Every Tuesday, FADER deputy editor Eric Ducker gets on instant messenger and “discusses” a subject that’s been on his mind with another member of our staff or a special guest. After the jump, read his condensed (and emoticon-free) conversation with DJ Ayres about R&B’s current use of house music sonics in its uptempo sound and the roots of this trend. (For reference see: Chris Brown’s “Forever,” Rihanna’s “Please Don’t Stop the Music,” Ne-Yo’s “Closer,” Akon’s “Right Now,” etc.)
Eric Ducker: Hip-hop’s connection with house music at least produced a recognizable genre, hip-house, but it’s connection with R&B has never really been explicitly spelled out. When do you think it started?
DJ Ayres: Disco. A lot of disco/garage singers came out of gospel, so it was there before house was house.
ED: But what about once house became house?
DJA: I think there are “proto” examples, but I think the big moment, if there is one at all, is the early to mid-’90s when house producers could easily take an acapella of an R&B song and use time stretching to make it sit really comfortably on an uptempo beat. And that’s because the studio technology was getting a lot better. Samplers started having a lot more memory, so you could put an entire three minute vocal into a sampler and process it so it sounded natural over an uptempo beat.
ED: So you’re saying that it was the house producers that started directly incorporating R&B first, and then it crossed back over with R&B producers using that sound for their own R&B productions?
DJA: Sort of. It’s slippery because obviously R&B producers and house producers were aware of each others’ genres. And then of course there have always been pop singers who incorporated house music, Madonna is the most obvious example. But aside from a few people, when hip-hop took over in the ‘90s and R&B that was really influenced by hip-hop (Mary J. Blige) was selling a lot, it made this genre of midtempo R&B jams that took over where before it was more uptempo (New Jack Swing). Now we’re seeing a swing back to uptempo for ALL pop music, so R&B that is influenced by house is more mainstream. Mary J. Blige’s “Just Fine” isn’t a hip-hop record and a house purist wouldn’t call it house, but it’s definitely the right tempo and feeling. Ne-Yo’s “Closer” is four on the floor.
ED: Even with the history, it is still jarring to hear Akon’s “Right Now,” which to me basically feels exactly like a house song, on the radio in the middle of the day.
DJA: Yeah, the radio jocks are way more comfortable at that tempo and pop fans are hungry for more. And this is kind of crazier to me: the uptempo R&B songs helped usher in actual real house music onto hip-hop stations. Now you hear DJ Enuff playing Bob Sinclair, Eric Prydz and David Guetta during his mixshow. It crossed over from the clubs.
ED: That’s nuts. Dudes out here in LA play the Crookers remix to Kid Cudi’s “Day N Nite,” but I don’t know if I’ve heard Bob Sinclair on The Beat yet.
DJA: And without getting too off-track, the hip-hop dudes are sampling Daft Punk. That opens it up a lot. I haven’t heard Crookers’ “Day N Nite” on the radio here, they just play the Jim Jones version. Rhianna’s “Please Don’t Stop the Music,” that’s a house record.
ED: No doubt. But Stargate hasn’t done anything else like that for R&B singers, right?
DJA: I don’t think so, but I bet we start seeing more soon. I think if you had to pinpoint a really defining crossover between house and R&B, it would be neo-soul singers like Jill Scott and Angie Stone, whose vocals are HUGE in house music. Those remixes are very, very big among real house heads. A lot of house singers are moonlighting from other genres, like India does that NuYorican soul stuff with Masters at Work, but she’s a salsa singer. Barbara Tucker is famous as a house singer, but she’s really a gospel singer. But it’s really hard to think of an example of a pop R&B singer who sings on house records. Craig David sort of, if you consider UK Garage to be house, then there are surely more examples like him, but for mainstream music, it’s mostly remixes: Jennifer Hudson’s “Spotlight” (Moto Blanco remix), Beyonce’s Maurice Joshua remixes.
ED: Do you think Rihanna and Chris Brown and Ne-Yo realize how close to house tracks they are making?
DJA: Who knows? I think Janelle Monae knows. I would guess that the singers who write their own songs and have a hand in the production, or are at least more present in the studio during the writing and production, are more aware.
ED: You always hear people sing or rap about “the club,” but I’ve always wondered what type of clubs they’re referring to. Is it big dance music megaclubs or clubs that basically play the same stuff that’s on urban radio?
DJA: I think it really varies. It really depends on the city. I think on the East Coast (including Miami) and in Vegas, Chicago and Detroit, there is plenty of uptempo music being played at the mainstream clubs where they mostly play hip-hop. I did Lotus a lot last year, and Federicho Franchi’s “Cream” was a huge record. Now there is a Pitbull song, “Krazy,” that uses that beat. Fedde le Grand’s “Put Your Hands Up For Detroit,” David Guetta’s “Love Is Gone,” those were big, big records in the club last year. So if you go to the club, and you pay attention to music, you’re definitely aware of that stuff.
ED: I remember in that article you wrote for us on Danja, he talked about how his production was largely influenced by the dance clubs in Miami. It seems like the Daft Punk sampling and Danja’s work with Justin Timberlake is what helped make that uptempo house stuff really explicit.
DJA: For sure. Chris Brown too, “Picture Perfect” and “Forever.”
ED: Who do you think are the contemporary house producers that are influencing the house R&B sound? Or is it more of the general sound itself?
DJA: Will.i.am is DEFINITELY someone who pays attention to specific producers and house music and uptempo music in general. Danja said that he wasn’t checking for specific producers, just that the sound had influenced him. So there are both. I think it’s a more general thing for the most part, and I think big crossover house records influence the sound of R&B without the R&B producers knowing necessarily who made the music—with the exception of big names like Armand Van Helden or Paul Oakenfold or Chemical Brothers or whoever who has been churning out hits for years and remixing all the big R&B and pop records for the major labels.
ED: I think things could potentially get really interesting when R&B and pop stars start going directly to house producers, since the two Chris Brown’s songs you mentioned were produced by Polow Da Don and Will.i.am, who are hip-hop producers turned pop producers.
DJA: I wonder if that will happen. Real house music is underground music, and they tend to work with their own singers, like Lisa Shaw. I imagine there is a credibility issue there, aside from the money issue. It would be hard to imagine Britney Spears specifically seeking out Masters at Work, but I could see Junior Vasquez working with her.
ED: But you never know. She did go to the studio with The DFA, and I remember a couple years ago hearing that her people were soliciting tracks from folks like Diplo and South Rakkas Crew. I guess you need to find an adventurous enough A&R.
DJA: I’m excited for Amanda Blank’s album with DJ Eli, XXXChange, etc. It’s not R&B, but the Kid Sister stuff will definitely influence some folks, and get absorbed by the pop music producers. Switch, you can’t call Santogold R&B, but he’s a house producer making slower pop songs too, and he has definitely influenced some folks and gotten a lot of major label remix checks.
ED: I hadn’t thought about how “Paper Planes” could affect this.
DJA: IT ALL COMES BACK TO “PAPER PLANES” b/w “circumstantial evidence.”