These R&B Stars Are Taking Rhythm and Blues into the Future
Music has always been a sign of the times. Its evolution demonstrates collective cultural shifts of importance, but its fundamental purpose to inspire, entertain and challenge is ever present. Take R&B, for instance. The shiny veneer of the perfectly chiseled contemporary R&B stars who sang about love in the 90s and 2000s has worn off — and it makes sense.
Identity politics, social media and globalization at large are challenging our interpretations of relationships and individuality. With R&B, you could always find comfort when you’re caught up in your feelings, and its contemporaries keep that tradition going. The new generation of R&B talent uniquely explores themselves through narrative-driven music that combines influences from other genres. We all have the power to find ourselves, but just like each of these trailblazers, we have to examine the world and the people around us first.
Identity dominates Solange Knowles’ work —but of course it does. She grew up in the public eye as the talented kid sister of Beyoncé. It didn’t take long for her to not only establish herself as a talented musician in her own right, but as an artist who could speak to today’s black experience in America.
The drama that can devour a passionate love affair has long been a foundational element of R&B music. Like, can’t someone unbreak my heart and say you’ll love me again? Baltimore-born Josiah Wise a.k.a. serpentwithfeet takes that carnal element and amps up the drama tenfold.
Sheldon Young a.k.a. Channel Tres is keeping R&B on the dance floor with a musical equation made for the new generation. He mixes his SoCal sensuality with Barry-White-on-Xanax vocals to a blend of R&B and Chicago/Detroit house.
Toro y Moi
In the last decade, Toro y Moi a.k.a. Chaz Bundick has gone through countless musical evolutions. In the beginning, he was one of the defining artists of Chillwave, a hybrid of Internet culture, retro nostalgia and soft synthesizers. Then he helped define the short lived "Basement R&B," which took those soft melodies and production tools to make glitchy-sounding classic R&B jams on your basement computer.
When FKA twigs released "Water Me" in 2013, music fans weren’t sure where to place her. FKA Twigs a.k.a. Tahliah Barnett puts an avant-garde, electronic twist on R&B music. As she pushes the boundaries musically, she releases music videos that incorporate baroque aesthetics with modern dance, resulting in a modern yet timeless experience.
Sharing your personal narrative was, quite frankly, the total opposite of Janelle Monáe’s early work. She hid behind "Cindi Mayweather," an android persona from a hip, Metropolis-inspired future. Her sound had funk and electronic elements from early Contemporary R&B artists like Prince and Janet Jackson.