Hood niggas singing R&B.
We can take it as far back to the real OGs of the 80s when The Isley Brothers were smooth enough to steal wives from their husbands with “Between the Sheets” and their canes tucked to the side. Or, fast forward to the 90s of Jagged Edge dressed in oversized fits from head to toe, bandanas, decked out chains and Timberlands.
The sound of R&B has changed through each decade with different labels flying around from “alternative” to “trapsoul”. Bryson Tiller’s TRAPSOUL is a staple album for that was apart of the movement for the return of R&B music reaching mainstream success once again. “Don’t” hit number 13 on Billboard’s Hot 100 while “Exchange” earned him another Top 40 hit.
Tory Lanez, 6LACK and PartyNextDoor are all R&B artists that lay their vocals over 808s and hi hats that have produced their charted singles “Say It”, “PRBLMS” and “Recognize”. But, when going back to the timeline of this new age R&B and the start of its newfound mainstream success, a hood R&B nigga had to walk so that other artists could fly. And, his name is August Alsina.
After being inspired by Lauryn Hill’s performance in Sister Act 2, August spoke into existence that he wanted to follow the same dream of becoming a singer. Through his family’s financial struggles, his mother bought him a camera so he could record YouTube covers.
Despite having a clear vision of what he saw in his future, the road to following his dream started with detours. The pain of drug addiction surrounded him from losing his father, to having no peace of mind living with his stepfather and himself selling crack in New Orleans. He also experienced back to back trauma of the death of his best friend and murder of his big brother in 2010. He eventually left his home to Atlanta to find any solution possible to have a peace of mind.
Along with his search for peace, the grave loss of his brother was a wake-up call that brought him back to music to find a way out the hood and to keep both his brother and his own spirit alive. August took a step closer to finally reaching his peace after being signed to Def Jam and released his debut EP, Downtown: Life Under the Gun, in 2013. His purpose for the EP was to have listeners feel as though they were walking through the hood of New Orleans.
Apart from Lauryn, August was influenced by both the soulful storytelling of artists such as Lyfe Jennings and New Orleans rappers Juvenile and The Hot Boys. The fusion of the two took his R&B background into the heart and signature sound of the gritty South.
While rappers in the South at the time were dominating Hip-Hop for over a decade, August made room for R&B with his EP’s lead single “I Luv This Shit” featuring Trinidad James. It was a refreshing and innovative hit that unexpectedly woke up the industry.
Producer Knucklehead’s blending of the beat’s hard hitting Hip-Hop synth-horns and bass with August’s uniquely soft yet striking voice created a banger that kicked off August turning into an artist for everyone to keep their eye on.
August’s debut album in 2014, Testimony, with singles like “Kissin’ on My Tattoos” and “No Love” featuring Nicki Minaj solidified him as a true contender in the game.
Testimony reached number 2 on the US Billboard 200. With the album’s success, he went on to being in the 2014 XXL Freshman class and won two BET Awards including “Best New Artist”. And, who can forget the iconic performance of the “I Luv This Shit Remix” with Trey Songz and Chris Brown?
Shortly after Testimony, he released This Thing Called Life that delved listeners in to how with the highs of becoming famous and making hits that there came the downs of having the whole world watching you ready for you to make a mistake. In an interview with SKEE TV, August made it clear of the intention behind his sophomore album involving the topics of depression and suicide.
“I feel like if I speak on it then I can save a life. When I’m gone I want to be able to still touch people’s lives by making timeless music and giving what’s real because that’ll never change. Everything that we’re supposed to get out of life, I want every piece of it. The good, the bad, the ugly. I can have that and be able to share it with the rest of the world for other people just like me or in worse situations that I could ever possibly imagine. I want to be remembered as a person who was apart of changing the world.”
August Alsina made a mark in the game by shutting down the narrative that R&B can only revolve around the pain of love and heartbreak. Through his transparency, he proved that the genre can also encompass a plethora of real life issues and the emotional healing that comes along with them. It was his own personal way that he found himself from out the hood and became an inspiration for other dreamers that followed after him.
From the beginning of his career, he realized that his music was much bigger than him.
“Now I do it for my homies that'll never get to do it, And I do it for the mamas tryna make it on they own, Yeah I do it for the thugs on the yard locked up, And I do it for New Orleans, couldn't do it all alone.”
August openly expressing his struggles through R&B opened the door for other male singers to not be afraid of both being vulnerable and how listeners may react to their lyrical content.