Joe and Trey Songz, Trying to Keep up

I wrote about two new albums by somewhat older R&B singers, Trey Songz and Joe. Right now, there is no dominant male R&B singer, so all the boys are looking for any edge they can find in a competitive market, meaning that injecting increasing levels of sexuality into their music plays an increasingly important role. This can put the older guard in a tight spot. Below, one of Joe’s hits from 1997, “Don’t Wanna Be A Player.”

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The Aaliyah Appreciation Club

I wrote about an English pop singer, Katy B–whose second album just hit #1 in England–and a large group of artists devoted to the ’90s R&B singer Aaliyah. Check out the piece over at Firedoglake. Aaliyah released just three albums before dying tragically in a 2001 plane crash. Here’s her singing “Giving You More:”

A Battle For R And B’s Future

Janelle Monae and the Weekend both released highly anticipated new albums today. I talked about the different visions of the two singers for the sight Splice Today. Read it here.

Here’s a ballad from the new Monae album, featuring Miguel:

And here is a Weeknd track that epitomizes his favorite sounds and themes:

Gloom&B (Part 2)

Frank Ocean is a hurting singer like The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye, but with poppier leanings; on his album Nostalgia/Ultra, released a month before House Of Balloons, he dilutes the debauchery and depression of The Weeknd into a form with more potential for chart success.  Ocean’s “Novacane” declares kinship with Gloom&B right from its title.  Instrumentally “Novacane” is mellow, but lyrically it’s all icy pleasurelessness: “I think I started something/ I got what I wanted/ . . . I can’t feel nothin’/ . . . Auto-tunin’, zero emotion, muted emotion.”  Ocean is frank about the source of his loss of feeling: getting what he wanted.  And what he wanted is not just personal, it is also musical – technology means his creative outlet is “muted,” or worse, “zero.”

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Gloom&B (Part 1)

Towards the end of 2011, a new strain of R&B drifted into collective musical unconsciousness: “Gloom&B[1],” a genre based on total lack of feeling. The classic trio of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll that spurred the creation of so much music no longer satisfies, and love rarely garners a mention.  Gloom&B investigates the overstimulated and oversatiated.  It tells the story of cold, impersonal interaction, unattainable intimacy, and a fading memory of human connection – a memory that is obscured further by each lost high and pleasureless sexual encounter.  In different ways, artists like The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, and Drake chart a downward spiral into dependence, depression, and numbness.

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