A new day for R&B has dawned. A wave of recently released rhythm and blues albums contribute to a compelling dynamic that does not stray too far from its origins, but has developed contemporarily. Neo-soul is a fusion of jazz, funk, hip hop and hints of African beats — all in all, a more modern take on R&B. Many new artists have released individual projects, including Steve Lacy’s self titled demo, Syd’s Fin and Sampha’s Process, which are beginning to curate the R&B industry to fit their own mold by including hints of their innermost selves into their work. Those recently released projects all showcase the versatility of neo-soul, making them incomparable in talent and creativity.
At only 18 years old, Lacy, bass guitarist and producer from the band The Internet, released a critically acclaimed demo and produced their Grammy nominated album, Ego Death. The young artist has humbly stayed out of the spotlight by only performing background vocals and instrumentals for The Internet until this year. In February of 2017, Lacy received multiple accolades for his short, self-titled demo inspired by the likes of Frank Ocean, Solange Knowles and Anderson .Paak. However, what is baffling is the potential he has to become an influential R&B artist at such a young age. Lacy’s savvy style is uncanny, soulful and easily distinguishable in every track released with The Internet, yet he was able to establish a new sound on his demo without subverting his work on Ego Death. The soft, sultry neo-soul aspects are evident in the demo but subtle traces of psychedelic pop also materialize, accompanied by his velvety vocals. Lacy’s fresh take on R&B makes him a perfect fit for The Internet, where all the members have separate projects that exemplify their unique talents, but they still manage to remain cohesive as a group. Lacy’s work left me looking forward to a solo project through which his talents can continue to manifest.
The lead singer of The Internet, Sydney “Syd Tha Kyd” Bennett, also released her highly anticipated solo album, Fin, which exhibited a more personal side of the artist. Raised in California, Bennett’s passion for music solidified at a young age due to her family’s involvement in the music industry. She first received recognition by being a part of a rap group with her brother Ty, and Odd Future, but eventually branched off to establish The Internet. The Internet’s momentum following Ego Death provided the perfect timing for Bennett to release “Body” as a preview of her solo album. The sensual song suggests exactly what Syd claimed the song was intended for — “baby making.” Her album is reminiscent of the sultry 90s R&B that focused on the strife and romance within relationships, but instead of the hypermasculinity that subtly underlines these songs, Syd sings of queer love and other intimate themes. With tracks like “Know,” hinting at the secrecy of an affair and “Got Her Own,” admiring a woman’s independence giving the album an amourous semblance.
Slightly more off the spectrum from the independent R&B genre sit the melancholic sounds of Sampha, who is a solo artist from England. He was initially recognized for his background vocals in Knowles’ critically acclaimed A Seat at the Table, along with projects with Drake, Kanye West and Ocean. The England native has a reclusive persona that aligns with his previously released eerily introspective and mysterious songs. His debut album, Process, allows followers into Sampha’s spiritual mind. The sad ballads croon about his pain after losing his parents. In “No One Knows Me Like the Piano,” Sampha sings about his instant connection to music after his father purchased a family piano when Sampha was three years old. The song is also a tribute to his mother, who passed away from terminal cancer. With lyrics like “An angel by her side, all of the times I knew we couldn’t cope,” Sampha showcases significance of the piano and music as an escape from the harsh reality of coping with loss.
Each of these artists are pioneering and revolutionizing R&B as we know it, allowing their individualistic approaches to fit the mold of the genre while simultaneously establishing contemporary understandings. With those artists experimenting with traditional genres, old and new fans alike can kick it with these new sounds. Allowing R&B to continuously develop while remaining classic invites listeners with different tastes to delve in and enjoy. I eagerly await more of their work as these artists continue to pave stylistic and unconventional paths while adding to the neo-soul genre.