In 2016, Canada has been exerting a notable influence on the world of R&B. Artists like the Weeknd and Majid Jordan have global followings and Drake, to whom both acts are affiliated, has almost single-handedly influenced the shift towards the atomospheric sound of the genre in recent years. It's a good time then to take a look at some of the significant recordings Canadians have contributed to the genre in recent years, connecting the present day to the past — something that CBC Radio 2's new R&B show, Marvin's Room hosted by Amanda Parris, does every Friday night at 8 p.m.
Within the Marvin Gaye to Drake era the show encompasses, we've seen a number of developments in the scene since '70s pioneers Crack of Dawn were the first Canadian R&B act to get signed south of the border. Ranging from powerhouse singers like Deborah Cox and Jully Black to today's ambient sounds, take a look at our list below.
10. Bass is Base, 'Funkmobile'
I was 15 when “Funkmobile” from Bass is Base came out and it was, for a brief period, my favourite song on the Muchmusic Countdown. It was 1994, and I distinctly remember taping it to VHS, which seemed like one of the most immediate ways to replay a song in the pre-iTunes era. It was the first any of us had heard the Toronto R&B trio made up of Chin Injeti, Roger Mooking and Ivana Santilli, and it grabbed you right from the opening flute solo all the way to the sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs chorus. A positive song made for parties, it managed to make some noise on the Canadian acid jazz scene and propelled the group to open for acts like Pharcyde and Jamiroquai. After one more hit single in ’96, “I Cry,” Bass is Base disbanded to pursue successful solo careers in music (Injeti and Santilli) and culinary arts (Mooking). Thankfully we’ll always have that infectiously unforgettable ride to the soul shack.
— Jesse Kinos-Goodin (@jessekg)
9. Tamia, 'Officially Missing You'
I remember while I was in high school, whenever I'd come home for lunch, if I wasn't watching reruns of Saved by the Bell I'd be tuned in to BET. Before the YouTube era, BET was the network to get your R&B fix, and among all the great R&B artists played on that station, Tamia's "Officially Missing You" would be in regular rotation. That was my jam (it still is)! The song’s acoustic style featuring guitar paired with Tamia’s gentle yet powerful voice shows the range of talent the singer possesses. The track has a timeless vibe, and will always be one of my favourites.
— Kiah Welsh (@simplykiah)
8. Divine Brown, 'Old Skool Love'
If you like throwback soul music, you’ve got to know Divine Brown. “Old Skool Love,” the lead single from her 2005 self-titled debut album, is an irresistible and unapologetic appropriation of, and tribute to, the Stax/Volt sound of soul greats like Carla Thomas, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. Way more than an imitator, Brown has a tremendous voice — she sang the longest note I’ve ever heard back in 2009 at a Montreal Jazz Festival concert. It lasted over a minute! — and totally owns the romantic, love-me-right vibe she creates on this neo-’60s slow jam.
— Robert Rowat (@rkhr)
7. Jacksoul, 'Still Believe in Love'
Although Jacksoul lead singer Haydain Neale is sadly no longer with us, his music remains, and "Still Believe in Love" retains the ingredients that drew many to Jacksoul when they heard the band's first release, "Unconditional." "Still Believe in Love" showcases Neale's emotive and versatile vocal range as well as Jacksoul's reverence — and taut execution — of classic soul, which in many ways epitomized the formula for Canadian R&B success.
— Del Cowie (@vibesandstuff)
6. Jully Black, 'Seven Day Fool'
You know a song's a hit when you hear it almost anywhere — on the radio, in the mall, and you subconsciously humming it. That was definitely the situation I found myself in when Jully Black released "Seven Day Fool" off her second album, Revival. Her spin on the original, written by Billy Davis and performed by R&B sensation Etta James, is powerful and rich, and her vocal performance is soulful and moving. Black's talent never ceases to amaze me. I'm glad she represents Canadian R&B at its best. — KW
5. Melanie Fiona, 'It Kills Me'
Melanie Fiona has made serious inroads into the U.S. market with a number of songs including "4 AM" and "Fool for You," her Grammy-winning collaboration with Cee-Lo, but "It Kills Me" might be her defining vocal performance. Fiona's roller-coaster emotional state is perfectly captured on this song from her debut album, The Bridge, and clearly resonated with anyone in a rocky relationship, spending nine weeks at number 1 on the U.S. Billboard R&B singles chart. — DC
4. Glenn Lewis, ‘Don’t You Forget It’
Glenn Lewis released his first single, "Don't You Forget It," in 2001, successfully beginning the Toronto neo-soul singer's claim on the early aughts. His debut album, World Outside My Window, came out in 2002, debuting at number 4 on the Billboard 200 and topping at number 2 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop chart. Lewis's smooth, Stevie Wonder-inspired vocals dazzled us all, slotting “Don’t You Forget It" into every couples’ dance playlist from high school to weddings, and amping up expectation for the budding artist. But it wasn't to be. Lewis hasn't made much music since, releasing his sophomore album, Moment of Truth, 11 years after his debut and to much less fanfare. But "Don't You Forget It" will forever hold a place in our slow-jam hearts.
— Holly Gordon (@hollygowritely)
3. Drake, 'Hold On, We're Going Home'
While Drake’s name gets thrown around a lot in debates over who the best rapper in the game is right now, the Toronto artist also stretches his musical prowess into R&B frequently. His 2013 single “Hold On, We’re Going Home” is one of the best showcases for Drake’s singing, a song that’s three-and-a-half minutes of pure soulful pop melodies. With the help of OVO signees Majid Jordan, “Hold On, We’re Going Home” fuses old '80s R&B references with groovy new soundscapes to create a modern-day hit, one that’s been proven versatile across a spectrum of genres as it was one of the most covered songs of that year with renditions by everyone from Arctic Monkeys to Lights, Lykke Li and more.
— Melody Lau (@melodylamb)
2. The Weeknd, 'Earned It'
R&B used to be the kind of music you could play with your parents in the car. It was the safe, parent-approved genre defined by the singular obsession of romantic love. But times have changed and the Weeknd is one of the vanguards leading this new wave. His sound is moody and mysterious and his catalogue has put romantic love on the backburner, replacing it with topics such as depression, drug use and loneliness. The seductive song “Earned It” was the lead single from the soundtrack to the film Fifty Shades of Grey, and did considerably better than the actual film. With his signature falsetto crooning above the sounds of a classic waltz, “Earned It” was the Weeknd’s first top five Billboard song and ushered in his first Academy Award nomination for best original song and a Grammy for best R&B performance.
— Amanda Parris (@amanda_parris)
1. Deborah Cox, 'Nobody's Supposed to be Here'
Google the words “Canadian music legends” and you’ll find names like Alanis Morissette, Bryan Adams, Céline Dion, Neil Young and Shania Twain. You’ll see rock, pop, maybe even some folk and even a little country. But you probably won’t find R&B. This absence speaks less to a lack of talent and more to the reality of an industry that has historically been unwilling to support the development and ascent of the talent that we do have. Take the case of Deborah Cox, who faced rejection from countless record labels in Canada before she finally moved to L.A. There, she was handpicked by legendary record executive Clive Davis and found a success previously unknown to any Canadian R&B artist before. Cox’s single “Nobody’s Supposed to be Here” is a ballad written by Montell Jordan and Anthony “Shep” Crawford that captures the over-the-top romantic melodrama of R&B perfectly and exhibits the scale of Cox’s booming voice. Released in 1998, it held the record for longest-running R&B single on the Billboard charts, and it spent 14 of those weeks at number 1. Let’s cross our fingers that one day soon, our R&B artists won’t need to leave in order to find success. — AP