Posts tagged SiR
Curving the "Repetitive & Bleak"

What happened to R&B? It’s a pretty loaded question but the most noticeable transformation is its style. R&B has undergone constant revisions throughout the years, for the better. Trailblazers like Chuck Berry and Fats Domino were ahead of their time, incorporating elements of big band jazz and rock-n-roll into a bluesy, rhythmic fashion. As the style evolved in the succeeding decades, more prominent distinctions began to bloom under this growing umbrella of a genre. The genius of Holland-Dozier-Holland with mastermind Barry Gordy spawned the Motown era. Transcendent acts like the late, great Aretha Franklin used her background in Gospel to echo louder than any typecast, yet stuck to her roots as a pure singer. Divas such as Diana Ross and Donna Summer welcomed the disco era of the '70s and used the sound to vibrantly add a new twist to R&B. The innovative composition of Quincy Jones propelled the solo career of Michael Jackson, whose voice was incapable of dimming. Prince was Prince, in all his brilliant artistry, showmanship, and technical skill. Whitney, Marvin, Stevie, Luther, Sade; bold acts associated with greatness because of the prolific quality of their work. These larger-than-life pioneers laid the groundwork for Black music - and its effect on pop culture and the world at large - to reach the astronomical heights of influence today.

It could be argued that the last truly memorable era of R&B was the mid-80s to late 1990s, thanks in part to the style of New Jack Swing. Influenced by the burgeoning hip-hop/rap sound, R&B took on a whole new personality. Groups like Jodeci, Blackstreet, En Vogue, and SWV, in addition to being able to carry a note for several seconds, had a confident attitude that was present on a record. If the production was upbeat and demanding of attention, the artist matched the energy and fit into the groove with a lively performance. Songs like “This is How We Do It” can still rock a set in 2018; the mentality of the track strongly emotes the vibe of a house party. It's so infectious, it can evoke any dormant rhythm and lead you to the dance floor.

On the flip side, if the BMPs were at a slower pace, the strength of powerful vocals and relatable tales about heartbreak can make their pain feel palpable. The duality of a strong woman who can curve a trifling dub one minute and vulnerably penning a love song the next. So long are also the days of grown ass men having to beg on bended knee for forgiveness...or angling just to get some that night. The game is the game and the '90s soundtrack was full of life and real emotions. Not to say the previous is completely devoid today, but in comparison '90s R&B had true charisma. Even for one-hit wonders, there was a personality for the entire era that was distinguished, iconic, and worthy of praise all these years later.

Neo-soul powerhouses such as Erykah Badu and D'Angelo kept the pulse for R&B alive after the New Jack Swing style was slowly being phased out (not forgotten), but hip-hop went from fledgling to flying from the mid-90s to early 2000s. In the process, rap music bullied its way to the forefront while the role of a traditional R&B singer on the main stage - aside from the Beyonce’s and Rihanna’s of the world - was somewhat relegated to hooks and took the backseat for a minute. The 2010s have seen a resurgence of popularity for genres in the urban market. Incorporating major elements of electronic music like autotune and synthesizers, as popular music did in the '80s, helped to revitalize (to some) and evolve hip-hop and R&B as a whole. It also helped to globalize their popularity by reaching out to certain groups that wouldn't normally listen.

The past few years of R&B have seen great developments - so much so, that it was on a perceived trajectory to become level with its rap counterparts. "Trap-soul" or "Trap-N-B" had the strongest wave lap upon the shores of recent music by creating a rap-sung hybrid, detailing heartbreaks over 808s and trap hi-hats. If the hook artist isn't completely dead, they have transformed and rebranded themselves as singers that can rap. Ja Rule borrowed harmonies from vocalists at the top of the millennium; current "singers" like 6LACK are boldly attacking the inverse with great success. There are some talented artists but, there's an ever growing sense of malaise hanging over the genre as it becomes to get more popular than ever from a statistical standpoint. There's this dreary trend of singers that create a dark and gloomy aspect and wear it as an aesthetic. Blues have always been a part of R&B; it's a third of the acronym. But 2018 has shone the light on a certain brand of artist that relies on everything but talent. The problem is, singers don't really need to be great vocalists to be considered "great," which is confusing. Autotune and a skilled audio engineer can cover up many impurities. Breathy whispers on a light and airy beat, with lyrics from a Tumblr account of motivational quotes, is passable today. Add a great social media team, some sex appeal, a "minimalist" label, and boom, you have yourselves a microwaved star in the making. The highest of highs from this era can hold a torch to the legends of years past, but the influx of mid is also bringing down the overall integrity of the present.

