Wednesday, August 7, 2013

R&B: Getting back its mojo?

Remember at the turn of the millennium years ago when R&B was the dominant genre on the radio? Back in the days of Destinty's Child and Usher and Aaliyah - when every pop star worth their salt went to the Neptunes for a crossover track, and even Sisqo was taken seriously. It was a time of wild invention: From Beyonce speed-singing on Bills, Bills, Bills to Aaliyah sampling a baby gurgling on Are You That Sombody.

When it fell apart, it fell apart bad. From about 2003, Missy Elliot and Eminem started expressing a fascination with British club drug Ecstasy (it makes you dance, it makes you fall in love, it makes you have panic attacks - yay drugs!). But, aside from Missy's 4 My People, they never experimented with house music which, at that time, was still a minority interest in the US, popular in the urban gay scene but ignored elsewhere. changed all that - teaming up with David Guetta for I Gotta Feeling and opening a floodgate of crap that swept up Rihanna and Ne-Yo and Nicki Minaj and pretty much everyone else making chart-orientated R&B. And that's how it's been for the last four or five years, unless you were Alicia Keys and her magic piano.

But something changed at the end of 2012, when Frank Ocean looked down his kaleidoscope and pronounced "I have been listening to Marvin Gaye and I wish to become him, only more conflicted about my relationships". Then Solange popped her head round the door and said, "Is that so? Well, I'm going to put out an EP of rump-shaking R&B that's so devastatingly great my sister will scrap an entire year's worth of recordings and look like a twit."

And so they did. And each of their albums had monochromatic sleeves, which was probably a coincidence but you never know.

As a result, R&B got a massive kick up the bumparts. Now everyone is making seedy, soulful grooves with unsettling bass notes and fantastic tunes. Even the new Jason Derulo song isn't 100% hateful, despite being called Talk Dirty. But the latest singles from Drake (Hold On We're Going Home) and up-and-coming LA singer Banks (Waiting Game) are even better. Check out all three of them below.

So welcome back, R&B. We missed you a lot.

Now, if someone could just make the 21st Century End Of The Road, that'd be perfect.

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