Whether you’ve heard – or even heard of – Miguel likely depends on how you get your music. Leading up to his second album Kaleidoscope Dream, which debuted in October, the enigmatic R&B artist released a trio of digital downloads, Art Dealer Chic Vol. 1-3, online. There was an album before that, All I Want Is You, named after the achingly smooth title track that gained widespread radio play in 2010. But two years have changed the 26-year-old, born Miguel Jontel Pimentel, who not only sports a stylized new look, but has also evolved his musical persona. The efforts have not gone unnoticed; Miguel just received five Grammy nominations, including one for Best Urban Contemporary Album. Kaleidoscope Dream is also sitting pretty as New York magazine’s third-best album of 2012 (and those best-of lists are only just beginning). Comparisons to Prince are understandable; both share a certain fondness for fusing luxe funk with sexy rock. But Miguel seems determined to be perceived as singular – not unlike a work of art. In advance of his Tuesday show at Toronto’s Kool Haus, the Los Angeles native talked to The Globe about what it takes to stand out in the music world today.
Are you trying to give a new sound to R&B?
More than anything, I’m trying to make a statement that R&B doesn’t have a particular sound. It’s more about the soul behind the music that defines R&B and that makes soul music. The sound scope, the textures – sonically, at this point, that’s what’s been holding R&B back. It’s been this regurgitated sound. And everything around it is changing. But even R&B and soul music were “popular” music – when soul music ruled radio waves and was birthing rock ‘n’ roll and birthing hip-hop, artists were different and had different sounds. I feel like we’ve forgotten that somehow. With this album, I basically wanted to remind people that you can do whatever you want as long as you’re staying true to the emotion.
It seems you opted against filling Kaleidoscope Dream with collaborations – the trend today.
I wanted this album to be a reintroduction. So – and I don’t know if this is the right word – I didn’t want to risk watering it down, or maybe burdening it, with too many distractions.
But you still write tracks for many other artists. Do you like to keep those worlds separate?
It’s not something I necessarily put much thought into. But I think because of my own [music], I feel like I’m becoming a part of someone else’s creative process. It’s easy for me to take a back seat. I’m just coming in to make their process sell faster – I’m just playing my position. If you need me to play quarterback, I can do that. I can block for you. I can wide receive. Whereas for my own music, it’s always like, I’m coaching. I’m writing the plays. I’m just more involved.
Are you thinking about who’s on the other side listening?
No, not really. It may sound a bit selfish, but the way I see it, art is supposed to be a reflection of your unique perspective. That is my sanctuary. I go to my creativity to say the things that I feel, and that in normal life, I may not say as candidly. There are so many expectations placed upon you and I have learned that the hard way – that not all forums are built to express your emotions. But art is the one place where it’s your prerogative to say and do whatever the fuck you want. If people don’t like it, they don’t have to listen. I think art finds its audience, you know? And that’s cool.
If you could own one work of art tomorrow, what would it be?
I think I’ve always been a surrealism fan. I really love Basquiat for the way he transitioned modern art. But for the sake of not being cliché by saying Basquiat or Haring, I would say Diego Rivera.
How do you think we’ll look back on this time in music – with artists like you and Frank Ocean redefining R&B?
It’s a big goal of mine to hopefully change the expectation and the sound of urban popular music. And we have had success that typically sounds very different than what’s currently on the radio and so I just intend on creating more music that’s true to me and at the same time, proving that you don’t have to sacrifice creativity or have to follow any other particular sound to be marketable or successful commercially. All my favourite producers and artists kind of have an era where their music ruled radio waves and they defined a time and a sound. Hopefully I’m on my way.