Despite the collective plateau of creativity, R&B has serious potential to curve past the section of repetitive & bleak group-think for 2019 and beyond. Two recent releases are a sampling of the best that 2018 has to offer. Saturn by NAO, and MihTy both have individual personalities with rich vocals over a lively composition that does not make you want to fall asleep, even when the tempo is relaxed. The performers themselves were not solely dependent on surrounding factors or a perceived image. Production ties everything together, but the artists led the charge and carried the projects with their voice, confident delivery, and precise timing of notes. No matter how regular a lyric that was sung, these collections of songs felt like music with a purpose: a purpose to make the listener actually feel something.

Supergroups were a staple in '90s R&B. The combination of exceptional talent has the potential for a dynamic record to pop off, but there’s also the possibility of egos colliding, creating friction in the process only to yield results where the parts aren't flush with the intended design. Two of the most in-demand singers of this generation, paired with a reinvented musician from last decade, connected to make a statement that'll ring beyond 2018. LA's Ty Dolla $ign and Chicago's Jeremih linked up for a collab tape worthy of high praise. Their joint name - MihTy - even synchronizes well and is indicative of how well they mesh together. The heavy, raspy timbre of $ complements the sharp, distinctive high notes of Jeremih in a way that's chilling and provocative. As Teddy Riley and Guy once did for New Jack Swing, Hitmaka (fka Yung Berg) took a current hip-hop production style and sculpted it to fit instead of the ever-evolving umbrella of R&B. Lyrically and sonically, the tone of the project was set on the album's opener, The Light. Ty makes a triumphant introduction by literally getting down to business, right before Jeremih's chorus pierces through like a beacon of light on a cloudy day, leading into his verses that carry a bounce of a hybrid between a rapper and pure singer. What really adds to each of the tracks is the layering of ad-libs from both artists. Bursts of harmonies and carried out notes of spoken word accentuate the already robust production. Using their voices like elements of inserted kits on FL Studios steadily weave throughout the 30-minute project in a pitch that won't make you cringe.

A description like this may make MihTy seem chaotic, but it's far from that. The three major players are Ty$, Jeremih, and the production; the vibrant sounds of the trio blend together to make a beautiful piece of art out of a blank canvas. Varying styles between the two singers shake up any potential monotony whenever it may approach. New Level (with a quick nod to “In My Bed” by Dru Hill before the beat drops) sees the pairing hit their vocal crescendos on an upbeat banger that'll be sure to liven a kickback. Opposite of that are the slower, more traditional R&B tracks in These Days and Imitate, which firmly establishes their versatility. Instead of letting the down tempo beat carry them, MihTy's range with vocal inflections shines when they could have just mailed it in. They enlisted a couple rappers - French Montana on FYT, an ode to the Bad Boy classic; and Wiz Khalifa (along with Chris Brown) on the energetic Surrounded - in a way shows independence by inviting them into their space. By not having a tracklist laden with rap features, MihTy proves that an R&B group can stand on its own in a hip-hop environment. Hitmaka deserves his roses for a successful rebrand and for the way he held it down behind the boards; his attention-grabbing production should not be understated. With their tales of dirty mackin’ the pairing of Ty Dolla $ign and Jeremih smoothly held notes expertly sang their way to a memorable and enjoyable project.

Powerful is one of the first adjectives that pops to mind when NAO comes to mind. The texture of her voice when she bellows "I guess I'll wait another lifetime" before coolly crooning to the next progression of the chorus can send chills up one's spine. Her debut album Saturn deserves the recognition of high profile singers across all types of music. There's a unique twang in her voice that does not sound awkward. Rather, it fits comfortably in the rest of the captivating production that blends many different sounds without sounding sloppy. Somehow, NAO 1-ups the robust landscape by matching then propelling herself higher than the instrumental with a beautiful voice. The best kind of music attempts to incorporate several styles and package it together cohesively.

