When it comes to Portland’s Black community and its musical history, discussion is often focused on jazz and hip-hop. These days, however, a new generation of artists is attracting more light to the Portland R&B scene than perhaps ever before.
Here are 10 local artists making soulful waves in Portland.
For fans of PARTYNEXTDOOR, Bryson Tiller, Usher
TYuS is often credited with putting Portland on the nation’s map of modern R&B hubs. The then-20-year-old singer’s career took off in 2016 when his self-published songs went viral, thanks to his fierce online following. “City of the Rose,” a popular cut about a romance with a Portland woman, has racked up a staggering 1.2 million views on YouTube.
Now signed to Warner Brothers Records, Tyus released his 2017 EP Phases with the help of famed producer Hit-Boy. And although he’s gained recognition nationally, his work continues to feature Portland in content and collaborations with Portland rapper Cassow. The music video for “Other Side//Brand New” is filled with immediately recognizable shots of Portland’s skyline and bridges. Tyus croons to the upbeat R&B track while walking downtown, visiting Alberta Market and exploring Forest Park.
For fans of Patrice Rushen, Morris Day, Cheryl Lynn
After winning Willamette Week’s Best New Band poll in 2015, retro-futurist R&B group Chanti Darling’s star has continued to rise. Meanwhile, frontperson Chanticleer Tru has become one of the most in-demand artists in town. Tru grew up with a diverse music background, listening to jazz, R&B, gospel, opera, dance music and musical theater. This range of influences is apparent in singles like “Stars” and “Casual” (featuring Portland’s the Last Artful, Dodgr), which show off Tru’s immense vocal ability.
When you see the band live, you’ll understand why they draw crowds. Keys, live tracks and two enthralling back-up dancers typify the Chanti Darling experience. Shows often feel like traveling back in time to the days of disco — or jumping forward to a dance party in the funk-ified future. A similar vibe prevails at Jump Jack Sound Machine, the monthly dance party Tru DJs with singer Natasha Kmeto. Chanti Darling’s studio debut RNB: Vol.1 — a 10-track project that includes a wide range of R&B genres and production help from Portland’s Damon Boucher — was released in August 2018 on Portland’s Tender Loving Empire label.
For fans of Erykah Badu, Solange, Brandy
If you called Blossom — aka Keisha Chiddick — the queen of Portland soul music, not many would argue with you. Blossom is also one of the hardest working solo artists in town; she frequently brings her fun live act to venues like Holocene, Mississippi Studios, Rontoms and Doug Fir. She’s also been known to open for established national stars like Ginuwine and BJ the Chicago Kid.
With roots in Trinidad and Tobago, Blossom has lived in Portland since her youth. Her sound is diverse and ever-evolving; earlier songs like “Sass” mix jazz and neo-soul to create super-chill vibes, while newer single “Black Magic Woman,” produced by local artist Fountaine, shows strong reggae influences. Tease, her debut full-length with producer Hot16, includes poppier takes on soul, with summer anthems like “Get Over It,” “So Cool” and the ’90s-tinged “Loves Comin.” With Clout Atlas (a collaborative EP with EYRST labelmate Ripley Snell) released in summer 2018 and another solo album on the way, Blossom’s career is just getting started.
The Last Artful, Dodgr
For fans of Missy Elliott, Anderson .Paak
Originally hailing from Los Angeles, rapper and singer the Last Artful, Dodgr has become one of Portland’s biggest hip-hop acts. Another member of Portland label EYRST, the artist (whose given name is Alana Chenevert) gained wide acclaim with her 2016 single “Squadron.” Bone Music, a collaboration with producer Neill Von Tally, is regarded as one of the best Portland albums of 2017.
Chenevert’s raspy flow, commanding stage presence and impressive singing and rapping talents have earned her opportunities to back up Portland rapper Aminé on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, make an appearance on Sway in the Morning and even tease a studio session with “Uptown Funk” producer Mark Ronson, Christina Aguilera and Anderson .Paak on Instagram.
