The country’s contemporary R&B is a blend of American trap with regional rap, funk, and pagode.
From left to right, top: Hodari, Alt Niss, Ferrugem and Junior Lord. From left to right, bottom: Solveris (photo by Divulgação), Luiz Lins, Fabriccio and Lucas DCan. (All photos via Facebook, except Solveris.)
A version of this article originally appeared on Noisey Brazil.
In the early 2000s, artists like Kelly Rowland, Usher, Alicia Keys, Ne-Yo, and R. Kelly were heard incessantly throughout Brazil (there’s not a single millennial who never sang "Dilemma"' at karaoke). But with the exception of a few attempts at replicating international trends that ended up becoming hits – ”Você Vai Estar na Minha” by Negra Li and her collaboration with D’Black, “1 Minuto", for example – homegrown Brazilian R&B never really flourished. The genre never found its groove in the country, nor an audience that faithfully followed it. Until now.
First, it’s important to understand the origins of R&B in Brazil. It’s not like the genre is completely alien within the country’s culture – perhaps we simply failed to give it the right label. The history of R&B is a bit confusing in itself and also features some racist connotations, considering the fact that, in Brazil, the label “R&B” was first applied to any music made by the country’s black community that erred even slightly on the side of pop, almost as a way to dilute and homogenise the style. But one can't deny that artists like Tim Maia and Cassiano were byproducts of the same kind of soul and funk that gave birth to R&B. It’s also hard to deny that Brazilian rap – even at the early 2000s, when the genre was at the peak of its aggression and rawness with artists like Racionais and Trilha Sonora do Gueto – frequently incorporated melodic influences through its choruses and samples. Also, pagode, a popular subgenre of samba, previously acted as a Brazilian version of R&B during the 90s and early aughts, causing similar swooning with a low and slow BPM, vibrant harmonies, and drippy, mellifluous vocal runs.
After the international proliferation of the genre in the early 2000s waned and Brazilian tastes skewed more towards baile funk and Sertanejo Universitário, it seemed that R&B would never find its footing in the country. But in recent years, R&B has become more noticeably present in the Brazilian underground, as new artists began to embrace the genre and its aesthetic. Tássia Reis – and her affiliated hip-hop group Rimas & Melodias – operates between the worlds of rap and Brazilian pop. Luccas Carlos sings over the melodic trap beats his label Pirâmide Perdida is known for. Even MC Livinho has been highlighting São Paulo’s counterpoints to Rio de Janeiro’s funk putaria with sounds influenced by R&B that can be noticed in hits like "Fazer Falta" and the recent single "Rebeca". Together, these artists have pioneered a new genre that finally draws on the long history of R&B’s influence in Brazil, giving it a tropical and shady touch. People have taken to calling this sound R&B chavoso, or “smooth R&B.”
This new form arrived like a wave: Luccas Carlos brought with him other artists who adopted a similar style, such as Jé Santiago of Recayd Mob, Matuê, and Alt Niss.
Alt Niss is a São Paulo native who, along with Tássia and the rappers from Rimas & Melodias, dominates the city’s R&B scene. As a child, she was always surrounded by rap music but was particularly drawn to the R&B singers she saw on TV – a story she shares on her track "Zona Sul 89".
“I was really into R&B as a child,” Alt Niss told Noisey. “I thought that the girls were damn amazing singers. I liked their lifestyle, clothes, hair, and everything else. I was 11 years old then and that kind of music wasn’t very big in Brazil. I didn’t have internet access. It’s crazy. Following Aaliyah and TLC was a mission.”
Luiz Lins, an artist from the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco, was inspired by the same blend of trap and R&B.
“Back when I produced some R&B material, I listened to a lot of international stuff,” he told us. “I was musically stuck at the time. But then I checked out PARTYNEXTDOOR, The Weeknd, Bryson Tiller, Frank Ocean, and John Legend and I thought they were making interesting music. Since I wasn’t doing anything with music, I decided to give it a try.”
Last year, Lins got noticed because of the single "A Música Mais Triste do Ano (The Saddest Music of the Year)", which is more geared toward the introspective side of R&B and currently has over 22 million views on YouTube. He and the others from PE Squad went on to release the mixtape Young Baby, which was produced by Mazili and featured energetic verses by the rappers Diomédes Chinaski and Matheus MT that countered Lins’ deep baritone.
Channeling the same melancholic acoustic guitar style has proved successful for artists from different areas of the country. Konai, from the central-west city of Campo Grande, garnered over 15 million views off his track "Te Vi na Rua Ontem (I Saw You on the Street Yesterday)". Lucas Dcan, from Rio de Janeiro, has dropped multiple introspective acoustic singles after releasing his self-titled EP in 2015. “When I started making music, the sounds I was looking for weren’t around,” Dcan recalled. “But that changed when I went to São Paulo to record with Pollo and got to meet their producer, Renan Samam. That’s when I saw that people were doing what I wanted to do.”
Other artists have taken a lighter, more pop-centric approach to the R&B genre. Solveris, a quartet commonly referred to as the “Brazilian Black Eyed Peas,” embodied that on their debut album Vida Clássica earlier this year. Morena said that they were heavily influenced by rap, but remained loyal to Brazilian rhythms in their music. “I was in a few bands but I got serious about music when I started to play samba and get paid,” she says. “At the end of the day, samba and pagode are the types of music that I grew up with.”
To that end, the link between pagode, a poppier subgenre of samba, and R&B is undeniable. It started in the 90s, with mainstream pagode artists like Exaltasamba, Os Travessos, and Soweto and has recently been influenced by performers like Rodriguinho, a former member of Os Travessos, and newcomer Ferrugem, who even covered the song "Lady" by Luccas Carlos (“he’s a great friend of mine,” the pagode singer said), and the carioca rapper BK.
“Ever since I started listening to pagode, especially the romantic stuff, I noticed similar elements to R&B such as its melodic verses,” Ferrugem told Noisey. “When I listen to R&B, I identify with it much more than I do with any other international genre. I think that’s why I decided to pursue the R&B route. But many others came before me.”
Funk – the boisterous genre that’s long dominated Brazil’s lower income suburbs, and has also provided much of the fuel for underground club music around the world over the past couple of years – has also played a role in helping R&B lay its roots in the country. "Fazer Falta" offers the best proof that the two genres can be fused – when I interviewed MC Livinho in March 2018, he mentioned that he’s a big fan of the style – but other artists have moved in the same direction. Don Juan, the musician behind the 2017 hit "Amar, Amei", and Junior Lord have been making some smooth R&B too – as evidenced in the song "Melanina".
“R&B is connected to funk and rap because those styles are what made R&B prominent again [to begin with],” Lord told Noisey. “The influence of Brazilian funk brings R&B closer to our reality and makes our R&B more authentic.”
While the majority seems to agree that R&B gained prominence in Brazil when local talent started to make it their own as opposed to directly copying from foreign artists, there are differing opinions on whether or not R&B will continue to thrive. Lucas Dcan and Luiz Lins argue that the genre will never have an independent following in Brazil since it wasn’t created there. Fabriccio, on the other hand, thinks it’s always been present in the country in some capacity.
“From Simonal to Luccas Carlos,” he says. “We [artists] also added a lot to the style on a global level – if you listen to Anderson.Paak now, you’ll see that he’s sampling Cassiano while Kaytranada samples Gal Costa. They’ve been [drawing from] some of our R&B. They love it.”
You can listen to Noisey Brazil’s R&B playlist below.