If You Ever has a rhythmic bop as an undertone but right before the bridge of wavy vocal notes hit, there's a serene string section that leads into the refrain without a dull moment.  The 31-year-old singer-songwriting hailing from the UK had a fitting theme with the name Saturn. Compared to your average releases from this year, there was a colorful balance of dance/pop tracks with substance (Love Supreme, Yellow of the Sun), new-age big band jazz (Saturn ft. Kwabs), and electronic-influenced neo-soul (Gabriel, Orbit) that could function just as an acapella. That last part is extremely important - her voice alone could function on its own. There are some vocoder adjustments but the purpose is to add a twist, not to carry the singer. NAO has the voice of a pure gospel singer whose recorded sound must not deviate too far from her live performance. One of the most interesting debuts in modern R&B may not be as promoted as some of her contemporaries, but in time, she will be a force to be reckoned with.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a huge mess of a debate sparked on Twitter about who the "King of R&B" truly is. Informed takes filtered in, in support of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and others. Some memes circulated. Talks eventually devolved into a '90s-centric discussion: where a legendary, yet extremely problematic nominee came up several times; a separate Queen of R&B debate - featuring Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, and Mary J. Blige, among others; and group comparisons like Jodeci vs. Boyz II Men and TLC vs. Xscape popped up as well. A lot of healthy back and forth turned into a nostalgic remembrance of how dominant that decade really was. But of course, there were some asinine comments like "Trap Soul is DEFINITELY better than anything Usher ever made," as if Confessions and 8701 were never made, because, Twitter.

Plenty of really good, standout artists have been successful over the last decade, but none have had a prolonged excellence like the soloists of years past., and the ones that did achieved their status by transcending the genre (e.g. Drake, Chris Brown, The Weeknd). Will there ever again be a person or group to reach the same magnitude of star power without crossing over into the Pop world? Are there viable options - like generational talent - for Kings and Queens in modern R&B? Only time will tell how lasting their impressions will be. H.E.R., Daniel Caesar, and Brent Faiyaz are examples of great young talent, but it's way too early to consider them royalty. The 2018 nominees from the Twitter debate was mostly artists that people are vibing to at the moment.

Looking at some of the names from the discourse, it's concerning that the greatness of earlier eras won't be replicated today. That's okay though; they will have their own memorable footnote in the history of music - unless this trend of gloomy, half-assed attempts at singing continues. A true crooner should be able to hit and hold several different notes over the course of a song. The production should complement the vocalist, not carry them. Technique and timing shouldn't fully be replaced by electronic alterations. Charisma, words with real emotions, being able to sing acapella in the right pitch: that'll always be royalty.

Album review: Anderson .Paak lets you into his eclectic world with "Oxnard"

Oxnard is the 19th most populated city in the entire state of California. Approximately two hours northwest of: El Segundo, where the transcendent Kamaal The Abstract left his wallet in a legendary tale; Compton, where the cerebral Andre Young recorded a seminal masterpiece titled The Chronic, and; Long Beach, where Calvin Broadus linked up with Young to create a definitive West Coast classic nearly 25 years ago to the day. It's also home to a multi-hyphenate musician by the name of Brandon Paak Anderson - a man working on a lasting legacy of his own.

His laid-back mannerisms embody the spirit of the Greater Los Angeles area that has the essence of summertime year-round. The artist formerly known as Breezy Lovejoy makes his performances on stage and in the studio seem effortless, but a tremendous amount of work was required on this difficult path to reach the crest of his profession. Even after all he's accomplished, he's not even close to his full potential; alike to the next evolution of music consumption after streaming, the listeners won't know what to expect next, but it could potentially shift the way we view this art form.

