Remember the music video for "Untitled?" I do. It's borderline soft-core porn with nothing in the shot except D'Angelo, an upper torso and almost inappropriately chiseled waist line. It's an image that hasn't left me since it entered my pre-teen mind in 2000.
D'Angelo's "Untitled" (NSFW):
The history of R&B is far more storied than just a decade, but D'Angelo and other 90s R&B artists carved out a different breed. They took the basics, added a little new age soul, a whole lot of sex, and the golden-age of 90s R&B was formed.
The new sound took hold, launching D'Angelo into fame. But the public's fixation on the over-sexed man in "Untitled" ultimately drove D'Angelo off the deep end. He sunk into seclusion, turning his back on the neo-soul R&B empire he built.
Unfortunately, similar stories were far too common for many 90s R&B legends. In their place was a void; 11 years of misguided R&B with a handful of enticing options such as Usher, Aaliyha and John Legend. Most of the so-called R&B music, though, was an unappetizing mashup of soulful beats and not-so-soulful vocals.
Until now. D'Angelo is back.
He performed his first live show in 11 years in Stockholm Jan. 26. That show kicked off his European tour "The D-Tour," his first since his 2000 VooDoo Tour.
The rumor mill started in July 2011 when producer/Roots drummer Questlove started a rampant, but brief, Twitter strand hinting at working in the studio with D'Angelo and his upcoming return. In an interview in December with Pitchfork, ?uestlove confirmed D'Angelo was going on tour, and the rumors of an upcoming third album, titled James River, saying, "The album is pretty much 97% done."
D'Angelo's return comes at the right time, considering the recent path R&B music has taken. The past few years has produced a new crop of indie R&B acts that resemble the glory days of the 90s. Think more D'Angelo-like throw back beats and harmonizing, less pop-fueled, over-produced "R&B."
Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All threw a curve ball at the hip hop scene in 2007, demanding attention over the past year with their slew of talent and misbehavior. In 2009, they elicited the vocals of Christopher Breaux, better known as Frank Ocean.
Ocean gained recognition for his work with Jay-Z and Kanye West on Watch the Throne, but it was the self-release of his mix tape Nostalgia, Ultra in February 2011 that hints at this resurgence. "We All Try" is a testament to Ocean's talent, and the potential revival of the solid sounds of the 90s; smooth beats accompanied by sensual vocals. Ocean is set to release his first full-length album this spring.
Frank Ocean's "We All Try" (NSFW):
A little more rough-around the edges, but equally as enticing is Abel Tesfaye known as The Weeknd. Since March 2011, he has released three mixtapes (all available for download on his website) and is expected to have a full-length album out by the end of this year. Though The Weeknd plays with subtle dubstep in a handful of songs, his power ballads harken that sweet spot the genre had in the 90s. Akin to his hypersexual predecessors, The Weeknd's lyrics tread on the line of vulgarity with lines like, "She give me sex in a handbag/I got her wetter than a wet nap" from "House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls."
Listen to The Weeknd's "House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls:"
Though the legacy of 90s R&B will be hard to match, the emergence of artists like The Weeknd and Frank Ocean and the reemergence of D'Angelo suggest it might be possible. If good things come in threes, then this is a beautiful restart to an ideal throwback.