Let’s be frank. In recent years, R&B as a genre has lost all credibility. Not since pioneers such as Usher and the uber-talented R. Kelly (the brilliance of Trapped in the Closet can hardly be denied) has this music enjoyed adulation in the eyes of serious music lovers due to the soullessly-manufactured, generic piffle it has essentially become. For a long while R&B has been bereft of serious contenders. Yet hope remains. A bottom-up power shift in the music industry has enabled artists to craft and release their own music, resulting in The Weeknd and Frank Ocean (Odd Future’s most talented affiliate) finding a way to channel sonic brilliance right into our laps. These artists herald a new age: an age when songwriters, singers and producers (Ocean being all three) strive to realise the vision of their own work, the way they intended it to be heard. Circa 2011, R&B is a whole new animal. The lyrics are visceral and above all honest, borrowing from Hip-hop’s brutal misogyny but with distinctly less aggression, softened by quality vocal performances and top-notch production. Here are five of the best from Mr. Ocean and The Weeknd, the leaders of a new generation. And keep an eye out for one Stacy Barthe, you’ll know her name soon enough.
Frank Ocean – There Will Be Tears
Call me naïve, but I’m going to admit I totally buy into Frank on this one. The switch up about a minute in is pure gold.
Stacy Barthe feat. Frank Ocean – Without You
Ocean takes a rather reclusive approach to his feature here, good thing too, as Barthe’s voice deserves your full attention.
The Weeknd feat. Drake – The Zone
Drake released an incredible mixtape, So Far Gone. The following album paled in comparison. But there’s no real danger of his compatriot and protégé going the same way if The Weeknd continues like this.
Frank Ocean – Novacane
Frank does a good job of promoting the abuse of anaesthetics with a great beat that leads you through the track in a state of unadulterated rapture.
The Weeknd – Wicked Games
If House of Balloons can be described as seminal, this track is the best reason why. It’s measured, impassioned and ruthless all at once.