Son Raw’s thinking ‘bout freek’n’you.
Momentum’s been building for a few years, but Hip-Hop’s awkward fumble throughout 2014 so far has confirmed it: R&B is officially the driving force in black music. For 80s babies, this makes for strange times – we grew up in an era where R&B was a palette cleanser, a gateway drug, something to sample and/or to rage against for diluting rap. Sure the superstars remained incomparable – no one would deny Mary, Aaliyah, Aaron Hall, D’Angelo, R Kelly, 112, and dozens of other hitmakers, but Hip-Hop was the creative impetus behind even their hits. No more, as a new wave of singers capture an increasing amount of press and attention, some warranted and some less so. I fully endorse Tinashe’s ascent and FKA Twigs is suitably Bjorky. How To Dress Well may not be making R&B better but he’s certainly not making Indie worse. While there’s a lot of chaff to this wheat, too many emotive singers over hazy chords or soulless ones moonlighting over material unfit for the Weeknd, it’s hard to deny the genre is having a moment.
If anything, my principle gripe with a lot of current R&B is that it feels divorced from that genre’s core audience – the same issue I have with the vast majority of new industry approved rappers bypassing rap’s traditional stomping grounds. Which is why Spooky’s Sublow Jamz and Gundam’s Lovers Cuts EP are so satisfying. Neither are singers, but both producers showcase an affinity for R&B that goes beyond a recent discovery, remixing tracks that have been a staple in the lives of anyone whose default radio station is “urban.” Maybe it’s my Hip-Hop background, but I’ll always be more interested in someone flipping a soul loop than singers outside the soul/gospel tradition trying to weird things up or inject a different sensibility into the genre. Of course, it helps that both producers picked premo source material: Faith Evans and Jodeci are to contemporary listeners as Aretha and Curtis were 20 years ago and Al Green will never go out of style. The next step? Let’s get some of new artists to kill some of these beats – I’d rather hear FKA Twigs over Unpredictable than Pendulum.