He’s done this before, but not like this. 

Zayn Malik has conquered quite a bit in his 23 years on Mother Earth. He’s been a part of One Direction, the biggest post-modern boy band ever, receiving massive international success, but for the UK crooner, it wasn’t enough. After all, the singer and songwriter was able to contribute his smooth vocals and pen skills to the band’s songs such as “Taken” and “Story of My Life,” but when you can’t connect to the poppy-plastic message, what do you do?

For Zayn, the answer is breaking free and pushing out the love, sadness and loneliness on airy-R&B beats for a pleasurable debut album, nearly a year to the day he walked away from his bandmates.

We’ve seen this in the past, with the solo careers of Bobby Brown (never forget), Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez (you can forget), recently Nick Jonas of The Jonas Brothers and now, Zayn. There’s something about the powerful notion of soul music that brings out the truth in pop artists, which isn’t a bad thing. Zayn pushes his creativity and sex appeal to the test in the 10-track debut (18 on the deluxe).

Despite a public fallout with producer Naughty Boy, Zayn finds a strong connection with James “Malay” Ho. Their chemistry—and heavy Frank Ocean influence—shines through on “iT’s YoU," “BoRdeErz” and “BeFour.” Before deeming Zayn as a descendent of Ocean and The Weeknd’s University of Modern Soul, his transcript shows his Bollywood influence on the hypnotizing Urdu interlude “fLoWer.”

His Asian roots are often the topic for conversation, one he isn’t keen on discussing. Zayn mentions in a recent interview how he doesn’t want to influence anyone with his beliefs (he tweeted #FreePalestine, causing a sh*t storm in 2014) until he feels he’s educated on a topic. For now, the class is his music to which the he’s mastered the art of sexual slow jams like “dRunk” and collaborations via Kehlani on “wRoNg.” The dramatic flow between not-cool-cool-kids is a match made in passive heaven, especially since they’re both interested in keeping things physical and checking their feelings at the door.

His breakout single, “PILLOWTALK” is the strongest song vocally on the album. The electric chords and honesty (“F**king and fighting on/It’s our paradise and it’s our war zone”) has him sitting pretty with the rest of the R&B singers of today. There’s still a mystery surrounding Zayn that has followed him from his 1D days. We learn the lessons and actions following his much talked about heartbreak on “iTs’ YoU,” but never the actual plights that landed him there in first place.

What will follow now are the hopes of attracting the audience he’s basically already a part of—the R&B fan who doesn’t want love but the idea of it. He’s debatably proven himself on the remix for Chris Brown’s “Back to Sleep” with Usher back in February, but was overshadowed with Breezy’s yearning for his ex in the middle of the track.

The singer was raised in an R&B household. His British Pakistani father unknowingly opened the doors for influences from Prince to R.Kelly and even the late Tupac Shakur. We’ve learned in the past few years that nearly everything has become fluid. With Zayn essentially a product of this, we know we should never sleep on the quiet ones.