4275, Jacqueez, & the Complicated, Divided Future of R&B

 Evan Dale // Jun 18, 2018 

2017 was a banner year for neo-soul and Rhythm & Blues. There is no sound debate resulting in another style’s sonic texture boasting the year as its own. A smattering of debut releases from the next generation of vocal greats in combination with a harmonizing blend of productive experimentation saw a complete redefinition of genre and a grand leap forward in R&B and neo-soul’s sonic innovation. The collection of artists and projects which were produced and released during 2017 have together ushered in the next Golden Era of the vocally-centered and emotionally capable stylistic endeavors. As we’ve stepped into 2018, further leaps forward with projects like SiR’s November and Ravyn Lenae’s Crush, as well as an unexpectedly refreshing release from The Weeknd have kept that momentum alive. 


Now in June, nearing the year’s halfway mark, we’re met with the next high-profile project bound by the tether of R&B, and it has us wondering just exactly if and where it fits in with the rest of the recent movement. 


For years, Jacquees has been an explosively popular figure in music, making his mark as the hyper-sexualized voice of the post-Lil Wayne era of Cash Money Records. Though his presence has only escalated in recent years, especially with the releases of 2016 breakout singles B.E.D. and Lost at Sea, the occurrences which defined 2017 and have continued to redefine music have shifted the R&B landscape wayward of Jacquees’ personal approach. His sound, which is one more reminiscent of the styling made popular by artists like Chris Brown, Trey Songz, and Jeremih was at the forefront of R&B when Jacquees started working his way towards 4275 – this, his debut full-length studio album. But now that we’ve received it, a new chapter in the long and distinguished Rhythm & Blues storybook has begun.


This is where the confusion comes in. Surely because Jacquees doesn’t stylistically align with the school of new-age R&B vocalists – Daniel Caesar, Sabrina Claudio, Brent Faiyaz, SiR, Otis Junior – we don’t simply dis-concern ourselves with his work and write off its value, do we? His project, by any metric other than that of the new generation and the specificities which define it – more musically thorough production and instrumentation, deeper explorations of theme and meaning, more traditionally-reminiscent (soul, funk, & Motown inspired) musicality – is an absolute hit. And by being non-progressive in its nature to further R&B in the same direction as its recent trends, 4275 is progressive in its makeup which is very much against what is now the expected grain.


This new wave of R&B can be seen as a direct result of the explosive careers of The Weeknd and Frank Ocean in combination with a duality of trends: one towards R&B’s roots in the spectrums of funk and Motown (think artists like Daniel Caesar and Otis Junior), and one towards R&B’s experimental future, laden heavily with electronic composition (think artists like Brent Faiyaz and SiR). Both trends have dictated that R&B be a less easily-defined spectrum, more commonly, like most of modern music, transcending a plethora of archaic stylistic bounds. 


The era that came before it, one keynoted by Birthday Sex, Motivation, and Bottoms Up, holds true to its core a very different set of musical, emotional, and applicable values. Built upon the foundation of the previous generations of classic R&B with artists like T-Pain, Pretty Ricky, R. Kelly, and Boyz 2 Men, R&B was, and obviously still is, very different from the futurist movement of neo-soul and new R&B artists. 


There is of course room, arguably more so, for an artist like Jacquees who by his very musicality, is of a different stylistic definition than what is at this point trending and popular. He is undoubtedly the most influential, and perhaps the only true young R&B vocalist today bound to the previous traditionally-defined generation. Not only does that make him an important artist with a great deal of say into the future of the genre’s direction, it also makes 4275 a classic of a bygone era and perhaps the spark that ignites a new movement of retro-futurism in Rhythm & Blues – one built on the outlandish and hyper-sexualized flamboyancy of a previous epoch. 


We should also say that such words don’t come lightly, and neither does the ultimately successful career of a young vocalist going against the grain of his peers. Jacquees has earned this success, Jacquees carries the torch of the becomingly estranged because he has the talent, the support and the innovative approach to do so. 4275 is a damn good album. Even for those who call themselves R&B fans for the music of new school, the project is blessed with exceptional vocalism, top-tier production, and plenty of instrumental and emotional nods to the more transcendental future of music.