For fans of Lauryn Hill, India.Arie
A transplant from New York City, Fritzwa makes contemporary R&B that’s laced with hip-hop. Often performing live with a full band, the singer/emcee is constantly refining her craft as a musician and bandleader. Her full-length project Avenue A is a nostalgia-induced R&B daydream and an ode to New York that’ll resonate with anyone who feels like they’ve left a piece of themselves somewhere. Standout tracks include “Like My Art,” “Ice Queen” and the Trox-produced “Bouncin.’”
Fritzwa is also a spectacular DJ, regularly spinning at spots like Church Bar and Holocene, getting crowds bouncin’ with a holy trinity of hip-hop, Afrobeat and dancehall.
For fans of Erykah Badu, SassyBlack
Formed in 2016, interstellar neo-soul duo Brown Calculus features Andre Burgos and Young, Gifted and Brown co-founder Vaughn Kimmons — also known as Brown Calvin and Brown Alice, respectively. The duo, who are also members of soul/hip-hop outfit Tribe Mars, are a stalwart act on local bills around town.
In 2017, Brown Calculus released its debut EP Live at the Map Room, featuring spacey, twinkling production and spoken word/vocals from Kimmons. Highlights include the surprisingly cheery “Good Job” and the much-needed “Self Care.”
For fans of originality and Michael Jackson-esque dance moves
Rapper/producer Fountaine (aka Michael Stewart, formerly known as Mikey Fountaine) is popular for his forward-thinking sound, energetic and captivating live sets, and innovative “anime rap,” first seen on his free 2015 project Blak $ushi. A native Portlander, Stewart plays the protagonist in Seena Haddad’s X-Ray web series about a young rapper hustling in Portland’s underground hip-hop scene.
Fountaine’s massive third full-length H.F.I.L (Hell for Infinite Losers) is a highly personal story of his experience dealing with depression and racism as a Black artist born and raised in Northeast Portland. Although the album is largely hip-hop, it includes “All for Me,” featuring Blossom and a sample of Aaliyah, as well as a danceable soul-infused song called “Dressed to Kill,” which utilizes talk-boxy vocal treatment. Fountaine also produces an array of sounds for other artists, and plans to release a more R&B-focused solo project soon.
For fans of Akon, Sean Kingston, Shaggy
Senegal-born singer/producer I$$A is one of the most experienced and hardest working artists in the Portland R&B category. His sound pulls from global influences — most notably dancehall and Afrobeat.
His most popular release by far is “Sleep on You,” a 2015 single featuring Canadian rapper/singer Tory Lanez. Since then, I$$A has released a pair of catchy island-hop singles: “Bambi” and “Open Your Heart.”
For fans of Princess Nokia, Big Freedia, Mykki Blanco
Marquis Dickerson, who performs under the moniker Maarquii, is probably best known for being a hip-hop artist with a focus on experimental booty-house music. But if you’ve listened to their 2016 EP Heavy Petty, you know not to place Maarquii in any one box. In addition to rapping, Maarquii also sings on select tracks and is a former dancer for Chanti Darling.
The 26-year-old’s stunning presence in the local spotlight has become a beacon of empowerment for Black femmes, and songs like “Wirecutters” and “Dam God” should show you why. Slowed-down R&B tracks abound on 2017’s Lullaby in Gemini EP, with highlights like “2Chill” and “Prettywrecked.”
For fans of Robyn, Alina Baraz
Portland R&B songstress Reva DeVito is known for her solo work, like her sultry debut EP The Move and tracks like “Babe Squad.” Lately, however, she’s been making waves as one half of Umii, a joint project with Cali funk producer B. Bravo.
The duo’s aqua-themed album This Time from the Fresh Selects label feels both timeless and modern, with fluid and electronic production, funky guitar and DeVito’s heavenly vocals. Lead singles “Masquerade” and “Dangerous” are especially addictive, with throwback vibes that’ll win the heart of every ’90s kid who appreciates a quality pop record.