Miguel brought the past and present of L.A. hip-hop onstage for his Friday night set at Hollywood Forever. There was Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg; g-funk O.G. Kurupt and the New Yorker (but locally beloved) ASAP Rocky, all chiming in on their own hits and Miguel’s in a kind of live-action mixtape.
The San Pedro-born R&B singer was positioning himself as a peer of all those artists, with their legacies of agenda-setting party music in L.A.. With his hit third LP “Wildheart,” he likely will join that ledger.
But while the guestbook was formidable on Friday night, it was a footnote to what Miguel was really up to. That is, to write progressive, soulful songs that represent how young Angelenos think and feel today, and what new possibilities can be found there.
In a lot of ways, the 29-year-old Miguel (born Miguel Jontel Pimentel) is an ideal singer for this moment in L.A. Born to a Mexican American father and African American mother, his music is rooted in black future-soul, but conversant in the emotive balladry beloved by many L.A. Chicanos.
Beyond his suave falsetto, he’s a gifted arranger and a bit of a rake (go look up the real title of the slow jam known as “Mine” from his album “Kaleidoscope Dream”), but like Lamar is committed to a longtime pre-fame partner.
It seems like he’d fit in everywhere, and the diverse audience at Hollywood Forever showed the breadth of his appeal. Young black lesbians on date night, KCRW dads in straw fedoras, pop fans who only knew his stellar radio hits “Adorn” and “Coffee.” But Miguel’s set proved that such a distinct appeal can only really coming from being absolutely yourself.
With a live band decked in all-white complementing the backlit mausoleum, Miguel’s long set proved that R&B’s old virtues can comfortably coexist with its new ones.
Unlike his heroes Prince or D’Angelo, Miguel slides easily into today’s spacey, narcotic sounds on rap radio. Songs like “Simplethings” and “A Beautiful Exit” set the tone early -- cool-water vocals and pristine backing arrangements, but played with the looseness and volatility of a more vintage live act. Fan-favorite single “NWA” was both a nod back to a formative (and again relevant) act, and a way of re-imagining the art of slow-burning L.A. driving music for today.
Miguel has a saucy streak that’s a nice corrective to his loopier impulses. A tune like “GFG” could be vulgar in rougher hands, but when Miguel played it Friday it only came off as proof that his blood still runs hot for his longtime lady.
Even cuts like “Do You…,” an appreciative ode to club drugs, or the lecherous “How Many Drinks?” had none of the threatening undertones that someone like The Weeknd specializes in. When Miguel gets bawdy, he just sounds like fun.
But late in the set, just before the run of guests, he reminded the crowd that coming from such a particular background, and honing his many different virtues and vices into a coherent vision, had consequences.
When filling out bubbles for standardized tests growing up, he said that at the ethnic background section, he “always had to work my way to the last box: ’other’.” Many in the crowd hooted with empathy for that experience, one shared by an ever-growing population of Angelenos. “But I realized something extraordinary. We’re all ‘Other.’ I had to ask myself what the [heck] normality is anyway.”
Then out came ASAP Rocky for his Rod-Stewart-sampling ode to the bachelor good life “Everyday,” Snoop Dogg for his blunt-sparking “The Next Episode,” and Kendrick Lamar for his summer-defining anthem of resilient black hope “Alright.” Under the mantle of Miguel, it all made sense together.
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