And so Miguel enters the annals of great R&B artists.
When Miguel was first introduced on the scene, it was clear that his voice packed a subtle power, and he exuded an unrefined sex appeal. Wildheart, the latest album from the San Pedro, CA native, finds him masterfully knowing how to apply the right combination of finesse to create a sensous, sonic soundtrack to the art of life and lovemaking. Distinguishing this album from his debut All I Want is You or even Kaleidoscope Dreams, you can tell that he is comfortable in his own skills and abilities, not working to promote a certain sound,” but instead making music easily identifiable as Miguel.” In this liberating of the self, Miguel has launched himself into a solid place of R&B history, helping to reinvigorate the genre alongside his contemporaries.
Its important to consider Miguel in the context of this time. Where traditional R&B seemed to be anemic and mundane, Miguel is a vital part of the crowd of R&B artists that are millenial and unfettered. Alongside other talented acts of the day, including Luke James, The Weeknd, Jhene Aiko, Elle Varner, Solange, Janelle Monae, and probably the most direct foil to Miguel Frank Ocean, this cadre of artist has been responsible for priming the genre with experimental electric sounds and introspective lyrics. Indeed, the angsty whats normal anyway most directly addresses the zeitgeist of this epoch of R&B; reflexive, challenging societal norms, and yet still with the serious pretensions of a sophomore philosophy major. To be sure, Miguel sparkles on this track and ones similar to it, as he has the formula for a modern R&B artist well infused in him.
But where we find his signature sound is on the effortlessly hot Coffee and the previously released but still beautiful Simple Things.” These songs speak directly to what makes a Miguel track unique. They operate in a space that is more sensuous than sexual or even sensual, for that matter. These songs arouse not through explicit sexuality alone, but instead an appeal to the senses. The smell of coffee, the taste of fingers, the sound of hearts beating, these are the elements Miguel infuses into his music to create an ethereal and hauntingly hot album. Indeed, even the album art cover exudes a level of sex appeal that is neither illicit or vulgar, but instead candid and powerful.
In this way, rather consciously or not, Miguels message for sex appeal is challenging expected gendered norms of what it means to be male and sexual in popular culture. Hes carved out a unique space for himself, which is neither hyper nor alpha, but something altogether different. It could be called assertive. Of course, that doesnt mean we dont raise eyebrows to some lyrics on both DEAL,” the valley,” or gfg.” But in all of these tracks, hes more playful than forceful, exploring this tenuous space between kink and control.
Beyond the gendered expressions of lovemaking, which the album most directly deals with, he also evokes fairytale-like imagery in his more romantic, or at least pining, songs. Whats most special about this is that he infuses in these songs elements of his native stomping grounds, Southern California. Whereas we usually look exclusively at region/geography as something important for developing a rappers style, Miguel slips on the cloak of Golden State pride to make tracks designed for top-down drives. Lacing songs with allusions to palm trees and the elusive fame and inevitable hardships of the likes of Santa Monica Blvd., he adds to the mystique of the California dream. (And, adding Kurupt to the NWA affords him a bit of legitimacy!)
Wildheart isnt entirely something new. But its new for Miguel; it is him at peak performance. The compilation of songs, the skillful use of voice, and arrangement of music really helps to make this album a notable follow-up to his previous two, and will very likely surpass the others in popularity. In listening through it, its clear that he is comfortable not just simply crafting the songs that will be the promotional hits but instead is really focused on the full body of work. Let it be said that with Wildheart, Miguel has more than earned his keep in the hearts of fans and appreciators of soulful R&B. The landscape for the genre might never return to the music of the 90s the way many people came to appreciate it. But where the new jack swing era has long departed us, we welcome in the introspection, the electric soul, the sensuous sounds, the Miguels of the world.
Miguel has entered the annals of great R&B artists.