The singer Lucky Daye makes music full of live funk, strings and brass — it’s more William DeVaughn than the Weeknd, and as a result, it’s not the type of R&B you usually find on mainstream radios or massive playlists like Today’s Top Hits.
But the fact that Daye’s music is now being released by a major label might be taken as a hopeful sign for R&B fans — or at least wishful thinkers — interested in a more diverse sound in the genre. The singer’s first release, a five-song collection titled I, arrives today via RCA and Keep Cool. In this case, the second name is nearly as important as the first: Keep Cool was co-founded by the A&R Tunji Balogun, known for his role in signing Bryson Tiller, Khalid and SZA, all R&B singers who excel working within the hip-hop-indebted style of the moment. Balogun’s support of Daye suggests that even R&B insiders are interested in exploring new directions.
Speaking over the phone from his current home base of L.A., Daye is cheerful about his outlier status. “There’s a lot of trend-following,” he says. “And it’s fine for a little bit, but when things change up, people get forgot. And nobody wants to be forgotten.”
Daye drove to L.A. after stints in New Orleans, Tyler, Texas and Atlanta. He scraped together money writing and singing, but for a long time, he says, “the majors wasn’t messin’ with me.” “I got really low,” he continues. “It was a turning point for me to run out of all of my resources. In my mind I was going home. I was done.”
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But he wanted “to do at least one album that I would’ve did if I had the opportunity [with a major label]” before calling it quits, and through his writing work, Daye managed to meet Dernst “D’Mile” Emile II, an ace R&B writer-producer with credits for Janet Jackson, Ty Dolla $ign and the Carters. “He’s the best producer I ever met in my life,” Daye says. “He was the first person I asked [to do a whole album with me], and he was the last person I asked.”
The two men holed up in the studio together for a year, listening to acts like Prince, Chaka Khan and Blackstreet and writing songs. Of the 15 they finished, 13 are slated to appear on Daye’s eventual album, Painted. “We took whatever feels good from any genre anywhere, whether it’s the Beatles, the Eagles or the Stylistics,” Daye says. For horn arrangements, they looked to the example of Earth, Wind & Fire.
The most energetic moment on I is “Late Night,” a stepping-ready dance-floor number full of falsetto and muscular bass. “I have this scene I go to in my mind — old school cars, beautiful ladies,” Daye explains. “I don’t know where it comes from, my past life? But it’s always there. That’s a song where we gotta talk some shit, and talk it to everyone who feels young and proud of who they are.”
More often, though, Daye is happy to maintain the hushed mood of “Roll Some Mo,” the first song he wrote with D’Mile and I‘s lead single. It’s a slippery, string-slathered funk number, and it was promptly placed in a pair of million-plus-follower playlists on Spotify.
The “Ready for Love (Interlude)” takes a similar approach, building around a light Latin rhythmic pulse and another unabashedly pretty string section. “That was initially a freestyle that I did not finish because I didn’t have any lyrics written down,” Days says. “Everyone said I should finish it, but I could never think of another word to say. So it ended up being what it was now: A short song that goes into an even more incredible song.”
To hear that follow-up, listeners will have to wait for Daye’s next release. “We are bringing [the album] out in pieces so people can live with it,” the singer says. “My dream would be for other artists to take from it and also do things that are not following the trends.”
But if they don’t, he’s not overly concerned. Daye adds, “It was never about fitting in.”