Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that the title of Visto's album is "Beyond Euphoria." The correct title is "Before Euphoria."
The sound of the city this summer has been D.C. rap, not only Wale’s new album, “The Gifted,” but music from Fat Trel, Shy Glizzy and other terrific rhyme-sayers from around these parts. This fall, however, is shaping up to be the season of D.C. R&B.
The Washington area has always been a hub for great vocal talent, be it gospel, go-go, jazz or otherwise, and it has an especially rich R&B and soul tradition. The history of excellence spans decades, from William DeVaughn to Debórah Bond, Marvin Gaye to Kyonté, Mya to Muhsinah .
Based on the caliber of artists and projects coming out of the area, it’s an exciting time for D.C. R&B and soul talent.
“I feel like we’re in phase one of the dream vision of what I see for artists in D.C. and the surrounding area — a music movement,” says Grammy-nominated, D.C.-bred singer Raheem DeVaughn (no relation to William). “Hip-hop serves a purpose, R&B serves a purpose, soul music serves a purpose — any buzz-worthy hype or visibility we can get for the area is good. People have an eye on us, they have an eye on what we’re doing — our area is that next spot.”
Toward that end, here are six artists that you should have your eye on in the coming months. They’re just a few of the immensely talented singers making the city sound better.
Singer and rapper Visto has not one but two amazing singles out right now, both with titles that can’t be printed in this newspaper: “How That [Expletive] Taste” with rapper Phil Da Phuture and “[Expletive] Around,” both on his album “Before Euphoria,” which drops Aug. 20.
It may seem bold for an up-and-coming artist to release two singles with titles that fans may be embarrassed to say aloud, but Visto isn’t worried.
“If you listen to what I’m saying on [“How That [Expletive] Taste”], I’m singing about a girl being patient and not rushing things, but because of the vulgarity in the hook, that word alone, people are shocked,” says the Norfolk-born, Southeast-D.C.-raised vocalist.
After the shock wears off, though, listeners will find themselves enveloped in infectious, sexy R&B. “Before Euphoria” is hard to peg, but think slow jams for a generation reared on strip-club anthems.
“I’ve had the craziest responses,” Visto says of reactions to his first single. “People I don’t know hit me on Twitter, like, ‘I played it last night — me and my girlfriend had a good time.’ I’m like ‘Okay!’ I wasn’t expecting it, but it’s definitely cool — that’s what music’s for.”
Annoyed by the focus on how female performers look rather than how they sound, singer-songwriter Alison Carney dresses down onstage, usually wearing a white shirt and jeans. Right now, the artist and educator is rocking that uniform on a transcontinental youth-empowerment train journey with the Millennial Trains Project. She’s engaging participants in conversations about the music industry and consumer culture and writing music that will become a 10-song collection called “The Millennial Trains Project Operation Musical Revolution: The Jeans and Teease Series.”
“I’m going to do at least one song per city,” says Carney, who grew up in Northeast Washington. “I’m going to go with the flow and let the cities and the people inspire me.”
Carney is also working on the follow-up to 2011’s delightfully bizarre ride “Alison Wonderland.” This time, the inspiration moves from Lewis Carroll to Carly Simon. The album is called “I Bet You Think This Song Is About You,” a full-length homage to the song “You’re So Vain.”
“There are a lot of great voices, especially of strong women, coming out of this area now,” Carney says. “The square footage of talent in D.C. — we’re up there.”
On July 30, D.C. singer Carolyn Malachi released “Gold,” the long-awaited follow-up to 2010’s Grammy-nominated EP “Lions, Fires & Squares.” Some artists would’ve cashed in on the Grammy buzz with a quick release, but Malachi wanted to take her time and ensure that “Gold” would be a masterpiece.
“I didn’t just want to say, ‘Hey, I got a Grammy nomination, so here’s some music!’ and throw it out there — splat! — like spaghetti on the wall,” she says. “I’ve wanted to put out some other content, but it requires capital to put it out properly. These songs are my babies, and they all need Pampers. I would never send my babies out the house without Pampers, and we didn’t have Pamper money at the time.”
The album was worth the wait — it plays like an instruction manual for living an authentic life, with the grounded subject matter lifted by ethereal production and Malachi’s otherworldly voice. Taking her time with the project also meant Malachi and her team were able to negotiate a cool philanthropic tie-in with the album — each download of “Gold” equals an hour of class time for the School Fund.
“The key for me, with any really good piece of music, is bringing people together,” Malachi says. “So the conversations happening on Twitter and in coffee shops about different parts of the album, that’s really cool.”
J. Holiday , a former backup singer for R&B artist Ginuwine, released his first major-label project, “Back of My Lac’, ” in 2007. The D.C. native’s style, dubbed “street soul” at the time, netted him two charting hits (“Bed” and “Suffocate”), a Grammy nomination, hometown notoriety and international recognition. In fact, he’s still performing that material for audiences, some six years later.
He’s also working on a new album, prepping “Guilty Conscience,” his third studio album, for an indie release in November.
“It’s just good R&B,” says the singer, now living in Atlanta. He says the vocals will remind listeners of Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye, two legends with ties to D.C. “People don’t understand that a lot of talent comes out of the area,” Holiday says. “The city is excited about the hip-hop that’s coming out, but people forget that we’ve done a lot of great music over time, whether it’s Chuck Brown with that go-go or Marvin Gaye with that soul.”
For Raheem DeVaughn , living up to the title of “Love King” is about more than “seducing women with the words,” he says. It’s just as much about showing love to his city.
DeVaughn has emerged as a superhero figure in the city’s music scene. When D’Angelo was a no-show at the Summer Spirit Festival this month, DeVaughn filled in and shut the stage down, giving fans their money’s worth. When he saw a lack of label support for D.C. artists, he founded the boutique label 368 Music Group with partner Andre “Dre the Mayor” Hopson to fill the void. Not enough radio play for DMV music? DeVaughn launched his own Blis.fm radio show. Too few venues for live performances? Enter his Lovelife concert series.
And even with all of that, he still has time to make beautiful music. “A Place Called Loveland,” which DeVaughn calls an “eargasmic, eclectic ride,” comes out Sept. 3. The album is gorgeous — and as well-curated and finely produced as any of his major-label efforts.
“This is my fourth studio-recorded album, and it’s an extremely big deal because I’m independent now,” he says. “I want to make a statement to the world that R&B is not dead and there is talent in this area.”
“Having my independence is not just about me — it’s about the city,” DeVaughn adds. “I really put on for my city, and this area shows me so much love.”
It’s been almost a year since Maryland singer Reesa Renee released her debut album, “Reelease,” which pulls from go-go, alt-soul and spoken word. She’s celebrating the milestone with a big show at the Fillmore Silver Spring on Aug. 23 that includes a surprise roster of some of her favorite D.C. R&B and soul singers. “Everybody on the show is from here, just like everybody involved in the first album is from here,” Renee says. “You’ve got to start from your foundation.”
The singer-songwriter, who won Apollo Amateur Night in 2011 with her original song “Got Me Loose,” has spent the past year traveling through North America on her “Wonderland Cool” tour. Still, she says, there is nothing like receiving a warm welcome at home.
“It’s always nice to receive a pat on the back, but it’s even better when it’s from home,” she says. “That’s like your parents telling you that you’re doing a good job — you’re just like, ‘Wooo!’ ”
This piece has been updated to correct the date of Reesa Renee’s concert at the Fillmore Silver Spring.
Godfrey is a freelance writer