Breaking Down A Few Of Today's Male "Indie R&B" Artists

By: Andrew Barnett
Auburn University at Montgomery
Department of Communication & Dramatic Arts

R&B has evolved a lot over the past 66 years, from the sweet soul music of the sixties, to disco in the mid seventies. The eighties brought us New Jack Swing, while the 1990’s produced Neo-Soul. There have been many artists, solo and groups, who have enjoyed success thanks to the R&B genre.
The R&B of the 21st century is much different from its predecessor from the last century. The singing is not as natural thanks to technology and engineering. Most noticeably, “love” is not the main focus of the music anymore.
Over the years there have been waves of different artists to burst into the R&B scene at the same time. The current artists that are getting radio play are The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, August Alsina, Miguel, and Ty Dolla $ign. Some have labeled these artists’ style of music as “PBR&B,” “R-Neg-B” or “Indie R&B.”
All of these guys bring something different to the table and have fan bases that are closely connected to their content.

We were first introduced to Miguel on Blue & Exile’s 2007 classic album, Below The Heavens as a featured artist by the name of Miguel Jontel. He’s also known for his infamous leg drop at the 2013 Billboard music awards which caused a social media frenzy.
Miguel has the most traditional R&B sound out of the newer guys with his smooth production. Some of his music has a timeless sound to it and at times, features sounds that are throwbacks to the classic R&B grooves. But his most recent album Wildheart has more of an alternative R&B sound that seems to be heavily influenced by Prince. His most successful song to date, “Adorn” is over two times platinum.

Frank Ocean bubbled under the radar as a songwriter before aligning himself with Odd Future and releasing his first single “Novocaine” in 2011. His mixtape turned album, Nostalgia; Ultra was a critically acclaimed project and set the landscape for his career to take off. After dropping his highly successful single, “Thinking About You” in 2012, Frank Ocean revealed to the world that he was bisexual, which caused quite the stir on social media. He then went on to drop his Grammy nominated album, Channel Orange.
Frank’s strong suit is that he is an incredible songwriter with great, thought-provoking lyrics. He may not have the best voice but his words are very intricate. The singer has been mostly inactive since the release of his debut album up until this past April when he announced that he will be dropping a new album this year.

The Weeknd was introduced to us by Drake, especially when he released his “Trust Issues” remix and “Crew Love” from Drake’s Take Care album. He released three separate mixtapes, “Thursday,” “House Of Balloons,” and “Echoes Of Silence.” He eventually took these three mixtapes and combined them to create an album called The Trilogy.
The Weeknd’s early content was laced with explicit lyrics and not many expressions of love at all. But he uses his airy voice mixed with his infectious harmonies, to offset any of his weaknesses in the songwriting area. This year has been highly successful for The Weeknd, as his song “Earned it” appeared on the 50 Shades Of Grey soundtrack. His latest single “Can’t Feel My Face” is currently receiving an enormous amount of radio play and chart success.

August Alsina was first introduced to us on Lloyd’s “Swimming Pools” remix from his 2012 mixtape “Playboy Diaries.” From there his career took off from dropping songs and covers of popular rap songs, most notably “Bandz A Make Her Dance” August got signed to Def Jam and released “I Luv This Sh*t” that took off and gained massive radio play. His debut album Testimony enjoyed decent chart success.
August probably is the most vocally impressive out of these five. With a natural singing voice, his songs are filled with emotion and real life stories. He kind of gives off a vibe similar to Lyfe Jennings when he sings about his struggles and history of a crime infested lifestyle in New Orleans. “Thugged Out R&B ” is what you might call it. He also happens to be the youngest out of all of these guys at the age of 23.
Ty Dolla $ign was first introduced to us on YG’s 2010 single “Toot It and Boot It.” Ty has a keen talent for creating melodies and harmonies and he is definitely the best at it out of these five. His content is almost the same as a lot of rap songs. Ty’s style is not based around love or even relationships for that matter.
Ty also happens to be good producer, and you can really hear his talent for creating melodies and harmonies in his beats. His background vocals and ad-libs are really top-notch.

These five artists are a representation of what mainstream R&B is at the moment and gives you an idea of what to expect when you turn the radio to an R&B/Hip Hop station. There are other R&B artists out there that are making great music on the underground scene such as James Fauntleroy, BJ The Chicago Kid, Javonte, Preston Harris, and others.
As R&B continues to evolve we will see what type of staying power these artists have and how they are able to develop over time.