In these dark times of pop music, two of R&B’s seminal masterminds have emerged from the shadows and injected a little class into America’s pop lexicon. New singles from two of the most commercially successful acts in recent memory, Destiny’s Child and Justin Timberlake are backed by production from Pharrell and Timbaland respectively, and rather than buckling to the “EDM”-tainted sound that characterizes most of today’s radio smashes, both producers provide soulful, gritty pieces of future-oriented revivalism that make me smile.
As a genre, R&B possesses a futurism that is firmly rooted in music tradition, one of the traits that make it so critically satisfying. Old soul samples are juxtaposed against contemporary crooning, making for a rich listening experience that appeals to people young and old. In the world of half-assed electro house beats and Jason Derulo, that populist appeal is smothered by a digital sheen; cheap thrills take the place of musicality in a more traditional sense. 2013’s first two big budget singles utterly abandon the oppressive polish of the pop output of the past few years and bring back the realness. A sexy swing knocks the barrage of over-compressed kick drums out of the spotlight and I think the world is a slightly better place as a result.
Hit the jump for the full review…
Stream: Destiny’s Child – “Nuclear”
“Nuclear”, the first output from Destiny’s Child in 8 years, is a track about kinship, love, shared dreams and maintaining a relationship over time, quite fitting subject material for the capstone track of a DC best-of compilation. Pharrell handles the production, but if the credits tell a true story, the creation of the track was a very collaborative affair, with Michelle Williams receiving a songwriting co-credit and Beyonce co-credited for the vocal production (WHICH IS AWESOME). The track is dripping in the jazzy tonalities of the Neptunes’ production cannon, and the bouncy jazz chords are complimented nicely by a deep, subtle 808 kick, some boomy break beat drums, and a swinging hi-hat, all of which are programmed with a humanity lacking in most contemporary drum sequencing. Knowles and vocal producer Lonny Bereal layer the trio’s vocal contributions into a cohesive whole, using the cutting-edge production tools of a big-budget release with refreshing artistry. The components of the track combine to create a song that doesn’t reveal everything on the first listen, a quality lost to most contemporary pop productions. Fuck it I just might watch the Super Bowl to see what these three ladies are going to do.
Stream: Justin Timberlake – “Suit & Tie” feat. Jay-Z
Next up, JT, a man with one of the most impressively graceful careers in my mental rolodex. Emerging from N’SYNC, part of a musical movement as critically reviled as the Guetta-izing of pop, he has managed to slowly but surely move into a position of almost universal acclaim because he has proven himself to be not only charismatic to the 10 – 16 year old demographic but also smart, funny, and above all a talented musician. He managed to create a very respectable “bad-boy” sex appeal without beating anyone over the head with it, and his latest, “Suit & Tie” just further reinforces that. In a confident, silky falsetto, he and fellow cultural monolith Jay-Z give us a friendly, pleasant reminder of how much cooler they are then us. It’s ok; they earned it.
“Suit & Tie” starts off with some crackling horn blasts, the opening hook is echoed by Timbaland’s own voice, and as soon the bounce of the verse sets in, you know the producer hasn’t lost a step. Rather than sacrifice his roots, Timbaland just stretches his sound into a beat epic enough to house the return of JT and the most expensive guest verse out there. The feel shuffles between a sexy half time groove and a dancefloor bounce, all punctuated with drums that sound straight out of a dusty crate. Nary a booming 808 kick is to be found; instead, a sampled bassline sets the defiantly swung groove of the tune. The mix bears all the cleanliness and motion of the work of today’s most technically formidable producers, but the overall feel is that of a master reworking the craft from which he built his renown. It felt like the future half a decade ago, but now that other producers have caught up, Timbaland’s recognition of tradition and what makes R&B satisfying to listen to shines through. Hopefully he re-enters the production arena with JT’s upcoming album in a fashion similar to his appearance with “Suit & Tie”, because we could all learn a little bit from the soul that drips from that track.