Musicologists (and folks eager to sound like them) have long contended that hip-hop and its offshoots are simply the latest links in the chain that extends from traditional blues and R&B, as well as the African-American oral tradition, but more casual listeners often shrug off such notions, insisting hip-hop is just some sort of urban noise that sprang out of nowhere. The first full-length album from Son Little (the stage name of songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Livingston) could be seen as an essay in 12 songs about how the trajectories of blues, soul, and hip-hop cross paths and reveal a common source and mindset, though at no time does Little's music suggest this was ever his guiding principle while making this music. Vintage blues and R&B are at the heart of Son Little's sounds, but on most tracks you have to listen for a minute or two before you can figure out just what bit has been scavenged from where, and while electronic beats and digital manipulation of sounds are clearly a big part of how these tracks were created, this is music that was informed by hip-hop without actually being hip-hop (the songs may have been constructed using bits and pieces of common blues figures, but if there's any sampling on this album, it's subtle enough to never call attention to itself).
I’m short, 5’ 5”, and I cannot understand why someone would call him or herself “Little”, but Aaron Livingston did. He even gave himself the first name “Son” as if being small of stature wasn’t demeaning enough. He’s no Big Daddy puffing and boasting. He’s just Son Little. Or as ….
More so than other genres, R&B has been blurring its boundaries over the past several years, almost always looking forward instead of back. It has become especially fertile terrain, malleable enough to incorporate disparate influences from rock, blues, pop, funk, jazz, hip-hop, and gospel – often at the whim of the artist. Exhibit A: Janelle Monáe.