Remember when R&B didn’t have to have “hip-hop” in front of it to be a hit?
Remember when R&B was something you could dance to instead of “groove” to?
Remember when R&B was fun?
Me too. And it’s back, y’all.
There is a palpable sea change going on in R&B, and it’s long overdue. R&B really got stagnant for a while, where it was the exception rather than the rule to cross over. It has gone from providing a compliment to the hottest rap tracks, to creating beats and melodies that will be sampled by rappers 20 years from now to acknowledge the classics that they are. While we listen, it is evolving at a fast and furious pace, catching a moment in time where people are hungry for something new. Those folks who aren’t stuck in tradition are heeding that demand, and the public seems to be eating it up.
-Case in point…Ne-Yo. You’ll get that feature article I promised soon enough, but this was pressing in my mind. Ne-Yo is single-handedly helping R&B get its groove back. And he’s not only doing it on his own records. Sure, “Closer” is a modern classic, and “Miss Independent” is already racing up the R&B chart, but take a look at last week’s #10 record from Jennifer Hudson, “Spotlight”. Who wrote that? Ne-Yo. Not so long ago, an anthem like that was either hip-hop inflected (like a Mary J. joint with Missy on the backup), or it was a quiet storm standard. Instead, Ne-Yo infuses the track with a more upbeat, melodic approach that helps it stand up to Hudson’s brilliant delivery, while still staying away from club banger territory. On top of that, it also lends itself perfectly to remixes (check the Moto Blanco Club Mix if you have any questions).
-Robin Thicke recently dropped some “Magic” on the R&B charts. Have y’all checked this out? Brilliant, I tell ya. For a guy who came to prominence on “Lost Without U”, one of the finest ballads of the 21st century so far, this is a great change of pace, and proves he’s listening to the direction that music is moving. The disco-era strings, Earth, Wind and Fire-inspired horns, and a deceptively sparse beat all come together to create their own form of magic. On top of that, Thicke’s delivery just simmers over that potent combination. [For an extra treat, check out the remix with Mary J. Blige, who he will be touring with this fall.]
-I’ve already raved a bit about it, but Solange’s “Sandcastle Disco” should not be slept on. It’s a grower, not a shower, but when you give it a chance, you’ll hear a summer theme that is light years away from some of the cookie cutter tracks Beyonce pads her records with. I will drop it, but she deserves to be mentioned here. [Chris Brown probably does, too, but it’s everywhere at the moment, and doesn’t need the additional promotion.]
-Out of all of the examples I can provide, none is as surprising as John Legend’s “Green Light” with Andre 3000. This track comes out of nowhere on some jangling synth riffs, an epileptic beat in the 140 BPM range, and a guest rap that actually belongs on the track, rather than one that is pasted in well after the track is deemed finished. I don’t know if this is John’s true direction, or if some of Kanye’s diverse influence is rubbing off, but it’s definitely hot.