Everyone knows that it takes more than just talent to blow up. There’s also usually a running man dance of branding, co-signs, and savvy management who guides artists to the top. Pure luck matters too. Until Drake flashed the YOLO signal for the Weeknd, the latter was just another anonymous MDMA-mangled R&B singer. Frank Ocean couldn’t get Def Jam to notice him until Tyler, the Creator (or said savvy management) did first. That’s not to slight their obviously unique perspectives or writing, but rather to help explain why they emerged as the R&B choice of people who don’t know from Brandy deep cuts.
Of course, there are people (like myself, Sach, many of the writers on this site), who have liked R&B since K-Ci and Jojo explained how to get girls to come and talk to them. In my case, this led to many an awkward Bar-Mitzvah encounter. But there’s no denying that a lot of the genre can seem generic and Ocean and The Weeknd put a fresh twist on the tropes that had been circulating since the days of Silk. I don’t know Brandy deep cuts because the singles didn’t make me want to dig deeper. I’ll ride for the “Boy is Mine,” but it doesn’t mean that I have to have watched the extra scenes on Moesha Season 2 to know good from bad. What’s evident to all but Solange is that R&B is in a more interesting place now than it was a few years ago.
With the rise of Ocean, The Weeknd, Drake, and to a lesser extent Jeremih, the media has adhered to it’s usual model. It picks a few stars with either major label backing, narratives, or both, and rarely mentions their gifted lesser hyped counterparts. Two of the more glaring oversights in 2012 were the Windy City raised BJ The Chicago Kid and Jesse Boykins III. The former attracted attention for his collaborations with Kendrick Lamar, but little for his excellent Pineapple Now & Laters. While the later presumably escaped recognition because no one wanted to hear the croon of the younger brother of Earl Boykins (I am making the blood lineage up. I think). But Boykins was perhaps the best unsung singer of the past 12 months, popping up on the Zodiac record to kill The Weeknd in his own lane and releasing Zulu Guru on Ninja Tune with MeLo-X.
Since it’s Ninja Tune, Zulu Guru arrived with an ancillary disc of remixes, including contributions from Jacques Greene and Machinedrum (who tours with Boykins in the band, The Beauty Created.) In particular, Greene’s remix has been playing on endless loop. It’s a melancholy rainy day house jam to be playing inside the house. It’s called “The Perfect Blues” and that might be the most on-the-nose name for a song I’ve ever heard in a while. The rest of the album is good too, but this is what I can’t get out of my head. It’s the sort of song that should have topped year-end lists, but it was mostly ignored. I only stumbled upon it in a Rinse FM show from Lucky Me. But it’s a reminder that there’s a lot of excellent genre-smashing soul music that extends well outside of the PBR axis. So I will drink to that.