Popular music dominated the new millennium thus far. 'Fist pumping', party starting, catchy tunes have over powered to the point where even Rap had to make the adjustment to keep up. There are few R&B artists diverse enough to make it work while staying true to their rhythm and blues roots. The biggest examples are Ne-yo, and Usher, who single-handedly kept R&B on the charts for the last 10 years while still providing those, hit, crossover records. Much like hip-hop, many have questioned whether R&B and Soul Music is dead. Conversely a new class of artists mocked their classic hip-hop counterparts and taken their talents to the underground and independent arenas to build momentum. To those, like myself, who came up through the dominance of 90's R&B, this is a breath of fresh air. Yours truly has some artists that should be on your radar with EPs and mixtapes worthy of your iPod space. Also for the fellas, you will never go wrong with a date night to any of these concerts. R&B isn’t dead… And here’s how I know…..
I will start with a few heavyweights…..
This songstress caught everyone's attention alongside Jay-Z, filling in for Alicia Keys during performances of Empire State of Mind. Not only was she FINE, her voice filled Alicia's shoes beautifully. Since then, Bridget independently shut down stages as one of Roc Nation's newest juggernaut. While keeping up professional mainstream appearances and promotion, she also released the EP Every Girl. Every Girl featured hits that rivaled singles on the top 100. This EP showcased her broad spectrum of talent from the confessions of “In The Morning,” and “White Lies” to the rawness of the gritty, rock influenced, “Love You After All,” and “My Heart.” Personally, I feel her version of Frank Ocean's “Thinking Bout You” should have been the one released, but I digress. If the EP does not win you, the energy and attitude of her live show will, trust me! She makes a point to engage everyone and gives good Instagram poses while performing. I admire how she looks directly into your phone if she sees you snapping pictures. Her first official single “Special Delivery” is currently in rotation with an album set for release this year. (bridgetkelly.com , Twitter: @theycallmeBK , Instagram: @eyesofBK)
If the name sounds familiar, it is. Back in the early 2000’s, she was known as simply Jhene, one of the next up during the Chris Stokes/ T.U.G. movement. I admit my serious crush on her and her sister Milla J (another one to watch) as a teenager. Especially after the video for her single, “No L.O.V.E.” and one of my favorite all-time ballads “Won’t Play the Game”. I have made a point to follow her since and I must say she has definitely evolved with her fans since her B2K days. Her interviews are just as captivating as her music. Her devotion to artistry and loyalty to her personal creative space is inspiring to any aspiring musician. Like Bridget she released an EP Sailing Soul(s) in 2011. This was another project that caught more attention than majority of the mainstream releases. She brings positivity with songs like “Do Better Blues” and “Space Jam” as well as makes you think while “Popular” teaches you to be nice to the “good girl” in school. My personal favorites “Sailing Not Selling,” questions the integrity of any creative mind and the sonnet, “Higher” is that classic mellow mid-tempo I've been waiting for. This EP led her to a deal with Def Jam and she is now preparing a 2013 debut album. As for her live performances, flawless!! Her show is so reminiscent of Erykah Badu and Sade it’s mesmerizing. Her combination of beauty, her voice, and overall aura captivates the audience simply by her standing and performing, much like those previous icons. (Jheneaiko.com , Twitter/Instagram @Jheneaiko)
The Foreign Exchange:
Backpackers, neo-soul fanatics, and hip-hop enthusiasts are no stranger to this Grammy nominated duo. I could not mention the underground R&B movement without referring to one of the most sought after bands without a top 10 hit. Neo-soul's odd couple, rapper Phonte (of the rap group Little Brother) and producer Nicolay first dominated blogsites in 2004. Since then, they have broken the top 100 independently, with hits such as “Leave it all Behind” and “Authenticity”. This band has a discography, which can get any professional through a long day of work. These albums are available to buy online but for those looking for FREE music, I suggest visiting their site for their free releases. I seen this band perform for almost 3 hours in Virginia Beach and it made me add their playlist to my morning commutes for almost 4 months. I have way too many favorites and would suggest catching any of their videos or performances online. Also, be sure to catch them live whenever you get a chance. Between the obvious talent and Phonte’s comedic commentary, you will not be disappointed. (http://www.theforeignexchangemusic.com/)
