A new wave of internet stars show that the genre is finally moving forward.
21st Century R&B is devoid of mystery. Flicking through channels, radio stations and tabloid magazines we are overloaded with formulaic booty shaking, tales of love, lust and loss, R&B inspired fashions, films and fragrances. In every market, this style of music has applied its stamp, making many rich and many more powerful.
The purpose of the indie press is to critique the mainstream and give light to innovative projects. A genre struggling to win favour from this angle, R&B has stayed resilient and mostly ignorant to independent criticism. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
As progressive beings, we get tired of the ‘same old, same old’. Sure, R&B is continuing to make money, inadvertently corrupting the minds of innocent youth and selling out (some) shows. But, there are only so many times a listener can enjoy the same drum machine beats without cracking the formula and awaiting the next challenge. R&B singers have been ‘bumping and grinding’ since R. Kelly released the similarly titled song in 1994. It’s time for a steady departure.
Anyone with ears open to much of the musical spectrum has noticed the variety of influences that have informed this popular genre in recent times. Many assume that R&B fans and artists alike are ignorant to other genres. Yet, when Drake thanked the likes of The XX and Passion Pit in his platinum selling debut Thank Me Later’s liner notes it showed that alternative music can inform the creation of sounds targeted for a mainstream audience. Drake’s sound is not broad, but it does sound rich in influence. Perhaps this is the answer to his recent success. What is needed, however, is an R&B artist who stays true to the genre but makes his/her wide range of influences more apparent than Drake.
The Weeknd has come to answer this call to transparency. This mysterious Canadian R&B – Electro crooner has received critical acclaim for his mixtape House of Balloons (Sucking Lemons gave it 8.5/10). Evidently influenced by mid-90s Timbaland production (particularly evident in the song ‘What You Need’), he samples the unexpected including post-punk legends Siouxsie and the Banshees the acclaimed dream-pop duo Beach House. The now established Drake has sung his praised for his fellow Canadian and is currently working with him.
Similarly, Frank Ocean, the more approachable member of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, has been earning his stripes on the blogosphere with the legendary rapper Nas’ early admiration turning into a collaboration. Sampling the likes of MGMT and Coldplay in his songs, Nostalgia/Ultra is one of the best records to be released from that hip hop collective.
The bridge from R&B to Indie is not a one way transaction, however. How To Dress Well (a part time research scholar, part time musician) is too foreign to be labelled an R&B artist but his interest in this genre is clear. He regards Keith Sweat’s Twisted a masterpiece and covers R. Kelly’s ‘I Wish’ in ‘Waking up To Life Sometimes Seems Worse’.
What is evident from the artists named is their ability to blend seemly incompatible musical structures and sounds, creating something that is pioneering and relatable at the same time. Ever popular R&B is becoming credible again with people realising that it is a genre malleable and open to continuous re-interpretation. We must be realists to understand that innovation won’t necessarily filter through to the uniform pop charts but diversity in this genre is important to ensure that it is accessible to the widest range of listeners.
From Michelle Maria.