R&B Blog

Contemporary R&B recommendations and commentary

Emanny - Songs About Her (mixtape)

I’ve only listened to the latest mixtape from New York singer/songwriter Emanny once, but it’s good enough that I wanted to post it now so I don’t risk forgetting about it. It’s definitely a break from the few Emanny tracks I’ve heard before, a turn toward the muted and remorseful R&B of so many post-Drake releases, but even at its moodiest it never loses its root in soul—imagine if Mario set out to record his own installment of Trey Songz’s Anticipation series. I’m particularly enjoying the way “Forever” fuses those newer sounds with vintage-Usher bended-knee balladry.

[I’m having some embed issues with Datpiff, but you can stream or download the tape here.]

Omarion ft. Rick Ross - “Let’s Talk”

Ok, let’s talk about the two things I do like about Omarion’s new video. #1: Omarion’s close-cropped haircut. It’s clean-cut and classic, an all-around good look. And #2: Breasts. I try not to write about it too much, because there’s so much recklessly sexist music writing on the Internet lately that the last thing the world needs is another leering dude ogling women under the pretense of critiquing music, but I am totally breast crazy. Breasts are one of my all-time favorite things, and this video is really generous with them.

Mostly, though, this video is the schlock that the most cynical observers predicted from the much-maligned Omarion/Maybach Music Group reunion, a dated (but not in a good way) throwback to the days of kind of shitty dance moves and really obvious source material (in this case, an appropriation of “Let’s Talk About Sex”), lazily gift-wrapped with a Rick Ross verse. I still know Omarion has some good songs in him, but this track is really discouraging.

Nylo - Memories Speak EP

I don’t know much about Nylo, other than that she’s a Chicago singer who looks like Feist, sings like Cassie, and apparently listens to a fair amount of Dirty Projectors. Even if you’re the type of listener who finds that last point of reference off-putting—as I sense that many readers of this blog are—Nylo’s free Memories Speak EP is probably worth giving a shot anyway. She has a wonderfully expressive, pure voice, and she’s a subtle enough songwriter that she never leans too heavily on either indie-isms or R&B-isms; there’s no shtick here. She’s also not afraid to go small: The closer “Rent Free” is just two minutes, but its sighed chorus is so impactful it feels like the climax of a six-minute build.

Download the EP here, or stream it below.

D’Angelo’s Back

I feel like I’ve read a half dozen variations of this "D’Angelo’s back" profile in GQ over the years, but beyond the usual rise/fall narrative, quotes about the singer’s shyness and updates on his physique, this one offers a substantial progress report on a new album. It’s tucked away near the end of the piece:

Russell Elevado, D’s longtime engineer, told MTV Hive that D wanted to finish his album “as soon as possible, but once he gets into the studio he gets into his own zone…. Altogether there’s over fifty songs that he’s cut since we started. I think he wants to put twelve songs on the album.”

Questlove tells me the same thing. “To get five songs out of him, we had to throw away at least twelve that I would give my left arm for,” he says. “I don’t mind that, because I literally feel he is the last pure African-American artist left.” Still, as weeks pass, Questlove admits, “My first fear was him not doing this at all. Now my new fear is, okay, the tour is over. Now what?”

For nearly a month, D mostly holes up in his apartment on the Upper West Side. Jenkins comes by regularly to sweat D in his private gym. He fasts for a few days, and the weight is coming off, but it seems D is headed back into his pre-tour cave. Only music persuades him to go out. Late in February, after he and D go to see Björk together, Questlove addresses a tweet to the Icelandic artist, saying, “amazing job last night. even d’angelo was mind blown & he leaves the house for NOBODY.”

So when will he release his new album? D can’t say for sure. His managers and his label are pushing hard for September, before the Grammy deadline. But nobody’s banking on it. Sounding like a man who’s all too familiar with D-time, Tom Corson, RCA’s president and COO, says simply, “This year would be nice.” In mid-April, D and his band are back in the studio, this time in Los Angeles, supposedly adding the final touches. But everything hinges on D letting the music go.

Eric Harvey on Quiet Storm

Take the time to read Eric Harvey’s thorough history of Quiet Storm:

The format was simple and effective, not too different in structure from what album-oriented rock stations had been doing for years. During his evening shift, Lindsey would play long stretches of uninterrupted medium-to-low tempo soul and R&B music— at times for up to 40 minutes straight— only occasionally intervening to guide listeners along. In a very real way, Lindsey’s Quiet Storm was doing exactly what radio does best— since its earliest days, radio has brought faraway voices of musicians and on-air personalities into private homes, creating a sense of intimate community amongst listeners. “Lindsey’s on-the-air personality [is] that of the soft-spoken alter ego for some 220,500 listeners each night,” wrote The Washington Post, “not all of whom want to distinguish between radio and real life.” It was common for listeners to call in and complain if the tempo sped up too much.