Oh Jojo, she never disappoints. It’s been over 6 years since her last major release but does not mean she kept quiet. She recently released two mixtapes since and is still performing hits from them both. The first, Can’t Take That Away From Me, Released 2010 is a collection of songs that didn't quite make album release due to label issues. As a lover of good music I appreciate the fact that a project this good did not just stay on the shelf. Songs like “Why Didn’t You Call”, “All I Want is Everything” and my personal favorite “Time is Money” are must haves for any playlist. This project as a whole is great combination of sexy, sensual and sassy; the perfect coming of age album for anyone who only remembers Jojo as the little girl in the video with Bow Wow. (http://rap-up.bandcamp.com/)
Most recently she released Agape. The lead track, the 90’s influenced, “We Get By,” is a sigh of relief for anyone looking to get away from the monotony of the slow ballads of today’s popular R&B. Jojo continues her vivid storytelling on songs like “Can’t Handle the Truth” and “Andre” while she explores love from various angles with “Billions” and “Take the Canyon”. This collection is an emotional, lyrical rollercoaster so widely missed in music today. To my ears this girl can do no wrong. If you’re looking to catch her live, I would highly suggest one of her acoustic sets. Her voice and a guitar is a perfect backdrop for you and that special someone. While I look forward to hearing her next major release, I am good with projects like these in the meantime. (http://www.audiomack.com/album/jojo/agape)
As for the unsigned circuit…
I was online and happen to come across her song “No Saint” and could not help but download her whole EP Origin. It’s originality of the concept warranted space on my work playlist. Her name is new to most but her work with Chris Brown, Dirty Money and Monica is well noted. Origin is a diverse spin of R&B, which you would expect from R&B artists from overseas. Hit-Boy and James Fauntleroy, lends a hand on the track “All I Have.” “Like Nobody Else” is the perfect crossover to the pop-alternative world with its fun and flirty feel. I was hurt to find out she was performing in NYC the week after I left, but if you are looking for authentic R&B with a dash of the acoustic alternative, she should definitely be in your rotation. (iamindiashawn.com, Twitter: @indiashawn)
This was another artist I happen to stumble upon. Her beautiful tone reminded me so much of Amel Larrieux. The way she delivered Amy Winehouses “He Can Only Hold Her” not only made me more aware of the lyrics but also gave me new life for the song. “My Theme“ lived on repeat while another favorite “The Boy Who Cried Love” concept bled with originality. Imagine my surprise when I found out she self-wrote and produced the whole project. The EP is titled The Love/Art Memoirs and deserves a trip to a live performance as soon as I come across one. There is little info on her but with a project this so solid, it doesn't matter. (Twitter: @LoveAlexIsley EP: http://www.audiomack.com/album/alex-isley/the-loveart-memoirs-ep)
He is one of my favorite songwriters today due to his work with Danity Kane, Kelly Rowland and Mya. I had no idea he would come with one of the most innovative projects I’ve ever heard. #Beats2Breakup2 is pure creativity. The EP is a collection of break up songs over break beats with the confessions of a working entertainer reflecting on both good and bad relationships. Descriptive lyrics are a given for this caliber of a writer; but the melodic break beats took me back to the early 90s R&B days when remixes consisted of redoing the song over a hip-hop break beat (ie. early Mary J and Jodeci), but also lends contemporary vocal arrangements, concepts and melodies. Every musician can relate to “Made You Break Up With Me,” which starts off with the line, “first let me apologize, for mixing business with love, I should have sacrificed” and goes a completely unexpected direction. “ Couldn't Be Love,” captures the bittersweet-ness of a needed break up I am sure everyone knows about. What I appreciate the most is this project seemed more like creative expression than a promo tool for an upcoming album release. (poohbearmusic.com, Twitter: @poohbearMDMA)
More to come…….