Alternative R&B: Much more than bump’n’grind

The girls and guns formula of traditional R&B has grown tired. Now a new wave of talent has arrived to reinvent the form and challenge listeners

With its lyrics focused on popping bottles of expensive champagne and partying with beautiful models (see R Kelly’s recent album, Black Panties), R&B has become somewhat unrelatable. Step forward, alternative R&B.

2014 is shaping up to be the year of alt-R&B or “PBR&B” (a play on Pabst Blue Ribbon, the US hipster beer of choice), a sound that breaks with traditional R&B by including influences from electronic, ambient and alternative indie music, as well as dubstep and some hip-hop. Key attributes are a lo-fi yet richly textured sound, ample use of atmospheric synths, occasional samples from indie music and thoughtful, often dark, philosophical lyrics.

This new development music is spurred both by fans’ demand for change, and by the artists themselves. After the commercial success of David Guetta pulled a large portion of R&B artists towards a new, club-oriented sound, fans are bored, and artists and producers are becoming more experimental and keen to break with tradition. “R&B had been pigeonholed by a lot of music fans as this bland, fairly tiresome music form, which wasn’t particularly innovating and was dominated by a few artists that frankly had little left to say,” explains George Ergatoudis, Head of Music at BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra.

The year 2011 was a turning point, when music makers began to break with convention, leading to the emergence of some of the key artists that have defined the alt-R&B sound. Frank Ocean’s February 2011 mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, was the first to hit, featuring samples of MGMT and Radiohead. A month later, The Weeknd, aka the Canadian vocalist Abel Tesfaye, released the first of three mixtapes, now known collectively as Trilogy, also heavily relying on samples.

Then, in 2012, Ocean’s critically acclaimed debut album, Channel Orange, a showcase of poetic, deeply personal lyrics sung in soulful melodies, over genre-blending production, pioneered a new sound. Heralding a more futuristic era of R&B, its authenticity appealed to listeners.

These artists inspired a new wave of talent to dabble and experiment around R&B music. “More and more producers and artists are willing to bring new influences, sounds and styles to R&B, leading to a reinvention of the genre,” states Ergatoudis. “And in terms of the exponential growth and influence of it, 2014 is the turning point year in which a number of alt-R&B artists are going to have a shot at crossing over into the mainstream.”

Miguel

Miguel described his 2012 album, Kaleidoscope Dream, as “avant soul” and is widely considered  a leading example of alt-R&B.  He summed up the musical shift  to the LA Times: “I hope more artists who are R&B at the core and pushing the boundaries will join me in embracing the fact that [the genre] did become a stereotype.”

This year sees his return and, according to George Ergatoudis, Head of Music at BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra, it’s going to be noteworthy.

He says: “Based on what I’ve heard, by the end of the year Miguel is going to be a household name.”

Kwabs

A former jazz student at the  Royal Academy of Music, Kwabs’ soul-stirring baritone vocals, teamed with the gritty electronic sound of Vienna-via-London  producer Sohn, have led to must-hear tracks “Last Stand” and his latest single, “Wrong or Right”.

The Ghanaian-born Kwabs (short for Kwabena) has a live set already more accomplished than many old timers. According to Ergatoudis, “Kwabs is a key artist to watch.” His fans include India Arie, Jessie Ware, Laura Mvula  and Plan B, whom he supported  on tour in 2012.

Banks

LA singer-songwriter Banks starts 2014 on a high after a triumphant 2013. Her well-received London EP – also featuring the production of Sohn – led to a support slot on The Weeknd’s tour, with many describing her as his female  counterpart. She came third in  the BBC Sound of 2014 list, and Ergatoudis has her tipped for mainstream success: “There’s  a real commerciality there, despite the music coming from an alternative perspective.” Look out for brooding melodies and sultry  vocals on her debut album, due this year, and a tour next month.

Kelela

The DC-born, LA-based singer-songwriter Kelela was a huge  hit on the blogosphere after  releasing her Cut 4 Me mixtape last autumn. A pure R&B vocalist singing raw lyrics centred on heartbreak over glitchy, experimental productions, she has said that her music “is not just weird, it’s deliberately off-putting”.

She has toured with Solange [Knowles], whose big sister Beyoncé is also a fan: the R&B  superstar featured Kelela on  her Beyhive blog.

Sampha

South London’s Sampha Sisay  will be taking centre stage in  2014, after playing second fiddle  to his A-list collaborators. Having worked extensively with SBTRKT and Jessie Ware, he was handpicked by Drake to appear on “The Motion” and “Too Much”, from his Nothing Was the Same album.

His pared-back electronica beats, coupled with rich and  emotional vocals, were showcased on his EP, Dual, released on the influential indie label Young Turks last year. As skilful a producer as musician, Sampha is also  rumoured to be working in the studio with Solange Knowles.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor