When planning my Essence Fest 2016 itinerary I included rising R&B singer Eric Bellinger in hopes he'd surprise me exactly the way he ultimately did Friday night. Lately among us R&B fans there's been a lot of discussion about today's male R&B artists, so I almost felt it my duty to see what was up with one of them.
Like me, if you're an R&B or hip-hop fan, you've probably heard some of Eric Bellinger's hits at least in passing: "Valet" featuring Fetty Wap and 2 Chainz, the Kris Kross-sampling earworm "I Don't Want Her," or the "Oochie Wally"-sampling "Focused On You." The nostalgia-meets-reinvention trend of reworking '90s hits is really big right now in R&B. It's worth noting Bellinger was somewhat ahead of his peers on this wave.
I walked into Bellinger's Essence show expecting to hear some familiar bops, bounce along, drink in hand, and keep it moving. The first two things definitely happened, but after seeing numerous sets on Friday, here I am thinking about Bellinger. His stage presence, his charming relationship with his fans (at one point he dropped into the audience to sing a fan's request directly to her, a cappella), but above all else, his voice.
This guy can really sing! Despite the use of heavy production and layered vocal tracks, his actual voice rose to the top on more than a few occasions. The best part? His high-energy performances style means hopping around the stage, all the while his vocals never suffered or took a backseat.
In a time when many male R&B singers border on rapping and a many rappers border on singing, the genre lines are continuing to blur. While Eric Bellinger definitely falls into the former category, what sets him apart from many of his peers is he could probably sing any style of R&B, soul or pop, and make it his own.
During his Essence Fest debut Bellinger spoke to the crowd, reflecting on "grinding for years" just to get to this point. After seeing his brief-but-impressive set, it's safe to say we can expect bigger things in Eric Bellinger's future.