Seven years ago, he was homeless with a wife and child after unexpectedly being fired as a weed farmer. Today, the GRAMMY-nominated 32-year-old Anderson .Paak dropped an instant album of the year contender: Oxnard, the third (solo) studio album under his current moniker. The previous two are vastly different from each other but are important to the development of a style that can't be replicated. Venice (2014) was an ambitious electro-R&B project, mixed with guitar licks and trap sounds, had a few moments but as a whole, felt unfocused. However, 2016 yielded more fruitful results. At the top of the year, the arsenal of his creative genius was on full display with Malibu, featuring his close friends The Free Nationals. The band's steady yet lively instrumentation and unforced chemistry with Andy helped to congeal any loose pockets that plagued the clunky Venice. This allowed .Paak to settle into his signature groove by exploring and destroying conventional aspects of music by combining neo-soul, funk, rap, and jazz without sounding disheveled.

The results were a critically acclaimed album in a class of its own, unbothered with fitting a singular trend; rather, Anderson .Paak and The Free Nationals were inspired by various genres and smartly crafted their own vibe on Malibu. Bookended between soulful, show-stealing guest spots, a highly regarded, more "traditional" rhythm & blues performance as one-half of Nxworries further cemented .Paak as a bona fide star.

While decades of trial & error and a strong background in the church were integral to the process, the free spirit of Yes Lawd! was refined thanks in part to Dr. Dre. “You need that, because you’ll go crazy when you’re making these albums if you don’t have nobody to be your co-pilot,” said .Paak of Dre and his meticulous focus in the studio. The iconic producer-turned-mogul played the role of mentor as he's done for the past 30 years. A well documented, near-peerless industry track record like Dre’s gave .Paak a major co-sign. 16 years after the flawless 2001, Dre triumphantly returned in 2015 with Compton: a soundtrack to the summer box office hit Straight Outta Compton that was meant to showcase the rising talent from the West Coast. Nobody shined brighter on Compton than Anderson .Paak.

Three years later, fully formed as a dangerous versatile threat, he returns to the lab with The Doc to put the finishing touches on Oxnard.

“'We went in for a few more weeks and that’s when the bulk of the album actually got done,' .Paak says of the more than 10 new tracks that form the core of the record. 'And these were songs that I never thought I’d write.'"

The mission was to let the entertainment world know that he and his hometown weren't solely "LA-adjacent"; they are distinct entities worthy of more than being generalized with the rest of the mold. The cinematic feel of Oxnard reflects the rockstar life he's experienced since 2014. There's a larger-than-life boldness to this record, similar to blaxploitation era films from the '70s. The album opener The Chase featuring Kadhja Bonet, sounds like a crisp remake of a funky jam found on the Dolemite soundtrack. As he does throughout the hour-long project, .Paak vacillates here between a slick rap flow and a cool, easy, yet powerful croon. The meticulous nature of Dr. Dre's handprint is obvious in more ways than one. Relative to his previous releases, it wouldn't be out of line to say that Oxnard is Anderson .Paak's *rap* album; in that, he rhymes in a lyricist's prose for a large portion of his verses like the 9th Wonder-produced Saviers Road. The shit talking and confidence with the way he spits in on par, if not better, than a lot of rappers currently in the game.

However, it would be unfair to just categorize it as his *rap* album. It's a multi-dimensional walk down a vibrant landscape that only an engineer on the level of Dr. Dre could so expertly arrange. Oxnard, like .Paak, is genre-less. Smile/Petty featuring Sonya Elise and SiR balances smooth vocals and nasally raps over a mellow RnB tune before ending with strong, spiteful singing over heavy g-funk production. Tints is a fun groove of lead single with a Kendrick Lamar - who co-habits the space on his best behavior - as they deal with increased stardom ("Paparazzi wanna shoot ya, shoot ya, niggas dying for less here"..."I can't be flying down that 110 with a bad bitch in my whip, I need tints"). The first half of 6 Summers doesn't mesh with the stellar second half, but it's meant to be a satirical "holding a mirror to the goofy commander-in-cheeto" in the Oval Office. Cheeky Andy doesn't seek to be overtly political, but when necessary, he can make a statement on behalf of his people.

