Three of the best RnB albums I have heard in a very long time were all released in 2012: Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream and The Weeknd’s Trilogy.
(Before any of you hip mother fuckers tries to tell me that The Weeknd doesn’t count: I don’t want to hear it. If this dude wants to re-release his three mix-tapes and an album, that’s his prerogative. As far as I’m concerned, its not released until I can buy it with money. Additionally, get off my porch, pull your pants up, turn that music down, etc etc etc.)
All three of these albums are great in unique ways. Channel Orange seems like an homage to the “RnB really means something” power of the mid 70s. Kaleidoscope Dream is much more traditional in its messages while being very progressive and exciting in its production and delivery of said messages. Miguel really wants to fuck you, which is not exciting, but the ways in which he talks about wanting to fuck you are very exciting. Trilogy is the other side of Miguel’s fuck-happy coin in that it’s all smokey, moody music, thinly-veiled angry, strung-out hangovers and observations on modern nihilism.
Buying and liking any of these albums is a good idea. Buying and liking all three is an even better idea. Picking a favorite is fine too, as long as you are willing to say the following things about yourself.
Choosing Frank Ocean Means You Buy the Hype and You Don’t Really Know Your History.
Right before Channel Orange came out, Frank Ocean came out, too. Kind of.
Ocean released a cryptic missive on his website hours before the album hit the e-shelves giving enough information for everyone to know that, for a time, Ocean was in love with a man, but not really saying much beyond that.
When people read this, they immediately freaked out. Most of what I read was positive and, in the wake of this “confession,” reviewers heralded Ocean as a visionary voice of a generation who was breaking new ground in the world of RnB unseen since Marvin Gaye.
This is pretty high fucking praise, to be sure.
Ocean certainly has an interesting perspective and should be lauded for the subtle and mature way in which he crafts his songs. Additionally, anyone who comes out as anything other than a Shaft-esque ladies man in the Black community should be celebrated. Channel Orange is most certainly one of the best albums of the year, an exciting cross-over thatcould bring new fans to the genre.
That being said, it’s hard not to feel like the message was more a well-timed proptional push than it was a cleansing of the soul (I mean, maybe it was, but the timing is dubious). The album is overlong, a little slow at parts and is certainly not the work of a fully-realized, fully-arrived artist. Ocean is very good, and he could be great, even the best, in time, but he isn’t there yet.
Choosing Miguel Means You Aren’t Afraid to Do Some Damage in the Pursuit of The Things You Want
Miguel wants to be Prince. Like, really, really badly wants to be Prince. So badly, in fact, that he named one of his songs on Kaleidoscope Dream “Pussy is Mine,” which I’m pretty sure you can’t do unless you ask Prince first.
This isn’t a knock against Miguel. His album is one of the sexiest records I’ve ever heard. This is what all fuck-music should sound like. Miguel’s voice and inflection exude confidence without arrogance, control while maintaining respect. He avoids all the slimier aspects of modern RnB that Trey Songz and (my beloved) R.Kelly sometimes travel exclusively in: this is an album to make love to, no one to bang a groupie to.
Walking the line between “mature, adult lovemaking” and “let’s tear our closes off and fuck each other” is not an easy needle to thread, but with some creative sampling and a fully-realized voice, Miguel pulls it off.
Except for this one thing: Miguel probably really likes to take pills and fuck strangers.
Now, this is hard to prove, because nowhere on the album does he come out and say this. However, from the club-pump of “Don’t Look Back” to the faux-reggae of “Do You..”, the hook of the latter being “Do you like drugs? / Well me too,” there is a strange, somewhat dark party energy that makes the album a little off-putting for me. It’s hard for me to shake Miguel’s apparent embrace of the rising pilled-out lovemaking culture.
Maybe I’m just being and old fart, and I should take this album at its (very fun) face value. Still, that’s always in the back of my craw and it makes it hard for me to completely love the finished product.
Choosing Weeknd Means You Are Willing to Acknowledge Your Faults While Doing Nothing to Change Them
Somewhere, in the best of all worlds, there is no Drake. There is only Weeknd.
The singer definitely operates in the same lane as Drizzy, but his songs about fucking, regrets and fucking again come off as adult and well-observed compared to Drake, who too-often comes off like a high school senior to me.
Trilogy is almost entirely about being tired as fuck, both in the lyrics and the music. Everything is pushed to its breaking point, every candle is burned at both ends. Weeknd is tired: he wakes up with strangers, hates himself and them for what they did that night, then goes out and meets a new set of strangers and gives in to his weaknesses again. It’s a compelling, somewhat tragic take on the modern RnB culture that Miguel isn’t through with yet.
That being said, Weeknd being aware and self-loathing about his faults does not motivate him to change. There is a sense of fatalism that is somewhat irritating on Trilogy. At a certain point, what started out as a confessional starts to seem like sin without repentance.
So, sure, he’s more mature and more compelling than Drake, but he’s still got that “woe is me” aspect to his music that makes him forever Drake-like.
That being said, let me stress again that these albums are all great. Personally? I go in for the Miguel album, because I love random sex with drugged-up strangers. But that’s just me.