1.Introduction to the White Soul Trend

1/9

SPIN takes a closer look at the new crop of would-be Justins -- click through our gallery to hear tracks by 7 trendsetters. By Charles Aaron.

Did it feel historic to you? I speak of "Cry Me a River"—the perfectly stage-managed rhythmic storm of Justin Timberlake's faux-Michael Jackson coo, Timbaland's heart-monitor beat drama, and the tabloid-deadly lyrical subtext (take that, Britney, you bee-yaatch!). Released during the Christmas season of 2002, it confirmed Timberlake as a bonafide solo superstar, but more importantly, as an R&B/soul artiste. Plus, Timbo's endorsement (and JT's further collabos with the Neptunes and Clipse) gave the Disney homie a hip-hop hall pass that put *NSYNC permanently in the rearview.

Even more significantly, it sowed the seeds of a phenomenon—the white soulboy sidekick—that's finally reaching critical mass in 2009, as a rented limo full of fair-haired talents make their JT play this summer and fall with releases of varying quality and hype. More commercially viable and less artistically problematic than the whiteboy rap sidekick, which became a nagging cliché after Dr. Dre's successful Eminem roll-out—Timbaland/Bubba Sparxxx, Wu-Tang Clan/Remedy, Three Six Mafia/Lil Wyte, DJ Drama/Asher Roth, etc.—the white soulboy sidekicksuavely serves at the pleasure of a rapper or hip-hop producer or producer with hip-hop credibility. As a result, the hip-hopper reaches a more "mainstream" (read: teen girl) demo, the soul dude seems like less of a pussy (kidding!), and everybody seems vaguely more relevant (whatever that means). Perhaps more importantly, it's the latest step in the evolution of (mostly) African-American hip-hop impresarios as the gatekeepers of cutting-edge pop. Here's a sampling of some of the recent sidekicks to roll up the sleeves on their '80s dinner jackets, tip their fedoras, and wail.

*Special props to OG white soulboy Bobby Caldwell, whose beyond-beatific "Open Your Eyes" was sampled by J Dilla on Common's 2000 hit "The Light," and Dido, whose feature on Eminem's "Stan," also in 2000, was an even more influential white sidekick moment. Also, a shout-out to the founders of Desco and Daptone Records, who did more to make soul cool again than any whiteys alive.

2.Introduction to the White Soul Trend

2/9

SPIN takes a closer look at the new crop of would-be Justins -- click through our gallery to hear tracks by 7 trendsetters. By Charles Aaron.

Did it feel historic to you? I speak of "Cry Me a River"—the perfectly stage-managed rhythmic storm of Justin Timberlake's faux-Michael Jackson coo, Timbaland's heart-monitor beat drama, and the tabloid-deadly lyrical subtext (take that, Britney, you bee-yaatch!). Released during the Christmas season of 2002, it confirmed Timberlake as a bonafide solo superstar, but more importantly, as an R&B/soul artiste. Plus, Timbo's endorsement (and JT's further collabos with the Neptunes and Clipse) gave the Disney homie a hip-hop hall pass that put *NSYNC permanently in the rearview.

Even more significantly, it sowed the seeds of a phenomenon—the white soulboy sidekick—that's finally reaching critical mass in 2009, as a rented limo full of fair-haired talents make their JT play this summer and fall with releases of varying quality and hype. More commercially viable and less artistically problematic than the whiteboy rap sidekick, which became a nagging cliché after Dr. Dre's successful Eminem roll-out—Timbaland/Bubba Sparxxx, Wu-Tang Clan/Remedy, Three Six Mafia/Lil Wyte, DJ Drama/Asher Roth, etc.—the white soulboy sidekicksuavely serves at the pleasure of a rapper or hip-hop producer or producer with hip-hop credibility. As a result, the hip-hopper reaches a more "mainstream" (read: teen girl) demo, the soul dude seems like less of a pussy (kidding!), and everybody seems vaguely more relevant (whatever that means). Perhaps more importantly, it's the latest step in the evolution of (mostly) African-American hip-hop impresarios as the gatekeepers of cutting-edge pop. Here's a sampling of some of the recent sidekicks to roll up the sleeves on their '80s dinner jackets, tip their fedoras, and wail.

