Mack Wilds didn't come up with the popular "If the love doesn't feel like '90s R&B, I don’t want it" meme, but he might as well have.
Because even in a year that saw Big Sean masterfully recreate the opening theme from the sitcom "Martin" and Wale conjure the conversational energy of "Seinfeld"'s Tom's Restaurant for his The Album About Nothing, few artists have mined the pre-millennium decade quite like Wilds.
His latest ode to romance in the season of baggy sweats and Keith Sweat is "Love in the 90z." With production from longtime collaborator Salaam Remi, The Roots' James Poyser, Scott Storch and "new jack" king Teddy Riley, Mack turns the track into a lyrical Wikipedia of songs that defined those years. But when I ask the 26-year-old star of VH1's upcoming nineties-hip-hop-inspired film, "The Breaks," if our ongoing preoccupation with the music of a bygone era signals that the eulogists are right -- R&B is dead now -- Wilds is quick to challenge.
"There’s so many people out there that represent R&B in a very good way, be it Ty Dolla $ign, Chris Brown, Trey Songz," Wilds told MTV News, describing Ty as a "modern-day Jodeci." (The Virginia quartet comprised of two sets of "bad boy" brothers ruled the airwaves in the early '90s with a look and sound that sampled the grit of hip-hop.) "There’s a lot of R&B artists out right now that really represent R&B -- but more so to today’s standards -- from all of the different inspirations we’ve gotten from yesteryear," he added. "Like, we built on those and created what it is today. Now, people may say it’s over-sexualized or whatever, but that’s R&B. It’s a testament to where our generation is now."
Two years ago, Wilds stretched his musical muscle with his first album, New York: A Love Story, a collaboration with Salaam Remi (Nas, Amy Winehouse) that was steeped in nineties nostalgia for that city. And though R. Kelly's "12 Play" and TLC's "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" get nods on "Love In the 90z," Mack wasn't clicking around on throwback R&B playlists when he found inspiration for it. The singer/actor was actually on a set.
"I think doing the show 'The Breaks,' I was so inspired," he explained of his role in the original movie based on Dan Charnas' "The Big Payback." "I got a chance to transfer myself back to a specific time and really understand the love and the creativity and the camaraderie that came about at a time like that. ... So I wanted to do a song that recreated the feeling but not only just the feeling -- but spoke about the love that came from that time."
Catch Mack Wilds in "The Breaks" when it premieres Monday, January 4, 2016 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on VH1.