dvsn, Reviving R&B

Drake and Future 2016 Summer Sixteen Tour featuring Baka, Roy Woods, and DVSN at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Photography by Charito Yap
Toronto’s music scene has grown tremendously in the last few years, and with new artists like dvsn having released a breakout album, the city’s relevance in contemporary music shows no signs of slowing down.This sudden surge of musicians coming out of Toronto is often associated with Toronto-based music icon Drake. While dvsn may not sound unfamiliar, you may recognize the R&B revivalist duo’s members, Nineteen85 and Daniel Daley. Nineteen85’s production can be heard on hits like One Dance and Hotline Bling, while Daley’s voice will sound very familiar to those who enjoyed Faithful, from Drake’s album Views. Following the success of his sophomore album, Drake made a commitment to help the city’s music industry grow. With the help of his long-time friend Oliver El-Khatib and his producer Noah “40” Shebib, Drake founded OVO Sound, a record label dedicated exclusively to talents in the Greater Toronto Area. The label is already responsible for several artists like dvsn, Majid Jordan, and PARTYNEXTDOOR.

In just two albums, spanning a year and a half, dvsn has made fans fall back in love with the forgotten genre that is Rhythm & Blues.

Fast forward five years, and dvsn has just released their second album Morning After on October 13th. The album was announced in late August and promoted by singles Think About Me, Don’t Choose, and Mood, which were released throughout the summer. Despite the diverse sounds of each of the singles, dvsn managed to flawlessly fit them into the album by using soundscape and piano transitions between songs.

In just two albums, spanning a year and a half, dvsn has made fans fall back in love with the forgotten genre that is Rhythm & Blues. Perhaps the genre was left behind in the wake of a growing hip-hop scene and the trend towards electronic R&B, or it was abandoned due to a declining quality of writing in the mid-2000’s. One thing is for sure: there was a lack of incoming talent while our favourite stars opted to explore new genres, dabble in the world of production or retire from R&B entirely.

dvsn’s Canada Day concert in Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto. Photo Courtesy of Adil Dostmohamed

What is it that has dvsn rekindling everyone’s lost love for R&B? Following its first week, Morning After remains in Apple Music’s top five most streamed albums. For some it’s the diverse production, which can be soothing at times and energizing at others. For instance, P.O.V. uses a sample of Fortunate by R&B icons Maxwell and R. Kelly to create its slow, chopped-and-screwed beat. Conversely, Conversations in a Diner uses a combination of repetitive piano notes and sound effects for its intimate sound, while Don’t Choose infuses trap-style production techniques with Nineteen85’s typical methods to create an exhilarating experience. Others may be drawn in by Daley’s contribution – vocals. A vocal range of Daley’s calibre is rare on its own; however, Daley’s vocal style has not been heard since the days of Usher’s U Got It Bad and R. Kelly’s 12 Play. Daley uses a soulful falsetto contrasted with a low modal voice to take listeners back to the early 2000’s, where R&B was well-established in charts and radio stations.

Ultimately, what makes dvsn so special is their masterful blend of this classic R&B vocal style with contemporary beats.

Another noteworthy element of Morning After is the outstanding writing throughout the album. Daley, who is largely responsible for the writing of the duo’s musical library, writes engaging stories with a large array of themes. Songs like Run Away and Nuh Time / Tek Time deal with heartbreak and unfaithfulness, while Daley engages in the lighter themes of love and passion in Can’t Wait and Morning After.

Ultimately, what makes dvsn so special is their masterful blend of this classic R&B vocal style with contemporary beats. dvsn combines two contrasting sounds and styles to create an unprecedented sound in which the production and vocals compliment each other. The duo has successfully reincarnated the R&B genre, and while there is yet to be a tour announced, expect dvsn to visit Montreal in the coming months to perform their latest release.

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