It has now been seven years since the world was introduced to the newest form of R&B, from an artist who, instead of a mansion, chose to live in a house filled with balloons.
Starting with intro track High For This, a barely 21-year-old Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, brought everyone into his dark carnival ride of a world. A world where all was told, but everything was still left unknown. As the intro starts with what sounds like a winding staircase down into his world, Abel begins the song with, ‘You don’t know, what’s in store, but you know, what you’re here for,’ and immediately makes your surroundings irrelevant; you’re inside his mind now.
Welcome to House of Balloons, a place somewhere under the moonlight of the world, where you know you shouldn’t be but you go anyways, for better or worse. There is a mysterious host of this house party, but you can only catch glimpses of him in the reflections of his glass tables; the more you listen, the more you learn. While the house makes for a thrilling party, it also makes for the best R&B album of this decade, and the one that changed everything.
As soon as the album dropped, the direction of R&B changed, people were provided the fuel they never knew they needed, for a darker and storytelling listening experience. The desire for Chris Brown and Iyaz’s sugar-coated love stories quickly faded out. There would be an occasional hit here and there of that variety, but the mainstream success of happy, pop R&B was now an afterthought and a phase that the music world had gotten over.
The Weeknd’s wave was so big that it didn’t just catch the critics ears, but also the biggest up and coming artist in the world at the time; Drake. Starting with Drizzy tweeting a link to The Party and the After Party, arguably the centerpiece of the album; and then talking about The Weeknd at his concerts to eventually surprising audiences and bringing Abel out on stage with him. What Drake did for Abel in terms of propelling his career forward and pairing brands to make OVOXO was huge, but what Abel did for Drake was arguably much bigger.
The pair collabed not one, but five times on Drake’s Take Care, the proper debut, and project that shot him straight to superstardom. Abel received writing credits for Cameras/Good Ones Go Interlude, Shot For Me, and Practice; provided vocals on fan-favorite Crew Love and served as the perfect harmony on outro The Ride.
Together, the two Toronto natives architected the sound of R&B today. Abel brought Aubrey out of his Houston phase, and with producer Noah “40” Shebib, the Toronto sound was born. A moody R&B and hip-hop mix meant almost strictly for after 10 p.m.; with a low pass filter on the drums so they stayed in the background, a swooping sub-bass, and a hazy Houston synth that could make people emotional without hearing the lyrics.
Seven years and three projects later, Tesfaye’s revolutionary sound is now the norm. Artists such as Frank Ocean, PARTYNEXTDOOR, and Bryson Tiller have used the Toronto sound to their advantage in their own slanted way, and half of the radio feels like House of Balloons 2.0.
What the house on 65 Spencer Street in Parkdale, Toronto did for Tesfaye and his music can’t be understated, and what The Weeknd and House of Balloons did for music will never be forgotten.