On Animals, a standout off Compton, he sings:

The police don't come around these parts
They tell me that we all a bunch of animals
The only time they wanna turn the cameras on
Is when we're fuckin' shit up, come on

The refrain for the second half of 6 Summers goes on to say:

This shit gon' bang for at least six summers
But ain't shit gon' change for at least three summers
They tryna kill a nigga faith, we need a little truth, brother
Pop-pop-pop goes the shooter
Reform, reform shoulda came sooner

Contributing to social commentary as an artist, whether heavy-handed or subtle, can never be understated with a growing platform such as his. "Ain't shit gon' change" right away, but with a concerted effort, change is possible; stating so on a project that's "gon' bang for at least six summers" is a good way to spread the message. Aside from .Paak's multi-faceted performance and expertly mixed production, the strength of Oxnard lie in the guest appearances from a star-studded lineup. The mean 808, guitar infused banger Brother's Keeper, featuring the legal malice of Pusha-T (Am I my brother's keeper, they still asking 'bout the duo // Applaud his finding salvation, But I'm still rhyming 'bout the you know); Trippy with J. Cole - a calm soothing ballad dedicated to the love of their lives; Sweet Chick featuring the great, colorful, and soulful harmonics of BJ the Chicago Kid. On Anywhere, 25 years after the creation of Doggystyle, Dre & Snoop, still, in rare form as a pairing, reconnect to help give .Paak a fresh, relaxed melodic West Coast sound. On Cheers, the rapper who lost his wallet in El Segundo 18 years prior, talks about a different loss. Q-Tip (RIP Phife) and Anderson (RIP Mac Miller) share sentiments of losing close friends and collaborators, but choose to treat it as a reflective celebration of life. The result is a vibrant Dre & Tip production brought to life with upbeat percussion and synthesizers.

Venice to Compton to Malibu to Oxnard is a modern journey unlike anyone else's in popular music today. Each project has a distinct standalone presence, using previous experiences to carefully build towards this exact moment in 2018. An artist on the precipice of becoming a mega-star is learning to become more of himself. It can't be a coincidence how the path of the location first trended towards the actual city of Los Angeles then rerouted back to the place of his birth. Oxnard is an ode to and a return presentation to his hometown to share life experiences after traveling the globe in the limelight. It's evident that he grew as a lyricist, songwriter, composer, and musician as a whole...but we're nowhere close to the peak of his abilities. Oxnard, if only a glimpse, is a step in the direction of his full potential. It's a project that'll appreciate with time.

From CRWN, a sit-down conversation with Tidal:

Elliot Wilson: you have a wide musical pallet...with your classification of music, sometimes people don't necessarily know if they should put you in the idea of what RnB you hate those classifications and feel like it's just music?

"I think that people need to just first listen to the music. Like stop tryna put it and compare it and immediately say it's like this or it's like this. A lot of people aren't even listening to the music, on God. Like they not really digesting the music; they're just like one time through and they're eager to compare it...just listen! I just leave it up to the job is just to make it and make sure it's honest."

He doesn't fit a particular genre because he's his own genre. He’s Anderson .Paak.

Best projects of January 2018

2018 got off to a slow start with notable music releases, but the second half of January really picked up the slack. Here at The Barber's Chair, our resident music contributors, Eyeless and Just JT, will do a monthly round-up of their favorite projects, giving you on the most respective drops every month.

SiR - November

Eyeless: From a talent standpoint, the roster on Top Dawg Entertainment is damn near impeccable. For me, November by SiR has been on repeat since the clock turned midnight on January 18th. Bruh, this album is so fucking soulful that if I were still capable of crying, I would have shed a tear on the first complete spin. The production is as intricate and complex as every other TDE release, but the entire experience of this one felt like a completely novel journey. The way SiR floats on the album, mixing in different cadences with sharp, distinctive wails, can really evoke emotion from the listener. Strong songwriting about subject matter dealing with different narratives about relationships are highly relatable, no matter where you come from. Cool out on a late night with your significant other (or sidepiece) to November. It's sure to the set the mood.

Favorite Tracks: D'Evils, Something New (ft. Etta Bond), Dreaming of Me.

