Abhi//Dijon's 2014 | Modernity's Most Defining Experimental R&B Album
Evan Dale // Nov 6, 2019
The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness, Jeremih’s Late Nights, Kehlani’s You Should Be Here, Bryson Tiller’s TRAPSOUL, Jazmine Sullivan’s Reality Show, Miguel’s Wildheart. 2015’s biggest R&B projects came from established veterans and newcomers alike that set out for one final explosion before a dramatic shift across the R&B and Neo-Soul spectrums to come. In the following years, a move away from the high-fidelity production and cinematic perfectionism gave birth to a modern wave defined more fervently by the likes of Daniel Caesar, Brent Faiyaz, Snoh Aalegra, and Raveena that relied less on pop-heavy linearity and rely more on subtle uniqueness, emotional understanding, and bouts of experimentation. But if existed any single unexpected project from 2015 that could have predicted the direction to come – and undoubtedly had influence on that change in direction at large – it’s Abhi//Dijon’s 2014.
Ignore the confusion in its title. 2014 was released in November of 2015 to a quiet room. At the same time that the then generation of R&B superstars were overprioritizing their market value, Abhi//Dijon – an unknown producer-vocalist duo from Maryland – were reinventing a wheel they had grown bored with.
Four years have gone by and we’re still spinning their sound.
At the time, 2014 was hardly defined as an R&B album. And even today, R&B itself is less definable then it was a half-decade ago. But its R&B-centered foundation was unmistakable. Dijon – the duo’s vocalist who is now an unstoppable force of electro-acoustic pseudo-R&B for a post-genre era – is thriving as a solo act whose similarly indefinable compatriots are all inhabiting the reconstruction zone of where once stood easily expressed Rhythm & Blues. And the most influential driving force behind the need for that reconstruction was the mellow, understated genius of 2014.
The album is subtle enough. Composed atop Dreamwave reminiscent ambience by way of Abhi’s graceful hand, Dijon floats effortlessly in and out of ghostly sampling and elongated keystrokes that without his presence would still thrive emotionally. Modern collaboratives like Sonder – made up of Brent Faiyaz, Dpat, and Atu – follow Abhi//Dijon’s very blueprint. The merging of electronica’s impossibly wide breadth with R&B wasn’t necessarily something new. The big-name vocalists and the bigger-name DJ’s had made tracks together before, but never were they dedicated to one another’s artistry for any reason other than to bank from it all. Abhi//Dijon worked effortlessly well within the bounds of one another. A true team. And 2014 was their introduction; was risk-taking electro-R&B’s introduction to a world begging for more substance from both scenes.
If 2014 were released today, it wouldn’t only hold up. It would probably thrive in the charts the same way that Caesar’s CASE STUDY 01, Leven Kali’s Low Tide, or Brent Faiyaz’s Lost found a big enough niche audience to become borderline mainstream; at least to an R&B / Neo-Soul circuit becoming a more recognizable force of experimental push with every passing day. After all, Abhi//Dijon are currently still racking up 100,00+ listeners a month more than three years removed from their latest collaborative release even while 2014’s biggest hit, Distant Love, just recently eclipsed one million streams.
That same consistency and unprecedented dedication to what was at the time a future sound is what drives Abhi//Dijon’s music and what drives the entirety of 2014’s thirty-minute soundscape.
In many ways, it feels like one, long-cut track. 2014’s vibes never recede below its ambient tide and never fly above its mellow, floaty horizons. Dijon’s vocals are much more kempt and consistent throughout the project than they are today, exploding with emotionality and vibrant range in singles like Nico’s Red Truck and throughout the duration of his 2019 debut solo project, Sci Fi 1. And Abhi’s production is unendingly consistent, pushing watery synths and bubbly electro-pop into every corner of 2014, never failing to ride a stable, but unavoidably emotional wave.
In so many ways, also laid the foundation for what has become R&B’s current pop heavy hitters. Artists like DVSN (who themselves are another producer-vocalist duo in the shadow of Abhi//Dijon’s makeup) and Khalid (whose heavy electro-pop influenced production was undeniably paved by projects like 2014 and their subsequence) have Abhi//Dijon to thank for changing the general direction of R&B and Neo-Soul four years ago, infiltrating the minds of R&B‘s next generation to instill experimental values and utilize form-fitting electronic production to their liking.
Today, in a market where the expectation is for producers to sing, for singers to rap, and for rappers to produce, a movement towards multitalented collaborations like Sonder and DVSN is becoming more prevalent. Full-time collaboration instills music and art with the kind of mutual understanding that lays the framework for something unique, experimental, genre-bending, and ultimately influential to take shape. And 2014, years ahead of its time musically, collaboratively, texturally, and innovatively was the most defining project in R&B and Neo-Soul’s change of heart and move towards sustenance.