The Weeknd is capping his biggest ever tour with his biggest ever hometown show: a three-night stand at Toronto’s most hallowed venue, Massey Hall. [edit: or not] For Abel Tesfaye, the silk-voiced singer at the heart of the project, it clearly represents the height of a career rise that saw him go from anonymous U of T student relishing in self-imposed obscurity to industry-heralded soul star, ennuied face front and centre. For a lot of his fans, however, it also represents a jumping off point.
After a trio of free, self-released mixtapes made him the name on every music fan’s tongue, his jump to major label-backed, interview-giving road warrior diminished his early mystique. If his “you only want me cuz I’m next” lyric is read as a prediction, Tesfaye saw the backlash coming all along, which would make the many lukewarm “weakened Weeknd” reviews of his new album, Kiss Land, hard to take at face value.
The Weeknd, "Next":
Whatever the motivation, it’s hard to argue that there are a number of fans left behind by the Weeknd’s success. Not only is his music no longer free to hear, but for all its acoustic brilliance and storied history, Massey Hall is one of Toronto’s most expensive venues. [editor's note: the final two shows have been moved to the Sony Centre, but original tickets are still honoured.] The Weeknd is typically mentioned in the same breath as Frank Ocean and Miguel, the other two bastions of so-called “PBR&B,” but we’ve opted to dig into the (mostly) younger, still internet-friendly crop of future R&B that won’t set you back nearly $100 in ticket costs. Here's what's next.
Illangelo & Zodiac
Reviews recognizing an “emptiness” at the heart of Kiss Land aren’t just spouting vague critical platitudes; there’s an actual void there. Before Abel Tesfaye ended his shadowy press blackout by revealing himself as the Weeknd, nobody knew quite how to refer to the act. Him? They? It? Nowadays there’s little question Abel is the Weeknd, but at the beginning it wasn’t quite so clear.
Ask Jeremy Rose, a.k.a. Zodiac, as Vice did, and he’ll tell you the Weeknd started as a partnership, his production instrumental in the conception of his first blog-baiting singles “What You Need,” “Loft Music,” and “The Party & The After Party.” Later, the focus shifted to his other mainstay producer Illangelo, who helped make “Crew Love” and “Glass Table Girls” but he too parted ways with Tesfaye before the new album, and, from the sounds of it, not amicably.
Zodiac, "Come" (featuring Jesse Boykins III):
Tesfaye’s vulnerable, butter-smooth vocals are an integral part of the Weeknd’s sound, sure, but the icy, ominous beats are just as important. You can find those on Zodiac’s self-titled EP and Illangelo’s cinematic new John Milton-inspired album, History of Man, both of which communicate as much of that echoey eeriness of the Weeknd, but in more ambitious, beat-focused compositions.
Illangelo, "Crash Landing":
Tesfaye’s other go-to guy, “executive producer” Doc McKinney, is less of a whiz kid than his other former friends. He produced the debut LP from Esthero, whose jazzy Canadian trip-hop perfectly suited the late ‘90s zeitgeist before it circled back around again. Though she’s still kicking, Esthero is rarely credited for her influence on the current PBR&B movement, but her fingerprints are all over it. Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak, the sensitive robot soul record that arguably set the stage for Drake, the Weeknd, and the rest of the crop of lonely-at-the-top hip-hop stars, features three songs co-written by Esthero.
Esthero, "That Girl":
Kanye West "Street Lights" (featuring Esthero):
Ever since the Weeknd broke out, the search has been on to anoint “The Female Weeknd.” Even if that wasn't reductive, it'd still be inaccurate – I’ve heard the tag given to everyone from Solange to Coeur de pirate – but there are some unmistakable similarities when it comes to Toronto singer Rochelle Jordan. (Her spot-on response track to Drake’s drunk dial anthem “Marvin Room” certainly bolsters the claim.) She recalls a different ‘90s than Tesfaye, more Aaliyah than Portishead, but her ethereal mix of throwback R&B and of-the-moment production is enough to recommend her to fans of House of Balloons.
Rochelle Jordan, "Marvin's Room":
Rochelle Jordan, "Shotgun":
If we went for all the furtive, sensitive, hedonistic singers that formed in the Weeknd’s wake, this list could really be endless: Rhye, Autre Ne Veut, How To Dress Well, Airplane Boys, SBTRKT, etc, etc, etc. You can sample most of those in the rdio playlist at the bottom of the page, but we’ll go with inc., a pair of brothers that started as producers, but brought their love of dark ‘80s pop like the Cocteau Twins and Siouxsie & The Banshees into the realm of slinky lo-fi R&B. Sound familiar?
inc., "Black Wings":
The Weeknd’s anonymity campaign likely wouldn’t have caught fire like it did without Drake’s co-sign. “No new friends” notwithstanding, now that Tesfaye is big enough to stand on his own, co-sign free, Drake's shifted his endorsement to Jhené Aiko. In addition to singing on Nothing Was The Same’s “From Time,” she’s become a favourite of the rap world; her upcoming EP features Childish Gambino, Ab-Soul and Kendrick Lamar. Oh, and after Drake’s latest are-they-or-aren’t-they friendship with Future went sour, Aiko was handed a prime opening slot on his tour. So if you’re looking for the next Weeknd-style breakout, she’s a good place to start.
Drake, "From Time" (featuring Jhené Aiko):
Jhené Aiko, "Mirrors":