The LA Times Explores ‘Retro-Futurism’ in Contemporary R&B

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The Los Angeles Times posted a fairly interesting article on its site dedicated to
contemporary R&B this past Sunday entitled “Ne-Yo, Keri Hilson and the style that lasts: R&B.” Once getting beyond the first few paragraphs of flowery descriptors and release dates for upcoming albums from Ne-Yo and Keri Hilson, the article opens into
an examination of one of the reasons R&B is the “style that lasts:”
retro-futurism. At superficial glance this term seems an adequate
definition for the contemporary influx of disparate sounds in R&B. Perhaps a great example of this idea is the current tour that joins Raphael
Saadiq
and Janelle Monáe, representing traditionalism (possible
neologism: retro-ism) and futurism respectively.

Questionable use of a sexy,
hyphenated term like retro-futurism aside (it references a specific period
of twentieth century science fiction that also has connotations of dated conceptions of utopianism), it is a great one. And the author is careful to
re-structure its original definition by stating:

“In 2008, retro-futurism is a means for renewal in R&B. Recent
interviews with several of its leading talents revealed an eagerness to
answer the examples of the greats — Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye were
the most often cited — tempered by a cautiousness about getting stuck
in the past…The fusion R&B retro-futurism represents begins in the studio,
where artists and producers don’t shy away from the synthesizers and
samplers at the heart of hip-hop but also seek the warmth and riskiness
of live instrumentation.”

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The introduction of this “philosophy” is thought-provoking. As is often
the case when setting the parameters for R&B, retro-futurism also
struggles in its attempt to totalize a practice in the genre that
dates back to before the fusion of the styles that make up Rhythm
and Blues: hybridization. It’s what birthed the vast array of artists
mentioned in the article, including T-Pain, Alicia Keys, D’Angelo, and
Marc Broussard, and their ability to interpret what can be loosely
classified as R&B however they see fit.

Ultimately a deeper exploration of “retro-futurism [as] a means for
renewal in R&B” only reflects how constantly changing yet
consistently self-referential R&B has always been and will always
be in its eagerness to reflect on the past, utilize its most effective
tropes and create something that is, at least in theory, innovative and
challenging. [LAT]

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