In 14th-century Rome, the Renaissance movement revolutionized European art and thought. In 1920s New York, the Harlem Renaissance produced an innovative group of poets and writers who changed the literary world and U.S. culture. In the Internet age of 2012, there is another Renaissance quietly taking place in R&B music.

In the past decade or so, mainstream R&B has become bogged down with formulaic pop tunes. As the Billboard charts evolved to become more club friendly in the 2000s, R&B followed suit and began producing countless synth-driven songs with trite, predictable lyrics.

While Usher, Chris Brown and many other acts have consistently found commercial success with this type of music, they hardly bring anything new to the table. Even soul singers like Anthony Hamilton and R. Kelly have continually put out uninspired albums that sound like retreads of their previous work. R&B was in need of a savior — someone who could rescue the genre from drowning in unoriginality by being a creative force and producing fresh music — and luckily, it found three.

Around 2011, three artists — The Weeknd, Frank Ocean and Miguel (or as I like to call them, The Holy Triumvirate of New School R&B) — came out of nowhere and began independently releasing compelling and original music. Just as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo harkened back to the works of classical scholars, Frank, Miguel and The Weeknd took inspiration from R&B’s greats — including Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Prince — and created ambitious and inventive records to reinvigorate the stagnant genre.

With the release of 2011’s nostalgia, Ultra and this summer’s Channel Orange, Frank Ocean has established himself as the foremost R&B singer of the new decade. Channel Orange was a surprising commercial success and modern masterpiece, filled with gorgeous strings, synths and other-worldly vocals. He’s a poet whose lyrics paint abstract images of heartbreak, prostitution and the plight of unappreciative rich children that are hard to comprehend at first listen and certainly open to interpretation.

In addition to being exceptionally talented, Ocean is also bisexual, which gives him even more compelling material to sing about in usually heteronormative genre. In several songs, including the heart-wrenching “Bad Religion,” Frank laments about his unrequited love for a man. Needless to say, R&B has never seen anyone like him.

Miguel, on the other hand, began his career in a more traditional R&B vein. His first album, All I Want Is You, wasn’t particularly distinctive in the realm of popular R&B, but with the release of Kaleidoscope Dream, Miguel has found his niche with an accessible, yet wildly original, sound. Miguel’s single, “Adorn,” is a fascinating piece of syrupy-synth seduction that recalls Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” but sounds entirely modern. It’s a captivating pop hit that gives Miguel room to showcase his vocal chops, which are unrivaled on today’s Billboard charts.

Abel Tesfaye, a Canadian singer who goes by the stage name The Weeknd, is a dark and mysterious musician who creates compelling, gloomy, sinister-sounding music. Unlike Frank Ocean’s introspective lyrics, the words of The Weeknd tell hedonistic tales of painful, drug-filled sexual encounters. With the release of three mixtapes in 2011 — House of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes of Silence, which are all remastered and re-released on Trilogy — The Weeknd created an entirely new sound, one of trip hop-inspired, atmospheric synths and hard-hitting drum beats.

What separates this trio from the rest of the R&B crowd is these artists are true auteurs of their craft. Much like Wonder and Gaye, who had complete creative control in their later Motown days, Ocean, Miguel and Tesfaye all produce and write their own music. The albums these three have released in the past two years are relatively free of label influence which can often corrupt the quality of R&B records. With an unhindered ability to take chances in their music, Ocean, Miguel and The Weeknd have produced and will continue to produce masterful R&B music.

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