There are several Quiet Storm offshoots that I can choose from when driving at night (one of them the syndicated Sweat Hotel with Keith Sweat, which is serviced through a digital station where I live). Since I never listened to much smooth soul growing up—on the contrary, I used to hate it when I’d buy a dollar-bin LP from a favorite soul act like The Spinners or the Isleys only to realize it was a Quiet Storm record—a lot of the songs are still fairly new to me, as they would have been to audiences 30 years ago. It’s not that often that radio lets me to not just connect with, but actually re-experience the past so vividly.

Mostly, though, I listen to the Quiet Storm block on my city’s hip-hop and R&B station, which is an odd bit of programming, since there’s nothing particularly quiet about it. It’ll occasionally slip in the odd Ledisi song or Anthony Hamilton single that would never fly during the daylight hours, but mostly it’s just an (ever-so-slightly) toned down edit of the station’s regular playlist, with plenty of Chris Brown and Kelly Rowland and Lil Wayne and Drake. It always cracks me up when I hear Rick Ross during this Quiet Storm block (which happens just about nightly). I appreciate the station classing it up a bit, however slightly, for the nighttime hours, but I have to wonder if any listeners really connect to this faux-Quiet Storm block the way their parents probably did to the real thing decades earlier.

Ne-Yo - “Lazy Love”

Ne-Yo is set to affirm his crip bona fides later this summer on his new R.E.D. album, and he’s just released his first single from that project, “Lazy Love.” At this point first listens of Ne-Yo tracks are nerve-wracking experiences—Is a house beat going to kick in? Will there be a drop? Flo Rida’s not on this, is he?—but this one is an actual R&B song, and a pretty good one at that, save for one sub-Bruno Mars line that he at least gets out of the way early. At this point it seems pretty obvious that Ne-Yo doesn’t have another Year of the Gentleman in him, but if R.E.D. makes room for a few more tracks like this I’ll be happy enough.

R. Kelly ft. DJ Khaled and Ace Hood - “It’s On”

I’m not really in the habit of posting music I don’t like to this blog, but this lifeless return to the clubs from R. Kelly feels significant. Dire stuff, from the opening rally (“Alcohol music!”) to the miserable Ace Hood verse (seriously, who would put this guy on any track that isn’t patently modeled after “Hustle Hard.”) This is the first single from Kelly’s Black Panties; if it’s representative of what’s to come, here’s hoping he scraps the project altogether and goes straight to Love Letter 2.

The 10 Best Singles Runs from Post-Confessions R&B Albums

In a marvelously fun piece for the Village Voice’s Sound of the City blog, Jordan Sargent runs with an idea I floated last week.

In his recent review of R&B singer Miguel’s fantastic Art Dealer Chic series of EPs, The A.V. Club's Evan Rytlewski explained the singer's rise in popularity by floating the idea that his 2010 album All I Want Is You contained “arguably the most engaging singles run of any R&B album since Usher’s Confessions.” This argument is much closer to the truth than it may seem on first blush.

He goes on to rank the 10 most impressive singles campaigns. I won’t spoil the results, but they’re pretty much spot on (though I’d probably move The-Dream’s Love/Hate to the bottom of the list, since I was never big on “Falsetto.”) His number-one pick is unimpeachable.

Lindsay Zoladz on TLC’s “FanMail”

A wonderful article about TLC’s FanMail, how it defines the trio’s legacy, and why its themes are still relevant in the Tumblr age.

Although the way the group’s delight in singing about email, cyberspace, and “the future of music” captures a sense of emergent-technology wonder that’s always a little embarrassing in hindsight, FanMail is not nearly as interested in what’s gained by technology as it is elegiac about what’s lost in this new way we connect.

Miguel - Art Dealer Chic, Vol. 3

Miguel completed his Art Dealer Chic series last week, and though the third EP is the weakest of the trilogy, it’s a worthwhile cap for a set that, if taken as a whole, is my favorite R&B album of the year so far. (And yeah, that’s a big statement, given how wonderful the Dawn Richard and Melanie Fiona albums are; 2012 is well on its way toward being a better year for the genre than 2011 was.)

I’ve written a short, hearty endorsement of Miguel’s series for the A.V. Club; you can download the final installment here or stream it here.