JT: The TDE Machine is the strongest well oiled machine in the music industry right now. Everything that they touch always turn into gold and their track record with artist as Kendrick, SZA, Schoolboy Q, etc. Im really convinced that after Top or Punch comes across  dope talent, they then throw them in the TDE hyperbolic time chamber for training and they come out stronger than when they first walked in. So what a perfect way to start off January 2018 but with some fresh new R&B sounds from their newest and latest  talent in the roster, SiR. The Production on the album is usual TDE standards: Soulful, complex, soothing, Intricate, etc.  Each song on the album can evoke different emotions from you, whether you’re out cruising thinking about life or you’re chilling with the opposite sex. Im looking forward to seeing more collaborations and records from SiR in the near future.

Favorite Tracks: D’Evils, That’s Alright, Something Foreign, Something New

Maxo Kream - Punken

Eyeless: Whew, Punken caught me off guard, for real. I had never listened to Maxo Kream prior to this album, but many people on the internet were rightfully lauding him for this effort. Slick raps and harrowing tales about street life are painted vividly with Max's commentary throughout Punken. In one of the standouts, "Roaches," the Houston native talks about in detail about the sad troubles his family was going through when dealing with the impact and aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. There's plenty of ig'nant shit on here to go dumb to, but there's also some very thoughtful and poignant rhymes on here as well. Hands down my favorite rap project of this early year, so far.

Favorite Tracks: Work, Roaches, Grannies;

Evidence - Weather or Not

Eyeless: WEST COAST FLOWS MEETS EAST COAST BOOM BAP. The Venice, Caljfornia hip-hop veteran Evidence has lowkey been one of the most consistent rappers. As one can tell by his subdued demeanor and laid-back delivery, EV, isn't worried about the flash and frills; just straight raps. That's not to say he's lazy in the slightest, rather, he carved a lane in this game by staying authentic, without ever conforming to normal trends:

Everyone's an imitation, spitters cop the G Rap, the rest are on some Drake shit// I took my time to find my own shit, 10,000 hours//

With production from Nottz, The Alchemist, DJ Premier, and more, Mr. Slow Flow kills it again by sticking to the blueprint here on Weather or Not. Prayerss up to his long-term girlfriend who he, on the final song, revealed to have stage three breast cancer. A very personal album with great effort put forth into it.

Favorite tracks: Throw it All Away (prod. The Alchemist), Jim Dean, Love Is a Funny Thing (feat. Styles P, Rapsody & Khrysis; prod. The Alchemist);

Payroll Giovanni & Cardo - Big Bossin Vol 2

JT: I'm going to be keep it real honest with you, I’m JUST NOW jumping onto the Payroll Giovanni bandwagon after the homie Baby Shad had made his playlist of his  best songs. What draws me so much into his music is his sound. What’s crazy to me is how their sound is so G-Funk so West Coast, but Payroll & Cardo both from the Midwest. Not only is the sound amazing, but Big Bossin Vol 2 to me is one of the best albums to play when you’re fiending for life motivation to help you secure that bag. This is my current life go-to soundtrack when I’m making moves and setting plays to secure my bag. Payroll Giovanni for President.

Favorite Tracks: 5s to 6s, Rapped My Way, Good Day to Get Money, 10 Years, 1 Summer, BYLUG Outro

Drake - Scary Hours EP

JT: At this point, what’s there to not love about Drake. No matter how many times i tend to overly criticize him, the boy always finds a way to come through and gives us heat. Listening to Scary Hours EP, i get the feeling that Drake feels refreshed and ready to take one 2018. Not only did he give us another smash with God’s Plan, he also blessed us with the raps on Diplomatic Immunity. Right after More Life dropped, I really wanted Drake to just take a break from music at first because to me it felt like most of his music lately since after If You’re Reading This, It’s too Late. To me, it felt like he was more concerned with making hit records more than impactful records. I'm not mad at him for that because he’s been giving folks hits. But I love Introspective Drake much more. When he’s giving us tracks like 30 for 30, The Resistance, Do Not Disturb, Lose You, etc i feel like that’s when drake is at his best. I'm looking forward to seeing what’s next up for the boy for 2018.

Favorite tracks: Diplomatic Immunity

Honorable Mentions:
Migos - Culture II
Justine Skye - Ultraviolet