*Special props to OG white soulboy Bobby Caldwell, whose beyond-beatific "Open Your Eyes" was sampled by J Dilla on Common's 2000 hit "The Light," and Dido, whose feature on Eminem's "Stan," also in 2000, was an even more influential white sidekick moment. Also, a shout-out to the founders of Desco and Daptone Records, who did more to make soul cool again than any whiteys alive.

3.MR. HUDSON

3/9

Benefactor: Kanye West
This singer/songwriter/producer is a blond Brit—always a sidekick plus, since every hip-hopper inexplicably wants his very own Chris Martin clone (preferable, at least, to a pseudo-John Mayer). Mr. Hudson, an Oxford grad and ex-indie rocker who's also made beats for Dizzee Rascal, was signed to Mr. West's G.O.O.D. Music label (and drafted to work on 808s & Heartbreak) after A Tale of Two Cities, his 2007 debut with multiracial band the Library, sold poorly. Though new single "Supernova" was dissed by London's The Guardian as "Keane with added Auto-Tune," the album Straight No Chaser, executive produced by West, is a U.K. hit, and cleverly cross-references the kitbag of influences these two polymaths possess. More quirky than accomplished, it's still a fascinating experiment. Next up: His Blueprint 3 feature with Jay-Z on the track "Forever Young."

Mr. Hudson feat. Kanye West, "Supernova" (WATCH )

4.DANIEL MERRIWEATHER

4/9

Benefactor: Mark Ronson
Like a chunkier Aussie Justin (or Chris Martin), Merriweather has opened for Kanye, gotten assists from rappers Saigon and Rhymefest, and has a timeless, flawless, and ultimately rather, um, colorless, voice—makes you really appreciate Paul Carrack, for instance. His debut album Love & War, set for U.S. release in October, is immaculately produced by Ronson, especially the snare-smacking, piano-trilling single "Change" (with an always-game Wale), which is sorta the aural equivalent of a well-meaning student-class president passionately imploring, "Come on, you guys, we need to do our part to end racism too!" Pop ballad "Red" whinges limply, but the luxuriant heartache of "Water and a Flame," his duet with Adele, finally ups the ante. One starts to wonder, though, if Merriweather appreciates how much more intrigue a hip-hop context gives him.

Daniel Merriweather, "Change" (WATCH)

5.MATTHEW SANTOS

5/9

Benefactor: Lupe Fiasco
Virtually a Merriweather doppelganger—though he actually follows through on the threat of a faux-hawk—this Minneapolis-born, Chicago-based singer-songwriter eagerly filled the Detective Riggs role opposite Lupe's Murtaugh on the 2007 crossover hit "Superstar" (though an MTVU live version also featured Fallout Boy's Patrick Stump, not a good sign). Signed to the Chicago rapper's 1st and 15th label, Santos tends toward the preciously jazzy ("Drop the Coin") or ponderously bluesy (the Daughtry-esque "Death, Sex and Regret") on his own acoustic-based tracks. From the sound of it, a Mraz-ification might be in order, commercially speaking. A solo album release is rumored for later this fall.

Lupe Fiasco and Matthew Santos, "Superstar" (WATCH)

6.COLIN MUNROE

6/9

Benefactors: Dallas Austin, Kanye West (By proxy)
A persistent Canadian producer and singer-songwriter who has collaborated with a variety of MCs—from Saukrates to Drake to Joell Ortiz to Wale—Munroe made his first serious noise by crooning a 2008 remix answer to Kanye's "Flashing Lights" called "I Want Those Flashing Lights" (under the aegis of Austin's Rowdy Records). In the song's video, which has been viewed almost 750,000 times on YouTube, Munroe roams Toronto's streets and is accosted by various pedestrians for no particular reason (except maybe that he's wearing a blue plaid hoodie). Kanye blogged about the remix and included a version on his Glow in the Dark Tour mixtape, then Munroe released a mixtape of his own called Colin Munroe Is the Unsung Hero, featuring a clever, if random, version of U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Attempts to collabo with MSTRKRFT fizzled, but a recent track with Izza Kizza, "Connect the Dots," has potential. He remains unsung.

