Tune and harmonizing vocals over a simple instrumental results in a textured medley celebrating the sound of the human voice.

Omar Apollo’s dynamic vocals take Caesar’s lead, but, relegated to the end of the song, they seem like an afterthought — even more so when you realize it’s only four lines.

The most memorable moment on the album arrives when Caesar’s experiences with infidelity crescendo into violence as he kills his partner and the man she cheated on him with. The roaring electric guitar and punchy drums on “Shot My Baby” capture the frustration and disappointment that arises from the emasculating actions of his partner: “I had to prove myself a man/ Cause clearly she don’t think I can, oh, no.”

But experimentation isn’t always successful. On “Vince Van Gogh,” Caesar goes on a clichéd psilocybin-fueled psychedelic trip. The relaxed atmosphere created by the casual cadence of Caesar words in the opening verse is abruptly interrupted by the clumsy and overdone use of pitched-down vocals to represent the subconscious.

Caesar’s attempt at the poetic writing he’s demonstrated he’s capable of in the past results in undeveloped and overcompensating lyrics.

The track marks a turning point in the album, a predictable moment of great realization stemming from the psychedelic trip. Caesar finds solace in self-acceptance and the rejection of others’ opinions, as only he and his mother will ever truly know him.

The two remaining tracks are far more positive and optimistic. On “Superpowers,” Caesar odes his lover, suggesting that God created her to stand out among everyone else: “All God’s children are special/ But not like you, no, not like you.”

Still, Caesar’s braggadocious epiphany of “Unstoppable” is enjoyable. The reverberating guitar riffs are more successfully psychedelic than anything on “Vince Van Gogh.”

Three days after the release of “Never Enough,” Caesar released a bonus version featuring three additional tracks, the first of which was released as a single nearly one year earlier. The other two are reprisals of “Always” and “Valentina” featuring Summer Walker and Rick Ross, respectively.

Caesar’s approach to the features on the reprisals is commendable. Summer Walker does not add any lyrics, only taking over for Caesar on the second verse and pre-chorus, and it feels natural. Rick Ross’s verse on “Valentina” blends so seamlessly into the original track that it’s hard to imagine anyone else as the featured artist.

While “Never Enough” has a clear vision at its core, its compromise between the slow ballads of “Freudian” and the experimental nature of “Case Study 01” results in a pleasant but homologous collection of songs.


[email protected]