If Motown captured the zeitgeist of American soul Marvin Gaye helped to redefine it. By pushing his music beyond the political boundaries set by label executives he reinvented the soul singer as a conduit of social discontent at the apex of US counterculture. This was made all the more effective by Gaye’s incredible musicianship, with albums such as What’s Going On and Let’s Get It On setting a high benchmark with lush, orchestral arrangements and soaring vocal melodies. Although modern R&B has adapted to a new era his influence remains integral to many. Below are just some of the artists who follow in his footsteps.
Leon Bridges – Good Thing (2018)
The classicism which underlines Leon Bridges’ discography not only evokes the yearning of Gaye but also the familiar warmth of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. Hailing from Fort Worth in Texas, the young artist has updated the well-worn soul formula, striking a balance between nostalgia and modern pop songwriting that is expertly demonstrated on his 2018 Grammy-nominated album Good Thing.
Sampha – Process (2017)
After starting his career with electronic numbers, alongside frequent collaborator SBTRKT, Sampha moved closer to his soulful roots on Process, his 2017 debut album. Unconventional rhythm remain a key facet of his work however, and the LP brilliantly conveys his ability to deliver heartbreaking melodies over complex arrangements. He has since worked with the likes of Solange and Drake, whilst his music has been featured in Hollywood films such as the addiction drama Beautiful Boy.
Frank Ocean – Blonde (2016)
It would be a tad glib to describe Frank Ocean as the “millennial Marvin Gaye” but the singer-songwriter has certainly tapped into the ennui of modern life like few others. Although not overtly political or topical his songs give voice to a disaffected generation, detailing doomed relationships, drug addiction, and desperate nostalgia. On his second album, Blonde, Ocean solidified his status as a reclusive genius, presenting a clutch of lo-fi tracks which remain among the most emotionally devastating r&b songs of the decade.
Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!” (2016)
2016’s “Awaken, My Love!” was something of a revelation for Childish Gambino, who had previously built a career on a style of carefree indie-rap not too dissimilar to that of Chance The Rapper. Taking in the likes of Marvin Gaye, Funkadelic, and Stevie Wonder, Gambino’s fifth album overhauled his style with a retro futurist energy that earned its lead single ‘Redbone’ huge commercial success and a needle drop on the horror smash Get Out. With a voice that can switch between dynamic extremes at a moment’s notice, Gambino is one of the most entertaining figures in modern funk and soul.
BJ The Chicago Kid – 1123 (2019)
As part of Motown’s modern generation of artists, BJ The Chicago Kid has strong links with hiphop’s upper echelon’s, supplying hooks for the likes of Schoolboy Q, Common and Anderson Paak. On his own music the singer combines a classic soul sensibility with rap’s aspirational energy, and on third album 1123 he demonstrates a versatility that spans slow jams, funk, and introspective soul.