Did anyone have a bigger 2015 than The Weeknd?
The Toronto native released an album that propelled him to the top of the R&B mountain, scored a plethora of number one songs, nabbed two GRAMMYs, grabbed an Oscar nomination for a song featured in one of the biggest movies of the year and, most impressively, did a commercial with John Travolta. (Yes that's a thing that actually exists.)
The Weeknd is unarguably now one of the most popular artists in music and looking back on those early House Of Balloons days, when no one even knew what he looked like, feels like a different universe. Still, while The Weeknd may no longer be a mystery ensnared in a riddle, it wasn’t until Vogue revealed that The Weeknd is getting the “House of Balloons” team back together that I realized despite Abel now being a household name, the three individuals who made all this possible are still largely living in the shadows. And even if more serious music lovers know their names, would you really recognize Doc McKinney if he was standing next to you in an elevator? Exactly.
The Weeknd purists will be pleased to hear that he’s in the studio with the House of Balloons team again. “But it’s a new thing,” Tesfaye assures me. “Always a new thing.”
While The Weeknd was busy winning awards and doing lines of coke off models riding hoverboards last year, I was busy digging into the liner notes of albums. It taught me that even for an artist as mysterious as The Weeknd, it’s never as simple as the artist recording alone in a dimly lit cave. There’s always a team of people behind them, helping mold their sound and direction of a project. So if Abel's now going to bring the old crew into the mainstream spotlight, I thought I'd seize the chance to highlight the names that provided the fuel for The Weeknd's stratospheric rise.
La Mar C Taylor
Though he isn’t credited as a songwriter or producer on any of The Weeknd’s albums or mixtapes, La Mar C Taylor is perhaps the most important person to The Weeknd’s success. In his Allan Slaight award acceptance speech, The Weeknd thanked Taylor first, said he’s been there since the beginning and referred to him as his Creative Director. I can’t think of anyone more “House Of Balloons team” than the dude who helped inflate all those balloons.
Carlo "Illangelo" Montagnese
In a search through The Weeknd's history no name appears more than Carlo "Illangelo" Montagnese. Production, songwriting, engineering, you name it, Illangelo chipped in. Going off the Trilogy liner notes, he has credits on 26 of 30 tracks, and the only album he is not credited on is the less successful Kiss Land. In fact, he’s the only person (aside from Abel, of course) to appear on both House Of Balloons and Beauty Behind The Madness; he’s credited on seven of the 14 TBBTM tracks. That number speaks volumes to how close he and The Weeknd are, perhaps the Weeknd realized he’s at his best when Illangelo is the musical wind beneath his wings (see "The Hills"). If there's a House of Balloons team, Illangelo is the architect.
McKinney is just as “everywhere” as Illangelo on all of Weeknd's early material. There's not a single track off Thursday and House of Balloons where Illangleo is credited without McKinney right next to him (or vice versa). However, on Echoes of Silence McKinney only appears once, while no contributions were made to Kiss Land or Beauty Behind The Madness. As time has passed so has McKinney's name in the album credits, but he was an absolutely integral part of House Of Balloons so it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll once again be a part of the team.
A deep dig through Abel's first few tunes will turn up a few other names, but none of them appear more than twice or were as imperative to the House of Balloons sound. The team is a small one, there aren't even enough guys to put a starting five on the court, but that is what is most intriguing about the new, old House Of Balloons sound. The Weeknd is on a completely different level now, and following up a breakout album can be a tough task. Still, I see no reason why this group can't see repeat success.
Another album as big as Beauty will mean that by this time next year (hopefully) even the casual listener recognizes names like Taylor, Illangelo and McKinney. Luckily, you're now ahead of them all.