By Paul Lester
“In the most direct way, we’re trying to be post-Timbaland,” says Kelela Mizanekristos, one of several new female artists operating in the realm of what could be termed experimental R&B. “We’re taking that sound and pushing it. I remember the day I first heard what Timbaland and Aaliyah did – that intersection of her pretty voice and his weird, resonant production. I remember where I was and what I was doing. It was a major situation. We’re trying to continue that legacy.”
Over the past few years, male stars such as Drake, the Weeknd, the-Dream, Frank Ocean, Miguel, Autre Ne Veut and How to Dress Well, have stretched the definition of soul and taken the music to unexpected places. But now the pendulum is swinging back towards women. SZA, Phlo Finister, Kid A, Jhené Aiko, Twigs, Jessy Lanza and Kelela have different influences and approaches, but what they share is a love of R&B at its most forward-looking and futuristic, the sort that was prevalent between the mid 90s and the mid-noughties, when Timbaland, the Neptunes and Rodney Jerkins were in their heyday. Aaliyah, Brandy, Ciara – these are the touchstones for their dreamy yet subtly dislocating dance music. More than anyone, though, it is Cassie Ventura, known simply as Cassie, who has become the figurehead for this new scene, perhaps because she is regarded as the last of an era (what Rihanna et al make is something quite different). So while the world waits for a new Cassie album (she released her one official album in 2006, and despite numerous mooted followups, she has yet to put out a second, with just a mixtape issued earlier this year to satisfy her cult fan base), here are some of the superb young performers occupying the space with their gossamer, glitchy R&B.