The cover for Abhi//Dijon‘s debut mixtape features a photo of a pinboard covered in cutouts of album covers, photos, and stickers scattered in the empty spaces. Spend a few minutes letting your eyes wander and before pressing play you’ve got a pretty good sense of where the Maryland-based R&B duo is coming from. There’s a bit of the album cover for 3 Feet High and Rising, a Slum Village photo, a cut-out of Eykah Badu, and grainy disposable camera photos at cocked angles.
But somehow a collage feels like the least honest representation of influences. When you listen to Stay Up and absorb its details, Abhi & Dijon’s skill and heart shine through. During the outro of “Wait” you hear the duo listening to Jon B’s “The Boy is Not a Man” in the car and ruminating on its legacy: “Yo, the bridge in this song makes me want to stop making music… this low-key is the most powerful bridge of all time.” It’s a glimpse into the natural inspiration behind the album, more of an honest depiction of influence than any collage could do.
When I first wrote about Abhi//Dijon nearly two years ago I compared the feeling of their music to listening to K-Ci and Jojo, the kind of 90s throwbacks like Jon B or TLC that immediately take you back to middle school slow dances and bootlegged CDs. Most of the songs cut up guitar and bubbly synth pads alongside boom-bap drums, standouts like “ESPN” and “Apple Pie” dropping the electronics out for simple songs that recall the heartful soul of D’Angelo.
Lyrically, Dijon weaves stories about sneaking out, making out, and dipping out with friends. There’s a lot of nostalgia for the past, a lot of reminiscing on past flings and flames. On the sultry “One” he ponders, “How many times have we broken up?” the second half of the line melting into mumbles between the music. “ESPN” is one of the best love songs of the year, the chorus toying with sports colloquialisms to describe an addictive love. It’s silly, buoyant, brilliant stuff.
The modern R&B landscape is oversaturated, from The Weeknd’s dominance to Drake and Fetty Wap crooning in their own weird ways over every beat they can get their hands on. That’s not to say it’s not wonderful, but the line between hip-hop and R&B is possibly more blurred now than it’s ever been. Abhi//Dijon’s approach to the genre is classic while not being nostalgic; something like retrofuturism in musical form. To say their rise has been meteoric would be an understatement, considering that two years after they arrived on the scene, they’ve scored production credits and features on records by Talib Kweli and Nao. As long as these two guys from Ellicott City are in the game, the future looks bright. Stay up for it.
Stay Up is out now via Abhi//Dijon’s SoundCloud page.