As perhaps the last vestige of grown-folks carnality in mainstream music, modern R&B trades in the archetypes of masculinity; sweaty abs and dirty talk pushed by loverboys (Usher) and bad boys (Jodeci). Prince's flamboyance remains one of the biggest exceptions in the genre's long and storied history, and the years since his purple reign are dotted with lonely acolytes: In 2003, André 3000 took a shot at hip-hop's rancorous masculinity—with the help of a smoking pink gun—on his rap-&-B manifesto, The Love Below. Some might say the tension of conforming to one-dimensional manhood contributed to D'Angelo's post-Voodoo unspooling.
The current R&B landscape is painstakingly virile: From Jeremih to Trey Songz, Ty Dolla $ign to PARTYNEXTDOOR, men are singing about sex and love. But all of these supposed libertines are focused on the primacy of male pleasure, treating their sexual experiences with all the reverence of a bunch of wadded-up tissues. On Wildheart, his third full-length album, Miguel, the writhing, pompadoured soul singer, has a similar focus, but it's sex-positive instead of sex-obsessed, a crucial difference. Languorous and detailed, it transcends the genre's established narratives with a focus on pleasure and partnership instead of one-sided pursuit. If Frank Ocean is young soul's prismatic, consciousness-expanding Marvin Gaye, Miguel's the reliable Al Green. The first words on this album—"Don't ever sell yourself short... Trust your intuition... You know the plan, conjectures of society," from the reverb-y opener "A Beautiful Exit"—are a testament to how Miguel's grown from radio-baiting R&B archetype to a maker of high-concept, genre-splicing pop music.