The Weeknd first started showing up on music blogs in late 2010, anonymous but for his big-time endorsement from Drake. His sound — dark and shadowy R&B, distant under a heavy narcotic haze and well-placed Beach House and Aaliyah samples — rose from the underground to become its own microgenre. Now, 6 years later, that PBR&B age (file next to chillwave in music terms you wish you forgot existed) sounds like it might as well have been a million years ago.
Listen to the two mixtape-era Weeknd songs that just leaked. The first, "Airports," spins a heavy sample of Radiohead's maybe-best-since-2000 stunner "All I Need" into an electronic soundscape that spends a full two and a half minutes as a wordless slow-motion rave before Abel Tesfaye's vocals even enter.
Then there's the leaked demo of "Crew Love," a reminder of things that might have been. The Weeknd was originally going to include it on his initial mixtape trilogy, before he gave it up (along with half his album) to Drake for Take Care.
"Crew Love" was their best collaboration, but seeing the writing on the wall that if he stuck around Drake's orbit then he would only ever be one of his supporting players, he signed with a major label instead of OVO. That came with a big pop push that now has him competing directly with Drake for sales and streaming records.
You can't begrudge Tesfaye his success. Still, this Weeknd-only "Crew Love" is the sound of some alternate 2011 in Toronto. It's hard not to be a little nostalgic.