Meet AOE, Def Jam’s New Duo Making Otherworldly R&B
Traditional R&B tends to capture the intimacy of a bedroom, one of the rare safe havens for pure human emotion. Bedrooms are where lovers lay, where love is built; bedrooms are where broken hearts go to be mended, where tears can fall freely, and where the deepest thoughts on love, loss and life are explored. From the smoothest quiet storm cuts to electrifying club anthems, the best R&B is music that takes you home.
Traditionalism doesn’t have to be the map artists follow, but it can be the blueprint to build something new upon. Art that twists the idea of normalcy is an open field, far from the shackles of conventional thinking. When the voice of Phil Beaudreau and the production work of Dawaun Parker are brought together, the two merge into AOE―a rhythm and blues duo with traditional roots integrating alternative flair. Their sound is too big for an unadventurous box, and the feeling of their music is far from the bedroom. If I had to describe their union, the first word that comes to mind is “otherworldly.” Listening to the Def Jam duo's debut EP, Homecoming, the music made on the third rock from the sun takes you somewhere far from Earth.
AOE's Mission Statement: "We are ambassadors for the artists. The creators. The storytellers. We are ambassadors for those who seek meaning in experience. We make music for the heart and visuals for the mind's eye. We are AOE."
The GRAMMY award-winning Parker spent years signed under Dr. Dre as a producer, the protégé that studied alongside one of hip-hop’s most acclaimed prodigies. Before becoming a credited producer for Kendrick Lamar and Eminem, Dawaun was a student at Berklee College Of Music along with Phil―their stories both begin in an institution where music is taught.
There’s a certain musicality to Homecoming that doesn’t feel like two novices throwing splatters of paint and praying, but two craftsmen who understand the power of tools and knowledge.
The EP's fourth song, “My World/R Evolution,” is the best example of the project’s otherworldly feeling and an array of musical exploration: how the production slowly builds around his soulful vocals; the various changes in notes and pitches shows a singer with an immense amount of range. I love when the drums finally drop, but there’s a point where Phil’s voice is just soaring through the chords, and despite being minimal the production has a quality of expansion―growing larger, ever more vast. His falsetto sings of revolution, of mortality, of an afterlife―he cuts through the limitless buildup like a rocketship breaking through Earth’s atmosphere. Climbing, climbing and climbing until the song ends.
The build up and the endings are what makes each AOE song memorable. There’s always a rising action leading up to a climax, the quality of any good story and one that’s embedded in their music. “I’m Right This Time” is like being beamed up into a space shuttle headed for Pluto. The chord progression takes you higher and higher, while the pitched-up vocals are like the whispers of an extraterrestrial. The breakdown at the end is purely voyeuristic.
“Love/Sorrow” is an early favorite, starting with a quiet beauty, but by the end, you’re thrust into this rock-esque palette. The beauty of love and the pain of sorrow are perfectly articulated in the heart-grabbing lyrics, but it is the drastic change in the production that is the most impactful―calmness becomes calamity.
Lovers of R&B who appreciate the sweet knock of golden hip-hop drums will be deeply infatuated with “Gone." Heartwarming vocals and poetic penmanship―the power and passion of Beaudreau glows. I wouldn’t mind if a rapper’s rapper who's looking to spill a sensitive, sweet sixteen should arrive and do it justice.
AOE’s vast sound comes from their vast palette of inspirations. You can hear the influence of classic pop, vintage rock, golden hip-hop, a touch of jubilant house, and alternative R&B’s guiding hand. Dawuan doesn’t appear vocally, but the instrumentation he provides has such a presence of life. Each song explores a different idea, while Phil’s voice never feels thrust into strange terrain, but rather entering different rooms of one gigantic home.
AOE creates a thrilling introduction by not living in one box, but instead stacking boxes into a giant fort. Homecoming is refreshingly unpredictable while never entering a place of unfamiliarity. Far more adventurous than safe, music more fitting for a spaceship than a bedroom—you don’t know what’s coming during your first listen, but each surprise is a pleasant one.
By Yoh, aka Ambassador Yoh, aka @Yoh31.
Photo Credit: Def Jam