Nine soulful R&B acts competing to be the next Weeknd
There's a whole new generation of homegrown R&B prodigies set to colonize Spotify. We pick the best of the bunch.
1 When Cara was 16, she attended a house party in Brampton and felt so out of place that she called her mom to pick her up. The experience inspired her to write “Here,” an edgy torch ballad about alienation and anxiety that, ironically, made her the most popular girl on the Internet (the video has been viewed 27 million times on YouTube). Since then, she’s performed with Taylor Swift, partied with Drake and released Know-It-All, a debut album packed with clever hooks and melancholy angst.
Sounds Like: Lorde, Amy Winehouse, the Supremes.
Download This: “Four Pink Walls,” a doo-wop ditty about escaping the monotony of her childhood bedroom.
THE SOUL MAN
2 Caesar moved to downtown Toronto from Oshawa in 2013. He was homeless for months, camping out in Trinity Bellwoods Park and couchsurfing with friends. Eventually, he got a part-time job as a bartender, teamed up with two of Drake’s producers and recorded an EP that sounds like classic Motown with a twinge of gospel opulence.
Sounds Like: D’Angelo, Otis Redding, Leon Bridges.
Download This: “Paradise,” a funky fever dream with background help from the jazz trio BadBadNotGood.
THE DYNAMIC DUO
3 Majid Al Maskati and Jordan Ullman met in a U of T lecture hall in 2011 and immediately started experimenting with libidinous R&B in Ullman’s dorm room. They hit it huge in 2013 when Drake hired them to produce and perform on his platinum single “Hold On, We’re Coming Home,” then signed them to his OVO label.
Sounds Like: The Weeknd, Miguel, Frank Ocean.
Download This: “My Love,” a noirish synthfest featuring a cameo from Drake himself.
4 The dreadlocked Don Juan from Mississauga (real name Jahron Anthony Brathwaite) updates smooth ’90s R&B for 2015: his songs depict a miasma of sex, drugs and nocturnal mischief. He’s currently signed to Drake’s OVO label, and he produced three tracks on the 6 God’s latest mixtape.
Sounds Like: Jodeci, Blackstreet, Boyz II Men.
Download This: “Break From Toronto,” in which PND, ever the seductive womanizer, invites his downtown-elite girlfriend to come have sex with him in Mississauga.
5 Growing up in Mississauga, Kiki Rowe thought she’d be a classical pianist: she studied at the Conservatory of Music, and took first place in their piano composition contest in 2009. Then she caught the soul bug, and started creating a brilliant fusion of bouncy dance music and introspective indie pop.
Influences: Alicia Keys, Banks, John Legend.
Download This: “Look Who’s Alone,” a sultry slow jam that combines a haunting melody with ambient electro flourishes.
6 Where most R&B showcases extravagant vocals and sexed-up lyrics, Cold Specks focuses on atmosphere. The Etobicoke artist—real name Ladan Hussein—calls her style “doom soul”: it’s grave, operatic and slightly spooky, incorporating screeching brass and southern gospel hymns. She’s worked with high-minded indie artists like Moby and Swans singer Michael Gira.
Sounds Like: Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, Tom Waits.
Download This: “Absisto,” a symphonic breakup ballad that’s equal parts mournful and menacing.
7 She’s a glorious anomaly in an era of brooding, gritty R&B, producing brash and buoyant feminist anthems. Jordan was born in the U.K., grew up in Toronto and moved to Los Angeles three years ago, where she’s collaborated with rappers like Childish Gambino and Timbaland.
Sounds Like: Aaliyah, En Vogue, Janet Jackson.
Download This: “Lowkey,” a mellow track about no-strings-attached romance that pairs Jordan’s airy voice with aggressive background beats.
THE BOY WONDER
8 Toronto’s latest puppy-faced pubescent heartthrob decided he wanted to be a musician while watching School of Rock. He started writing songs at age 11 and signed with Atlantic Records at 16. Under that frizzy fro is a sky-high falsetto that loops over hypnotic disco beats. He’s worked with superstar producers like Pharrell Williams and Robin Hannibal.
Sounds Like: Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruno Mars.
Download This: “Call,” a catchy dance-floor hit that earned Twitter praise from Justin Timberlake, the falsetto king himself.
9 Dollar Paris and Charli Champ, who met as teens at Jane and Lawrence, live up to their band name: they’re practising Wiccans who take inspiration from astrology and New Age sorcery. They also make wonderfully weird soul music—Paris is a lo-fi rapper, while Champ provides blissed-out vocal verses.
Influences: Erykah Badu, the Roots, Bahamadia.
Download This: “Pangaea,” a surreal sonic dreamscape with verses about pet pterodactyls and islands in the sky.