As much as there is to love about the uber-romantic and hyper-sexual exploits that many of today's most celebrated vocalists find themselves increasingly fond of, there will always be a large piece of the music scene cut out for hardship and heartbreak. All of us can relate to the blue tone of the sadder artists, and all of us have fallen victim to the mental, emotional, and even physical effects of drowning ourselves in a pool of depressing poetry. It can be as addicting, healing, or damaging as any prescription. Like flipping through an old photo album, talking with friends and family for the first time in too long, or binge watching The Notebook, immersing ourselves in the music of the emotionally downtrodden can be a key part of the healing process or just the occasional case of self-indulgence. Long story short, there is no reason to privatize those "crying" playlists - they should be collaborative, shared, and celebrated with the rest of them, because the artists capable of creating such strong personal connections and evoking such intense emotions have a skill set perhaps more difficult to come by than any other.
One of our favorite artists fitting of the bill, in fact the musician we named as Artist of the Year for 2017, is the incomparable Brent Faiyaz. There are not many young artists in music, there are not many artists in general, with a more genuine and fresh skill set. An emerging voice in the R&B circuit, a leader of the young generation of soul vocalists who perhaps lay claim to the most promising future in all of music, a bold re-envisionist of ever-changing electronic music culture, and one hell of a collaborative partner for those lucky enough to have him, Brent Faiyaz is, to be blunt, the most exciting and underrated artist today.
It's not his skill set and his résumé alone that make him worthy of such a title, it's his ability to bring honesty, emotion, and innovation to everything he touches. His debut solo album, the 2017 Sonder Son, isn't an R&B project pumped full of explicit and suggestive tracks, over-the-top tear-jerkers, or unnecessary attempts at flexing. Rather, it's a story - his story - which rallies emotion and energy throughout its course with truthful and simplistic portrayals of life and its hardships.
He is in possession of a voice which so easily conveys an emotional range from elation to depression, that even without his sincere and moving lyricism, his music would bring with it the raw power to incline people's feelings towards his will - or rather, the will of his music. There is an undeniable air of relatability also present in his sound. Though produced to perfection and sung with a voice only nature could craft, his music is tethered to a reality not so different from yours or mine. And this is where his ability to connect to his listeners - a trait necessary for any emotionally-inclined artist - is matched by only a few.
One of whom, is SZA. When she released her first project in 2012, introducing herself to the world as a vocalist with an incredible amount of promise, not even the truest of fans could have predicted where she would end up just a half-decade later. With the release of her much-anticipated and many-in-the-making 2017 debut album, cntrl, SZA made a statement strong enough to argue in favor of her as a, if not the, queen of modern R&B. Simultaneously, it would seem she has also, through the emotional power of cntrl, made an uncontested claim as the queen of heartbreak. Though lighthearted and bubbly in many ways, the album reaches on a universal level of romantic woes. And in one way or another, every one of us has at least a pocket full of sour love stories.
She just happened to take her personal collection of stories – desires, sexual encounters, jealousy, and heartbreak – and turn them into an artful and thoughtful project, not to mention a handful of Grammy nominations. The acclaim is understandable and really, should be expected from this point forward in her career. And it’s not her new and improved standing in the music realm that will undoubtedly continue to earn that acclaim either. Nor is it her top-tier signing to TDE. It’s her incredibly wide-ranging and soulful vocal delivery, her ability to shift flows and even stylings at the drop of a dime, commonly exhibiting her R&B, rap, and more pop-centered approach all in the course of one song, and above all else, it’s her approachable sense of honesty and relatability, that, like Brent Faiyaz, grants her a deep-rooted and personal connection with her audience.
Personal connection, which happens only through the lens of emotional relatability and attachment, is not a skill that can be taught or bought. It is instead something deep inside artists like Brent Faiyaz and SZA, who, regardless of their unrelatable levels of talent and positioning in the public arena, are able to portray their stories and convey their emotions in a way that feels more like a letter from a friend or a conversation over white wine than it does the music made for an audience of millions. In combination with their tendencies to cover the great thematics survived through all of music history like love, lust, loss, family, friends, and overcoming personal struggle, Brent Faiyaz and SZA have made themselves into something much greater than simply artists with the utmost of talent. Their music is a shoulder to cry on, a crutch to lean on, and a storybook filled with tales of struggles and successes that all of us can relate to. Artists like them are our therapists, our friends, and our family.
Underlying themes of approachability and connection, and a common bond shared between two great vocalists and musicians are the things that would make a collaboration between the two possible. What would make the possibility of a joint track or project so powerful lies in their differences. Brent Faiyaz boasts a softer, more undertone, and more broken sense of self-expression through his vocals and his subject matter while SZA is in possession of a style more rooted in confidence, power, and sex. The two would have no problem with musical chemistry and their broad reaches to the ends of the thematic spectrum would find middle ground probably nested on simple hardship and heartbreak – their specialties – causing them no trouble reaching and connecting with both of their existing fan bases on a new level, and creating incredible music in the process.