The world is constantly blessed with provocative collaborations from artists across differing ends of the music spectrum. These joint projects bring audiences together from far and wide and allow for the growth of artists in ways they could never have hoped to achieve alone. Sometimes collaborations bring sounds together that are truly bold and inventive, and others highlight the beauty of capturing similar and cohesive vibes within a single space. There are no right or wrong pairings of artists, only right or wrong ways for them to work with each other’s strengths and come together to produce something new.
Some of the most sought after features in the international realm of music are R&B singers who bring with them some of the best vocals that the world has to offer. Just as there are no bad pairings, only bad results, there are no bounds for the success seen with R&B collaborators. Rock, jazz, hip-hop, electronic, funk, you name it, have all produced excellent results with the helping hand of an R&B vocalist. Of course, all styles have seen cringe-worthy results as well.
But as R&B continues its growth skyward and artists are pursued even further for their talents, something relatively non-existent seems to be collaborations created from within the genre itself. If these artists are so willing to work with rappers, electronic producers, jazz quartets, rock bands, and whoever else, why is there almost no representation of R&B artists collaborating with one another?
Perhaps the styles of different artists would be too difficult to mesh. Perhaps the genre’s audience is too small to support a collaborative project between two R&B artists. Perhaps R&B artists have been typecast as features and not as the main attraction in joint projects. But at this point in music history, with the current success of R&B in the mainstream and as a strong, independent genre, the only thing stopping a plethora of beautiful collaborations is the fact that they simply haven’t happened yet. So, let’s move to make it begin right now.
And to kick things off, let’s employ the talent of one of history’s greatest artists. Someone who eats, sleeps, and breathes rhythm and blues while at the same time being particularly unique and influential on the direction not only of R&B, but of all music. Someone who is revered by the R&B, hip-hop, funk, jazz, and rock communities alike and someone that any artist would find themselves lucky and greatly improved if given the opportunity of his collaboration. Let’s start with D’Angelo, and just to make things more interesting, also with his talented band, The Vanguard.
D’Angelo’s influence on music goes back more than two decades with the release of his 1995 debut album, Brown Sugar. The album’s self-titled masthead track as well as Lady have stood especially well against the tests of time and are today considered the matches that struck the flame for an artist that would come to define an entire genre. Smooth, jazzy production and the heart melting falsetto beautifully broken in delivery – D’Angelo’s signature – was mastered even at the time of his entrance into the music scene, and the world was instantly brought to his attention.
But with the exceptional acclaim of Brown Sugar came an unfortunate trend in the rhythm and blues spectrum – an unwanted over-sexualization of D’Angelo and his music by way of corporate higher-ups at his label. When he released Voodoo in 2000 along with the particularly NSFW video for Untitled, the world was once again blown away by his talent, albeit a little taken aback by the risqué direction of the project. And in response to unwanted attention and reputation, D'Angelo disappeared. For the first few years, the music scene assumed he was working on something new, after 5 or so, fans were genuinely concerned, and after a decade, the world had written an obituary on D'Angelo's artistry and musicianship.
But in December of 2014, something unexpected happened. Out of nowhere D'Angelo released an album, Black Messiah, as the frontman to rock/funk/jazz band, the Vanguard, and the direction of music would forever be changed. To this day, it is one of the most influential projects of the last decade, inspiring music across all genres and raising the bar of R&B to new heights.
In response to these new expectations, R&B artists have only released more dedicatedly impressive music with each passing year. 2017 was no exception. In fact, 2017 was probably the most exciting year ever for the R&B scene. It's hard to even put into perspective how many young artists released acclaimed projects last year. Daniel Caesar's Freudian, Brent Faiyaz's Sonder Son, DVSN's Morning After, SiR's Her Too, Otis Junior & Dr. Dundiff's Hemispheres, Alxndr London's Today, Sonder's Into, JMSN's Whatever Makes You Happy, Olivier St. Louis' Ever Since The Fall, and the others I have surely failed to mention all succeeded in continuing the changing pace and quality of R&B for the better that was ignited with the release of D'Angelo's Black Messiah. The production, instrumentation, vocals, and lyrics are all at levels that were unseen before D'Angelo changed the game, and his unique sound has simply opened the door for artists to comfortably experiment and make the genre one of the most progressive in all of modern music.
Another 2017 project that was exceptionally strong came last January by way of British soul vocalist, Joel Culpepper. Tortoise, his debut album, was able to reach a level of energy rarely seen in the relatively low-key, laid-back styling of R&B thanks to its heavy funk influences - undoubtedly inspired by Black Messiah. Taking a new direction with the soulful, funky R&B, Culpepper's chandelier-shattering high range and powerful delivery make him stand from the pack. One listen to the track Woman will provide you with an example to what I'm talking about.
Culpepper may also be one of the most fun-loving artists making R&B music at the moment, once again due to his soul and funk influences. His music is upbeat, fast-paced, and bubbly especially in comparison with a genre defined by slow love ballads, lustful baby-makers, and gentle senses of groove. Though many of his music adresses similar themes, his broadly influenced style makes him an artist difficult to define as just R&B. Like many artists today, he lives perpetually in grey areas between standard genres - a trait that makes collaborative music all the more possible.
The addition of his sound and style to D'Angelo would result in soulful fireworks, sparked by their unparalleled deliveries and made beautiful by their unique approaches to the collection of genres at which they excel, while The Vanguard's jazzy, funky tune would play as the ultimate backdrop behind both Culpepper and D'Angelo bring such bouncy energy and vocal talent that the collaboration at the end of the day, is a no brainer and Collab Elation would be simply guaranteed.