Colin Munroe, "I Want Those Flashing Lights" (WATCH)

7.MAYER HAWTHORNE

7/9

Benefactor: Peanut Butter Wolf
This bespectacled 29-year-old singer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer from Ann Arbor, Michigan worships the romantic sweep of Detroit soul circa 1966-1974, and recreates it with stunning facility. He's also got nerve, even writing his own song called "I Wish It Would Rain" on debut full-length A Strange Arrangement, released by Stones Throw, the tastemaking indie hip-hop label run by Peanut Butter Wolf. He's also gotten some play in the U.K. via endorsements from Ronson and BBC Radio 1 host Gilles Peterson. More a record-maker than a performer, Hawthorne, a.k.a. Andrew Mayer Cohen, amps up his vinyl-fetishizing, nerd-chic persona in goofy videos, but lustrous tracks like "Maybe So, Maybe No" and the breakbeat-boosted Curtis Mayfieldupdate "The Ills" are no joke. As for the future, he's already recorded a track with Freeway, and discussed a possible project with Snoop Dogg.

Mayer Hawthorne, "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out" (WATCH)

8.DAN BLACK

8/9

Benefactor: The Notorious B.I.G. (Posthumously)
After four years with pluckily mediocre alt-rockers the Servant, this Brit singer-guitarist decamped from London to Paris (where the Servant had a respectable following), re-emerging in early 2008 with "HPNYTZ," a smarty-pants mash-up of Black singsonging Biggie's lyrics from "Hypnotize" over a sample of Rihanna's "Umbrella." A lo-fi video featuring the geeky beanpole in a variety of t-shirts, sweaters, bandanas, and sunglasses, seeming to flit from one exotic tourist locale to another, became an online sensation, and before long, Black was reborn as a vaguely soulful pop playa. Biggie's estate refused permission to release "HYPNTZ" as a single, so he came back with "Symphonies," an artful rewrite that brilliantly captures our everyday-shlub ache for something vast and spectacular—it should be a cubicle-rockin' anthem. For his debut album Un, Black has explicitly invoked the late-'90s/early-2000s heyday of the Neptunes/Timbaland, but his songwriting feels too patchwork (like a smoover Beck), and his pinched vocals lack lasting emotion. "Alone" is wonderful punk-funk disco fluff, but if Black wants to come off as anything more than an overly delighted tourist frolicking in a post-hip-hop romper room, he's got some work to do.

Dan Black, "HYPNTZ" (WATCH)

9.FITZ & THE TANTRUMS

9/9

Benefactor: Still looking (References upon request)
The shorthand myth (yet to be fully vetted): A French-born, half-Irish kid who grew up in L.A. obsessed with Motown/Philly soul—perhaps via late-'70s Hall & Oates—composes the five songs on just-released debut EP, Songs For A Break-Up Vol.1, after buying a church organ from a neighbor for $50. Weirdly, despite these lo-fi origins, and his indie affiliations (he's also worked with Ladytron and Mt. Sims), Fitz might be the slickest pro on this list, including Mr. Hudson. Not the most original or interesting, but the most technically adept and pop-ready, and probably the only guy mentioned here who deservesmore attention. A confident belter, he's already written two stone-legit, would-be standards—"Breakin' the Chains of Love," with its soaring, rave-up chorus and frisky breakdown, and "Don't Gotta Work It Out," which slides from symphonic '60s soul to sunny '70s Cali pop. Like Dan Black, and a lot of these artists, it feels as if he could bolt to another genre at the drop of a vintage chapeau, but with Fitz that's a strength rather than an indictment. Ronson actually played "Breakin' the Chains" on his East Village Radio show (somewhat ironically titled "Authentic Sh*t"), but frankly, our boy ain't getting any younger, and he needs a full-fledged co-sign pronto. Going on tour with Flogging Molly ain't gonna cut it.

Fitz & the Tantrums, "Breakin' the Chains of Love" (WATCH)