Redefining Rhythm and Blues: The Nouveau Noir

Everyone knows that music goes way beyond melody, rhythm, beats, and breaks. Musical expression, at its highest level, can inspire an entire culture. Bebop, for instance, was not just rapid improvisation, but a movement that enlightened society on the intellectual ability of the African American art form known as jazz.

Likewise, R&B is a genre that continues to affect pop culture. We had New Jack Swing in the 1980s and early 90s, which fuzed hip hop with urban contemporary R&B, and was further solidified with high top fades, baggy colorful attire and cinematic references.(New Jack City, CB4, etc)  Then, there was neo-soul  in the middle 90s and 2000’s, which recaptured classic soul sounds with an urban twist and incorporated a bohemian get up. Now there is a new R&B collective that is taking the genre in a new cultural direction.

The Nouveau Noir or the “new black” is comprised of young, music artists who are adding their own flavor to the genre. According to Singersroom.com, the development of the clique was to allow each artist to feel comfortable expressing themselves without stereotypical confines and to have comradery from a community. They don’t want to be boxed into the categories of Hip Hop, R&B, or Soul, but instead want to shape their own artistic style.

The group is composed of artists Miguel, Elle Varner, Luke James and Stacy Barthe, who have all carved out their own musical niche, and are slowly taking the world by storm.

I have boasted about Miguel and James in previous blog posts and discussed how they are creative musicians who are taking R&B in a new direction. They have been acknowledged  along with singer Frank Ocean as saving the genre from artistic destruction. Their female counterparts include Barthe, a singer/songwriter who hails from Brooklyn and has penned hits for artists like Rihanna, Brandy, Britney Spears, and Katy Perry. She released her first EP Sincerely Yours, Stacy Barthe in 2010 and since then has released three EP’s. She has a lighthearted tone and is steadily easing into the spotlight with her sound. Varner is another burgeoning artist who is making moves in the industry with her raspy vocals and colorful sex appeal. She debuted in 2011 with the edgy LP Perfectly Imperfect, which featured the falsetto driven ballad Refill.

So what makes these artists different from other R&B artists: for one, its their mystic approach to music, fusing dark, electro-soul harmonies with deep, love drawn lyricism. They can either hate you really good or love you to the point of eccentric infatuation. Miguel and James are more so on the dark side and their mysterious  tone is complimented by their black shaded attire. Whereas Varner and Barthe bring creative sentimentality to their sound alongside their out of the box colorful fashion style. They give you the depths of their soul through various channels and don’t sacrifice their sound for media attention. It’s just a matter of time before this collective becomes a full fledged movement and a sub-genre of R&B. Only time will tell.


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2 thoughts on “Redefining Rhythm and Blues: The Nouveau Noir

  1. I love how insightful your pieces are. Thanks to you, I am a big fan of Miguel and I’m starting to like Luke James. He has a beautiful voice that I wasn’t expecting to hear. Elle Varner is great too, she has voice and style I hope she has a lasting career. And Stacy Barthe I’m gonna have to look her up, but I’m sure she’s great too! You have a great ear Veronica!

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