The recent debate about who is the current “King of R&B” (sparked by a claim from Cash Money artist Jacquees) is not as clear cut as it has been made out to be. This isn’t the first time someone who has claimed to be the king of a genre or style of music. T.I once famously declared himself the “King of the South”, and that title has since become inseparable from the mega-successful Atlanta emcee. The difference is that when Tip very boldly asserted himself as King, he justified it time and time again. Eventually, no one who initially took issue with the claim (and there were quite a few of those) could argue against it; T.I was (and probably still is) one of the most dominant forces in the history of Southern hip hop.
Back to the “King of R&B”. Jacquees has no doubt put out some great music, but so has numerous other worthy artists over the last few years. I personally think no one can touch Miguel right now, and few, apart from Usher and a certain disgraced singer from Chicago, can really lay claim to the arbitrary throne as long as Maxwell and D’Angelo are still making music. But there’s another contemporary contender who is sneaking under the radar, one who deserves to be part of this strange pissing contest: Daniel Daley.
The vocalist of OVO Sound duo dvsn is unquestionably one of the best voices in R&B right now, and if that much wasn’t already obvious from the duo’s two studio albums, it was certainly on full display as dvsn ended their Morning After world tour at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre.
They aren’t quite Billboard darlings (their only charting hit is thanks to a feature on Drake’s “Faithful”) just yet, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the wall-to-wall, front-to-back crowd at Enmore, ecstatic as the production half of dvsn, Nineteen85 kept the energy high before the main set. Accompanied by E! News host (and OVO affiliate) Tyron “T-Rex” Edwards on the mic, the award winning producer mixed his biggest hits like Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and Khalid’s “OTW” with other R&B hits like Mario’s “Let Me Love You” and Ginuwine’s “Pony”, all booming sing-a-longs for the crowd; it made the wait a bit more manageable.
Once Daley came onto the stage things were much different. A trio of female vocalists stood huddled to his left, illuminated by a faint spotlight. The stage was mostly pitch black ,if not for numerous colourful lasers darting from the back and beaming across the theatre. A simple set up, yes, but an effective aesthetic given the moody R&B jams that flowed into one another through this extended set, most buoyed by an assertive blend of trap and soul that stretched and sparked underneath Daley’s considerably powerful vocals.
If only the vocal levels themselves were stronger, Daley would have been able to completely wrap around the theatre with his voice, especially on songs like the aching “Sept. 5th” which would have elevated the drama and heartbreak that much more. That’s not to say the theatrical elements of each song weren’t almost perfectly communicated though; that’s a given, seeing as Daley’s jaw-dropping performance was defined by his lush, buttery tenor and feathery falsetto constantly folding into one another. His falsetto recalls the likes of Usher and Ginuwine, and the way he switches to tenor so effortlessly reminds me of Maxwell. It’s no wonder all three R&B greats were referenced on that night, from interpolations of “So Anxious” and “Fortunate” fitted onto the ends of “Too Deep” and “P.O.V”, respectively, to a stunning cover of “U Got It Bad” extended from “Think About Me”.
The covers didn’t end there though. Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better”, Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” and Miguel’s “Adorn” were all snuck into the set; not quite full covers, but all used to add incredible detail to a set that no one in that room would have wanted to end. And Daley, along with his very talented baking singers, captured the mood of each song so well – another testament to how expressive and adaptive his voice is. And why he needs to be in this “King of R&B” conversation.
The set was very much all about texture. The textures in Daley’s elastic vocal inflections as he’d accentuate the impact of beautifully written tracks like “Hallucinations” and “Body Smile”; the textures handled by his backing singers, all three of which had different complementary styles and would subtly break apart as often as they’d stay in-sync; the textures in the simple light show that proved perfect for the soundtrack; and the textures in Nineteen85’s productions, full of details that’d pack in tight and then rip apart, widening to create sparse settings for Daley’s range.
We almost needed an emotional time-out from Daley’s voice, and were thankfully given a bit of a breather when one of the backing singers, Shantelle May, took the lead for a beautiful cover of Beyoncé’s “1+1” and her own original song “Back N Forth”.
The set came to a close with “The Line”, which was perhaps the best showcase for what dvsn are all about. On this track, Nineteen85 journeys back to the smoother textures of 90’s R&B and successfully pulls them into the modern era, avoiding the trappings of on-trend sounds and giving Daley something truly elegant to work with. It’s perfectly realised in a live setting, emphasising the wistful soul in Daley’s voice, one last reminder that we were witnessing something truly special.
As I walked out of the Enmore, it kind of dawned on me. At least as far as dvsn and Majid Jordan go, Drake seems to be curating OVO’s roster of talent based on the type of music he wishes he could make. Daley is like Drake’s R&B side elevated to a fine art.
Nuh Time/Tek Time
Too Deep (with “So Anxious” cover)
Think About Me (with “U Got It Bad” cover)
Do It Well
Sept. 5th (with “Kiss It Better” cover)
1+1 Cover (performed by Shantelle May)
Back N Forth (performed by Shantelle May)
Redbone/Hold On, We’re Going Home/Adore (Covers)
Conversations in a Diner
FIVE STARS OUT OF FIVE
The reviewer attended this show at Enmore Theatre in Sydney on 5th January 2019.