Names like Michael Jackson, R. Kelly, Usher, Beyonce, and Alicia Keys have defined the contemporary R&B genre. Hits like “Ignition” and “Confessions” are examples of the greatness that this genre has produced since the new millennium. However, since the 2010s, the indie R&B subgenre has taken the spotlight. The typically upbeat feel-good music making of rhythms and blues has seen a shift primarily in production. The jazz and funk elements used between the 90s and early 2000s have taken a backseat in favor of electronic synthesizers and auto-tune.
The rise of indie R&B—more commonly known as alternative R&B—can be seen at specific points, like the releases of The Weeknd’s Trilogy and Frank Ocean’s Nostalgia Ultra. Both artists’ music were much more abstract compared to the bump-and-grind nature of R&B, sampling dream pop band Beach House and alternative rock band Radiohead. In the East Coast, hip-hop influenced sound of the 90s, which would be unheard of, but both men’s albums were starting points for growth within—and even branching out of—the R&B genre.
More recent examples of this genre expansion include Bryson Tiller’s T R A P S O U L, which blended the trap elements of hip-hop commonly used by artists like Future and soulful contemplations of newfound fame. Much like Tiller, there are other artists on the rise in the R&B subgenre that are even defining their own genre. Here are a few artists worth checking out:
Songs to check out: “Trivial Motion” · “Arrest Me” · “Always the Same”
Bio: Based in Portland, Oregon, Dan Vidmar—otherwise known as Shy Girls—has been slowly making a name for himself over the past few years. His first release came in the form of his Sex and the City EP in 2011. In 2013, he released his second EP, Timeshare,
which was voted as Portland Album of the Year by readers of Oregon Live. He followed up with his full-length debut mixtape, 4WZ, highlighted by his collaboration with indie pop singer Tei Shi on the highly sexually suggestive track “Arrest Me.” Two years later, Shy Girls released his first official album, Salt, which Apple Music described as “introspective bedroom R&B that floats between pleasure and pain.” Shy Girls’ first four releases have displayed his musical prowess and ability to masterfully weave R&B with pop, which is a good omen for his future as an artist.
Songs to check out: “My Way” · “XXX” · “Stay”
Bio: The second Portland native on this list has been stylistically compared to 2017 Grammy nominee PARTYNEXTDOOR. According to TYuS’ interview with yesjulz.com, the
comparison led to confusion as Soundcloud users took four songs from his page and shared it as a PARTYNEXTDOOR EP. Social media personality Karen Civil contributed to the shares, which led to TYuS’ Soundcloud plays skyrocketing. While being mentioned in the same company as PARTYNEXTDOOR and Bryson Tiller is by no means an insult, TYuS is a talented artist in his own right. After signing with Warner Bros., TYuS executed his
debut album Never Forget in October 2016. Highlights include “Faye,” a catchy tribute to his girlfriend; “My Way;” “Between Us;” and “Stay.” Considering TYuS is only 21 with a record deal and is mentioned in the company of some of the most popular artists out right now, he has a solid chance to become a household name within the next few years.
Songs to check out: “Jealousy” · “Gwan Big up Urself” · “Instinct”
Bio: Much like TYuS, Roy Wood$ is well-accomplished for his age. The 20-year-old Guyanese-Canadian was initially a high school football standout before multiple concussions forced him to rethink his career path. After his signing was confirmed by OVO Sound in summer 2015, Wood$’ released his six-track debut EP Exis. Almost a full year later, Wood$ made his full-length debut with Waking at Dawn. Sparked by dancehall-influenced lead single “Gwan Big Up Urself,” the album peaked at #11 on Billboard’s US Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums list. Rather than bask in the album’s success, Wood$ surprised
everyone at the end of 2016 with his second EP Nocturnal. His musical style and aggressive vocals have led to him being called rap’s Michael Jackson by Noisey. With three projects to his name in the span of a year-and-a-half, Wood$’ high workrate and production quality will do him wonders going forward.
Songs to check out: “Wanting You” · “Again” · “Personal”
Bio: To date, there is almost no information available about PLAZA besides his hometown being Toronto, Canada. Despite that, he has managed to generate buzz and a fanbase of over 3,000 followers on Soundcloud. The hazy atmospheric R&B on his One EP draws obvious comparisons to fellow Toronto natives Drake and The Weeknd. However, Plaza’s music is arguably smoother. One lacks variety in tempo and commits almost exclusively to a relaxed low-energy vibe instead. While an entirely downtempo project would typically be boring, Plaza manages to make the EP an enjoyable listen. Hopefully more information is revealed as the enigmatic Canadian is too promising of an artist to remain a mystery much longer.