When the type of music known as rhythm and blues came to be classified that way, and years later stylized as R&B, it was reputed for one thing—evoking emotion. R&B hit listeners with the force that it did for a simple reason; it hit you in the heart because it came from the heart. Now in its current form over five decades later, what gives R&B its staying power is its ability to continue to resonate on a deeper level.
While many claim the genre peaked in the ’90s and that R&B simply isn’t what it used to be, artists such as Chris Stylez are working tirelessly to challenge that notion, while also making the genre that inspired their careers entirely their own.
Stylez, an artist currently bouncing between New York and Los Angeles, is achieving his successes within music by stripping away any insecurities or unnecessary complexities. He’s putting a genuine emphasis on building simply beautiful melodies and expressing himself through lyrical content rooted from a place of sincerity.
After his track “Who Is” found viral success by way of the Vine app, with celebrities and major brands using his track to soundtrack their six-second videos, Stylez’s sound was heard everywhere, but by choice, he remained out of the spotlight while he focused on building his catalog up and working on defining his own sound.
Considering Stylez’s father’s cousin is Jimmy Cliff — currently the only living musician who holds the Order of Merit (the highest honor granted by the Jamaican government in the arts) — and his great uncle is B.B. Seaton, the first reggae artist signed to Virgin Records, music runs deep in Stylez’s veins, which naturally led him to exploring his own talents. Learning how to play the guitar with guidance from none other than Ronnie “Bop” Williams of The Wailers, Stylez gravitated towards the piano, but honed those lessons he learned from the incredibly talented mentor into his songwriting from a young age.
Following the successes of his latest EP, Who Is, Stylez is slowly-but-surely releasing new music as this year unfolds. With his latest release, an ANY|RIOT-produced single titled “Relapse,” he taps into his Jamaican roots, bearing his soul in a song that without a doubt touches on some deeply personal experiences everyone can relate to. “This song is about letting a good thing go, yet being constantly reminded of why you both fell so hard in the first place,” he says of the track.
As he navigates his evolving signature soundscape, what is standing out consistently is the polished, impressive musicianship and raw soul behind each new track, further proving Stylez is in this game for the long run, living and creating with both purpose and passion.
The Source: How do you describe your sound?
Chris Stylez: It’s probably alternative R&B. I don’t know if that’s a thing. I don’t know if it’s traditional R&B but I listen to everything. I listen to rock music, dance music, jazz, classical, so I feel like “alternative” is my way of mashing up whatever I create.
Getting into your message, what do you want people to walk away with once they experience you live or hear your music?
Hopefully I can inspire, which is vague, but as an artist I really truly believe that it’s about moments. For example, when I try out a new song that I haven’t fully finished during a performance, it adds a little humility. People really remember things like that. So for me it’s about moments. I just want to inspire people to feel whatever emotion or feeling they get from that experience whether it’s live or through the music. Hopefully I can leave some impression that can translate to something else for someone else.
Is that where your motivation lies, too?
Absolutely. I meet people and a conversation can spark something for me or I can be on a train and see somebody. Just before I came to meet you, I saw this girl and we both got off the train and we ended up walking down the same street and I told her I liked her outfit and it wasn’t like I was trying to pick her up or anything [Laughs]. I just wanted to say I like your outfit. As an artist I feel like I get away with it because I do and say and feel. It can be bad; it’s sometimes to a fault.
As an R&B singer and a musician, would you say you’re a romantic?
Yes, 100 percent. Funny enough, I have a song called “Danger” that I’m really excited about and in the song I talk about that. It’s basically I’m saying, “Last night I fell in love with a stranger. She’s danger but I’d do it again. Am I the only hopeless romantic who still believes in love at first sight? Or should I focus and be honest with myself. Come on, its just infatuation.” So I play with that type of thing in my music, but I do believe in it too. This is life. We don’t know what is gonna happen, how it’s gonna happen, when it’s gonna happen.
And you live your art?
One hundred percent, yeah I do. I write and create as much as possible. I might not be the dopest pianist or guitarist but it still comes down to the essence of feeling and emotion and all that stuff, because that’s what it is, it’s supposed to evoke emotions. For me, that’s how I communicate it.
How would you describe your creative environment?
Well, there’s two answers for that: the ideal creative environment and then the actual creative environment [laughs]. The actual creative environment is literally my keyboard. I have a laptop, a keyboard, I plug into the software that I use, load up my piano sounds and I can just be in my apartment. As long as I’m in my own zone and no one is around, I can do my thing. I play the music that inspires me or if I have an idea I can really just focus. I’m the kind of person who needs less distractions. I could do a studio session and turn up with a whole bunch of people, but I really like to just zone in. Ideally, it would be in a studio where I turn the lights down low and light some f***ing candles or some s**t – I’m like that.
Does your live band travel with you with shows?
The one person who’s always with me is my co-producer, Dan Smit and I. Together we’re a production team called ANY|RIOT, which is an acronym for A New York Riot. Together we create everything. So for instance, being back in New York I couldn’t bring the musicians I would normally work with in LA. You know how it is, so we’re able to bring in some other people to come and work with us, but Dan is always part of that setup for me, for now, until we have people who stick with what we’re doing. A beautiful part of working with great musicians is that they “get it.” It’s not about them sticking to what the song is in your mind, it’s about letting them add themselves to the creative mix and make the best, most organic music possible.
In regards to how how far you’ve come and where you’re going next, how do you feel?
Honestly, I’m happy. I’m happy because today for example, I’m sitting here talking to someone else who appreciates music and art and stuff like that. And I know where I come from, I know – I don’t forget. I know my life. Somebody asked me something recently… she said ‘oh, did you have a hard life?’ and I guess she was trying to be like, “if you didn’t have a hard life, then you’re not really a true artist.” Which is funny to me, because I’m like what do you mean? What’s a hard life?
Maybe she just felt an emotional connection to your music and felt like it came from a place of overcoming hardship or something.
Right, that makes sense. And I guess my response was like, ‘what do you mean?’ Just because I’m smiling doesn’t mean I haven’t gone through turmoil, or I haven’t dealt with all types of things. All the stuff I write, it comes from me, my life, my experiences. I don’t just make this stuff up.
What are you hoping to accomplish as a musician in this current moment?
I’m simply open to connecting with people who are looking for the same wave that I’m on. The music that I’m into, the vibe that I’m into. I think there’s enough people that really do appreciate and love the same things, it’s just that people may not know about it. So I think for me it’s just about connecting with a newer audience, expanding my audience and having people be like, ‘Oh let me check this guy out’ or having someone hear something and be like, ‘I’m into it, let me just listen.’ You know what I mean? Because I feel that’s the value of it. But that’s it. I understand how it is, you know, I just want people to check it out. I want to meet some new people, make some new friends.
Photo courtesy ShoreFire Media