I tend to take the side of Ghostface Nahmean when it comes to Drake, and the myriad of R&B acts who have spun off from his style. Drake brings to hip-hop and R&B what Nickelback and Staind brought to rock music; horribly repeated generic lyrics, and unintended humor. Sure, Chad Kroeger sold millions of albums, but that doesn’t mean his music really transformed a genre. In fact, I would argue that it was acts like Nickelback that led to the decline in modern alternative rock music. In my mind, when I think about Nickelback, I envision Affliction long sleeve thermals, bedazzled denim, and poorly maintained chinstrap beards and goatees.
Similarly, Drake is “The Wizard of Pause.” This isn’t to say that I’m trying to buy into the hyper-thug, overtly masculine stereotypes of hip-hop and R&B; rather I’m just trying to establish that just listening to Drake is perhaps the most emasculating thing I have ever done. Yes. It’s even worse than “doing the tuck” and going all pervy on Snapchat just to make your friends feel ill.[ref]Not that I’d ever do that sort of thing . . .[/ref] I can’t take Drake seriously, nor would I ever want to, and that’s precisely the problem. R&B should be authentic,[ref]Hipster word alert![/ref] organic,[ref]It could be DEFCON 1 in here shortly.[/ref] and accessible to everyone.
Initially, PBR&B was meant to be a portmanteau for “Pabst Blue Ribbon + R&B,” and then it became synonymous for a genre of music that hipsters[ref]Cough. Cough. White people.[/ref] listened to. This negative connotation dismissed what is actually an inventive and unique sub-genre of a sub-genre. PBR&B is about as niche as it gets, but for what it’s worth, it fits the name.
Pabst Blue Ribbon is my beer of choice, no matter where I am. If I’m at a bar that doesn’t serve PBR, I just assume they’re not serious about my business. Pabst Blue Ribbon isn’t overbearing, nor is it trying to really do too much. If you want a beer with strong flavors, get something else. PBR is meant to mellow the room, and be comfortable in any situation. Simplicity is something you can’t really replace, and that’s what PBR does well–simple beauty in a can.
Similarly, PBR&B is the minimal, slowed down, airy, and light side of electronic music. PBR&B is where you go when you’re tired of listening to maximal EDM bullshit like Avicii. In this analogy, we’ll say that Avicii is the musical equivalent of 4Loko–the original recipe, loaded with caffeine, guaranteed to give you a headache. It’s not that all EDM is total bullshit–it just caters to an “entry audience” in electronic music. When you get a little older, you stop drinking 4Loko, doing keg stands, and “raging hard.” When this happens, you start going to smaller parties, where people have shirts with sleeves. This is where PBR&B begins making sense.
I can’t take modern R&B seriously, but I also don’t want to listen to repeatable, kitschy, maximal, electronic garbage. I want music I can dance to, drive to, fuck to, or just chill out and smoke a blunt to; because goddammit, I’m in my late 20s now, and PBR&B fits where I am in life, and I’m not ashamed to say it. Let’s avoid throwing around other terms like “post-trap” and “witch house,” because it doesn’t accurately describe what is really just a screwed down, minimal version of something that didn’t exist before. Additionally, every artist puts their own spin on it – which is what actually gives it legs. Unlike the recent surge in “trap” music,[ref]Lots of guys who used to make dubstep realized it wasn’t cool anymore, so they added more snares and dialed down the wobble.[/ref] PBR&B has a ton of different directions, with unique styles. Let’s go over some of my favorites.
This is what DJ Screw originally was to Houston’s “chopped and screwed” side, but with the added balance of massive ethereal expanses. I happen to think Shlohmo’s strength is in taking songs that should not have been modern R&B, and making them into ’90s-esque, West Coast style dance grooves. The sub bass lines are all voltage-regulated VST’s, moving with the vocals, and then adding in drums slowly, before everything builds to an anti-climax, going silent.
Blue Sky Black Death
The duo by The Bay, by way of Seattle, better known as BSBD, churn out some truly gripping music. Their style is almost impossible to describe, because it’s really all over the place. Older rock influences are clear, alongside substituted classic alternative rock builds, but everything happens more slowly. Their most recent album Glaciers features songs that are over 10 minutes in length, without feeling overly long. I try to avoid references to jam bands whenever possible, but BSBD’s new album cements their place as the Grateful Dead of PBR&B. It’s music clearly designed with marijuana inhalation in mind.
What really sets BSBD apart from everyone else is the sheer volume of their instrumental work. BSBD is perhaps the most prolific within the genre, releasing a new album almost every three months, with various hip-hop collaborators.
At some point in the past two years, oOoOO switched from making witch house, and went full bore into the mellower sister of fuzz-electronic. It’s not that there was anything wrong with witch, but you can only make so much fuzzy, hot analog music before you want something more. I suspect that’s what happened here, with the hard beats, vocal reworks, and softer, more minimal sounds. The best I can figure, the direction shift happened around two years ago with the Marina & The Diamonds remix, and then moved into originals from there. The end product features codeine-slow beats, simple vocal repetitions, and the slow addition of more elements echoing off each other.
My first thought when listening to Balam Acab for the first time was, “Wow, this is really beautiful music.” The drums are an afterthought, barely even noticeable at points, because the smooth sound effects blend themselves into the ether. When the sub bass finally establishes itself, it has more impact because everything in the song has context. The layers all work perfectly, the nuances balance each other out, and you’re just pulling another drag off the blunt.
This shouldn’t be news to anyone really, but Clams Casino isn’t really a hip-hop producer. He’s better than that. Yes, rappers like Lil B the Based God, ASAP Rocky, and XV have graced his instrumentals, but that’s really not what made his music great. Like BSBD, Clams Casino makes expansive, minimal, hip-hop inspired, rock-sample driven, Pabst Blue Rhythm and Blues. Damnit. Listening to the instrumentals on their own, you realize the simple beauty in how the songs themselves are crafted, even if it takes a maximal G Tom Mac sample, and go for a ride, it’s still mellow.
Lastly, the mysterious FRXXMASONS. Their five track EP found its way to my inbox a few months ago, and since then I’ve been blasting their “’90s skating rink” brand of modern PBR&B. Only one song is on their Soundcloud page, and I’m pretty sure leaking the remainder would land me in hot water–sort of like if I posted their NSFW video here. Check it out when you’re not around your boss.