Seattle music has never been limited to one sound. Even as the heat turns up on the city’s long-smoldering hip-hop scene, its rock-town rep still looms large for outsiders and casual local observers, often overshadowing vibrant communities of artists making everything from electronic music to jazz.
While various pocket scenes have bubbled up to the surface over the years, Seattle hasn’t been considered a hotbed for R&B, even by local scene watchers. That’s about to change.
A growing wave of bright young R&B talents is poised to make a bigger splash across Seattle, and possibly beyond, as this new generation of artists comes into its own.
“I feel like R&B is finally making its peek into the main industry in Seattle,” singer/producer Talaya Logan said cautiously. “I definitely see the rise of R&B. It’s coming.”
The 21-year-old musician (who stylizes her name “Talaya.”) is among a sonically diverse new class of R&B artists who have released their introductory projects over the last two years, flashing loads of promise over a collage of singles and EPs. Alongside the likes of critical favorite Parisalexa and alt-R&B crooner MistaDC, Talaya. and her peers are bringing a fresh energy to a local rhythm and blues landscape that already included more seasoned artists like Otieno Terry, JusMoni, Tacoma’s Will Jordan and electro-soul mainstay SassyBlack.
Seattle’s reigning R&B queen
Talaya., a self-taught audio engineer by day, says the emergence of Seattle’s reigning R&B queen Parisalexa is opening a door for other Seattle R&B artists. Parisalexa’s local breakout came in 2018 on the strength of two EPs that topped The Seattle Times’ annual year-end critics poll and a prime Capitol Hill Block Party slot. National looks from NPR and Billboard followed, along with an appearance on “Songland,” NBC’s songwriting competition series.
“Once she stepped into the spot that she’s in now, I feel like there’s a lot more room for other R&B artists to step up to the plate as well and make it a wave,” Talaya. said of Parisalexa ahead of their performances during KEXP’s Refill benefit concert, which will be livestreamed through KEXP’s YouTube channel starting 4 p.m. Sunday, July 19. The show, which also features hometown rap faves Sol and Dave B, producers Sango and Chong the Nomad and others, benefits the Seattle Artist Relief Fund, an initiative created to provide economic relief to local artists during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After pre-COVID tour dates with buttery voiced R&B vet Xavier Omar saw her playing larger stages away from home, Parisalexa unveiled her debut album “2 Real” this spring. While 2018’s “Bloom” EP channeled the 21-year-old’s love of ’90s R&B and earthy neo-soul, the self-assured “2 Real” displays Parisalexa’s ever-sharpening pop smarts and songwriting prowess — skills honed through side-hustling as a behind-the-scenes songwriter. She recently placed music with pop/R&B star Normani (of Fifth Harmony fame) and was invited to submit work for Beyoncé, though it remains to be seen if her royal Beyness will use it.
“Because I came up maybe a couple months or even a year or so before a lot of this wave got recognition, I just feel really fortunate to be someone who inspired other people and made them feel like we can build something here,” Parisalexa said. “And now it’s being built.”
The new wave
Last fall, LIV† drew local praise with her dreamy “Black Girl Unbothered” EP and transplant rapper/singer Jay Loud, who went from being homeless to landing a record deal in short order, caught ears outside of the Northwest. The momentum continued this year with strong new projects from Tacoma’s Blakk Soul, high-energy R&B/rap hybrid Nestra, and Rahale B. — an exciting up-and-comer who dropped a brief but exquisitely crafted set of airy, piano-rich songs last month. Though she left for college before getting established in the local scene, Seattle-reared UMI is flourishing in Los Angeles, her new neo-soul-soaked “Introspection” EP carrying some of her best work to date.
Despite releasing his debut album, “Take Your Time,” in May, Blakk Soul is the savvy veteran of the bunch. Since ditching his Boeing job in 2017, Tacoma’s king of the slow jam has split his time between his hometown and Los Angeles, where he’s built a career as an engineer and behind-the-scenes songwriter, putting his fingerprints on songs by Macklemore, R&B/funk-rap star Anderson .Paak and Playboi Carti.
In L.A., the real-life Eric Mercer Jr. is finding success, landing studio work with Dr. Dre and learning from the hip-hop icon over the course of a year and a half. Nice gig if you can get it, but Blakk Soul first had to pass a trial-by-fire initiation test, essentially building a song from scratch on his first night in the studio.
“In the midst of working on the record, like Anderson .Paak popped into the room, [rap star] T.I. popped into the room. I’m just trying to stay focused on the task at hand so that I don’t miss my opportunity, but I’m just like, ‘There’s a lot going on in here. This is crazy!’”
When he was starting out in Washington, Blakk Soul said the Seattle-Tacoma R&B scene was small but impactful — a description that’s still apt. Local shows were generally well attended, he said, perhaps partly due to there being relatively few R&B artists compared to the abundance of local rappers. Eager to get on any stage in front of anyone who would listen, he often landed on “bills that didn’t make any sense for an R&B singer to be on.”
“It’s about exposure”
Talking with national touring artists, Parisalexa says they often tell her Seattle is a particularly strong market for them. But that doesn’t always trickle down for local artists.
Despite a steady stream of local press the last two years, a number of the Sammamish High School graduate’s local fans discovered her through a song she did with Omar, only to be surprised to learn she’s from Washington.
“We have a huge base of R&B fans, it’s just about tying that bridge to the fact that there are local artists creating music you would like. You just don’t know about them,” Parisalexa said. “It’s about exposure.”
For a number of Seattle’s R&B singers, some of that exposure has come through sharing stages and studio sessions with local hip-hop artists. Though the sibling genres are inextricably linked, there tends to be a larger market for rap than there is R&B, a trend not exclusive to Seattle. Both Parisalexa and MistaDC have worked and performed with artists like Sol and Travis Thompson, artists capable of filling the Showbox, while JusMoni is part of the Black Constellation collective that includes Seattle luminaries Shabazz Palaces and Stas THEE Boss.
While Seattle hip-hop’s stock has risen since Macklemore and Lil Mosey’s ascents to stardom, the scene’s collective boost has only done so much for local R&B. Talaya. said many of her friends still feel like they need to skip to L.A. in order to get noticed. “It’s still hip-hop that rules,” she said. “The grunge scene has always put a damper on the hip-hop, so it feels like a totem pole sometimes.”
Seattle’s rock legacy will always be a massive piece of its musical heritage. But music is youth-driven, and as the local scene continues to replenish with young artists coming of age in an era when hip-hop/R&B has dethroned rock as the most dominant genre in the U.S., the community’s size and impact is destined to keep growing.
“I want people to know that we aren’t just grunge and rock and indie,” said MistaDC. “We are a community of dope R&B and hip-hop artists that are showing we can be a force.”