The RX is Uproxx Music’s stamp of approval for the best albums, songs, and music stories throughout the year. Inclusion in this category is the highest distinction we can bestow, and signals the most important music being released throughout the year. The RX is the music you need, right now.
It’s 2017, and R&B may as well be a subgenre of hip-hop. Rappers are singing, singers are rapping, DJ Mustard is putting his signature vocal tag on romantic ballads, the walls between the two continue to crumble. While singers like Ty Dolla Sign, Jeremih, and Chris Brown and rappers like 6lack, Bryson Tiller, Drake, and Quavo increasingly moonwalk the line between what were once distinct musical genres, vocal technicians like Gallant, John Legend, Tank, Daniel Caesar, PJ Morton, Leon Bridges, and Luke James are increasingly shifted to the margins, relegated to Adult Contemporary or — in the best case scenario, as with Legend — pop categories.
Fortunately, October’s Very Own signees DVSN are here to make the case that melodic, romantic R&B can stand on its own merits musically and commercially — no guest rap verse needed.
DVSN first appeared in late 2015 with little fanfare, no music videos, and almost zero press. No one even initially knew if DVSN was the name of a solo performer or a group. Little by little, the details came out: The mellifluous voice heard on tracks like “Too Deep” and “The Line” belonged to Toronto singer Daniel Daley, the bass-heavy but velvety backdrops were designed by Nineteen85 (also known as Anthony Jeffries, producer of absurdly successful Drake singles, “One Dance,” “Hotline Bling,” and “Hold On, We’re Going Home”), and their Sept. 5th project, where sample-heavy, satin sheet-soakers “With Me,” “Do It Well,” and “Hallucinations” lived, was executive-produced by Drake’s right-hand man, Noah “40” Shebib.
Sept. 5th, was widely hailed as a critical success, ending 2016 on a number of “Best Of” lists, but it seemed to fly under the radar as far as mainstream coverage and radio play. Their only song to hit Billboard‘s coveted Hot 100 chart was “Faithful,” a Drake song taken from his mostly-panned Views. And while their new album, The Morning After, delivers more of the trunk-rattling, window-fogging, mirror-gazing soul of its predecessor, it is a different beast entirely, and stands poised to bring Daley and Jeffries into the spotlight they deserve.
For one thing, the pair has grown up, both in content and style. The Morning After represents a departure from the Timbaland imitation in its sonic palette. “Mood” finds Daley foregoing the resistance of their early single “Too Deep,” diving headfirst into the draw of the romantic liaison before him, crooning, “You don’t wanna fall back / I don’t want to fall back tonight / I just want my old baby / You just want to know it’s alright,” as Nineteen85 digs into a chunky bassline, pairing it with plaintive, old-time piano that blends and morphs into a rasping guitar solo reflecting the longing in Daley’s sung pleas.
The ’90s soul-hit sampling returns on “P.O.V.,” but rather than the choir-backed refrains from Top 40, Jeffries goes more grown-and-sexy, flipping Maxwell’s “Fortunate” into a chopped-and-screwed come-on that will almost certainly find its way into club-let-out mixes in more cities than just Houston. “Morning After” expands the palette even further, featuring Spanish-style guitar inside a deeply Mediterranean rhythm that somehow simultaneously sounds like slow caresses and double-time tango-esque dance moves.
“Claim” would be the most obviously romantic song in the collection, were it not for its immediate follow-up, “Body Smile.” Whereas Daley once reminisced of lost loves and poured out his insecurities at the bottom of a bottle, on these two he is eager and earnest, even as he does his best to lure the subject of his affection out from under her current lover. “Surprised you’re still talkin’ to the same dude / Nobody’s last-named you by now / I guess I can’t blame you / But I’m just tryna change your mind now,” he intones on “Claim,” before switching to apologetic on the repentant “Body Smile,” where he promises, “For every time I let you cry / I have to make your whole body smile.”
Without the regretful, pained mode of the songs on Sept. 5th, DVSN is fully able to embrace traditional R&B values of love, forgiveness, and commitment, along with their debut’s healthy dose of lusty come-ons. Here, the sexual material sounds far less transactional, empty, and nostalgic, and more optimistic, emotional, and tender — the building blocks of classic R&B that lasts through the years and winds up on wedding reception playlists decades later. Just ask Marvin Gaye, Lenny Williams, New Edition, Boyz II Men, or Teddy Pendergrass; sex may sell, but love lasts, and with DVSN’s commitment to vocal artistry over modern R&B’s major tendency of following modern trends, they’ve created a piece of art that sounds truly timeless.