In the 50’s and 60’s, R&B was the root of Rock, Funk, and Soul. It evolved to its Golden Era, starting in the late 60’s and moving through the 70’s, with Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Prince, and so on. As Hip Hop took hold in the 80’s, R&B spent some time figuring itself out and putting out great music in the process with early synth acts, New Jack Swing, Hip Hop Soul, and Neo Soul. I absolutely adore today’s voices such as Erykah Badu, Alicia Keys, John Legend, and Jill Scott who now sit comfortably in the Pantheon of R&B/Soul music. These folks present a range of topics and production approaches that can rival the kings and queens of the 70’s.
Yet, what fascinates me is that mainstream R&B feels bound by other popular genres, or even its own legacy. New Jack Swing/Hip Hop Soul is totally co-oping to make it appealing to younger audiences. From Mary J Blige to Ne-Yo, there is an element of beats and video that mimics aesthetics set by Hip Hop. “Neo” Soul similarly ascribes to ‘bringing it back’ and reinstating more organic productions and instruments to mimic the Golden Era. By no means am I stating there is a lack of originality in these subgenres, there has been gorgeous work on these two fronts. But when there is a blatant sense of ‘backwards to go forwards’ or co-opting, I begin to wonder.
On this note, I want to present to you a small list of what I consider to be 3rd Stream R&B. Just as Hip Hop took elements of its past and moved it soooo forward, that new elements began to appear as a evolutionary result (futurism, time/space manipulation, wordplay, culture). These tracks, artists or songs, present to me that ‘future’ which Hip Hop took us all by surprise with. Most of these were chosen for their innovative production, choice of sounds/samples, artistic difference to the mainstream, use of voice, and ability to reinvestigate their predecessors in new ways. In certain respects this music is no different from their mainstream counterparts. Yet, they are not given as much radio play, and therefore I feel they deserve some shine.
Platinum Pied Pipers – “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” Triple P
Tight with Dilla and have the Detroit connection, these dues are pretty traditional, but they bring some funk and groove that I don’t really hear too much. For this list I’d pick their tracks with Tiombe Lockheart, but I remember their cover of “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” being dropped at Fluid in Philly and KILLING the dancefloor so here it is. Beautiful Bossa style rhythm at the club cannot go wrong!
Aloe Blacc – “Are You Ready” Shine Through
Respect for throwing in his Panamanian roots in his cover of “Ordinary People” and “Panama”. But I think he does his best on some very unique sampling and drumming production on “Dance for Life” or “Are you Ready”. He is bold enough to cover Sam Cooke’s “Long Time Coming” to great effect!
Flying Lotus – “Tea Leaf Dancers” Reset EP
FlyLo is a don and pretty much the next level in Hip Hop instrumental production, coming in the graduating class after Madlib and Dilla.
Vikter Dupliax – "Morena" International Affairs
I consider him to be the most ‘traditional’ of this list. But he does come with some experimentals with “Pure” and “Morena”. It’s interesting that he doesn’t get too much mainstream play, as his lyrics are pretty much designed to getting ass.
Stacy Epps – “Floatin” The Awakening
Beautiful vocal strings float around while her voice flies between them, stunning. And, she flows too!
Foreign Exchange – “Daykeeper” - Leave it All Behind
While the entire album is pretty traditional, “Sweeter Than You” and “Daykeeper” bring lush strings and synths alongside some very nice rolling drum breaks. I’m impressed with Phonte’s ability to carry a tune.
With retro tracks like “Amerykah’s Promise”, modern production such as “Soldier” to total blissful wonky vibes of “Twinkle”, it’s wonderful to see a mainstream artist push forward.
Erykah Badu – “Twinkle” New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)