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  • Photography by Mr Ben Weller
  • Styling by Mr Tony Cook, Junior Fashion Editor, MR PORTER
  • Words by Mr Dan Cairns

When Mr Miguel Pimentel breezed into town last January for a sold-out gig at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, London didn't quite know what to expect. There is a reason for that: back home in the US, the 27-year-old Californian is one of R & B's hottest new stars, but on this side of the pond he's a relative unknown. If his London show was anything to go by, that is certain to change. More like a revivalist meeting than a concert, the gig stirred memories of Prince in his pomp, as Mr Pimentel whipped off his vest to reveal a torso every man in the audience would have killed for, led the rapt crowd in a singalong of his hit single "Adorn", and made good on his promise to make "fly, funkadelic, intergalactic hip-hop meets sexy, orgasmic, crazy, dope shit" music sound every bit as good as he so memorably describes it.

"I think people get to understand me best in a live setting," the singer says, during a break on a photoshoot for MR PORTER. "That's where all music, not just my own, comes alive. And the danger is that that is dying. So many artists use Auto-Tune now, even live; it should be used sparingly, if at all. Your voice becomes interchangeable with the next person's, everyone sounds the same because they're running from the same plug-in - there's no personality in the music. I think people want something now that feels real. And real is imperfection, not perfection. All the great artists of the past understood that."

Real is imperfection, not
perfection. All the great artists of
the past understood that

There is no shortage of writers and fans who have started to compare Mr Pimentel with the great artists the singer is talking about, and their superlatives are more than justified. Yet the early period of his career gave little indication of the daring experimentalism and audacity of his second album, Kaleidoscope Dream, which was released last autumn. Taking its cue from the socially conscious soul artists of the early 1970s, the album saw Mr Pimentel veering promiscuously between multiple genres, taking in funk, hip-hop, power-pop, psychedelia and drivetime rock and classic soul. Lyrically, the candour of the songs' subject matter ? which max on inventories of Mr Pimentel's self-doubt in the relationship and bedroom departments, and his righteous fury about continuing social inequality ? are as far removed from standard macho R & B fare as it is possible to imagine.

His real master-stroke was to preview Kaleidoscope Dream last year with a series of three online EPs titled Art Dealer Chic, which prepared his fanbase for the musical and lyrical changes that were to come. It's a tactic he intends to repeat in advance of the album he is currently preparing. "Fans' expectations have changed," Mr Pimentel argues. "Now, it's all about content. Content is what makes you more viable, and keeps people's attention. The fans listen differently now. It used to be if you were a punk rock fan, that's all you listened to. You ate, slept and breathed it, waiting for releases at the record store. Now it's all at our disposal right away. Culture has changed completely. Now we're trying things on for size."

Mr Pimentel's journey to Kaleidoscope Dream was a long and frustrating one, even by the slow-moving, revolving-door standards of the music industry. First signed to a production deal in 2000, he saw his mooted debut album, Young & Free, shelved entirely. He may feel relieved about this now ? "The image they gave me was a joke," he says, "jeans, white tee and little hat" ? but at the time he felt manipulated and misunderstood. "I come from a very do-it-yourself family," he continues. "That's how I grew up. So the more frustrated I became trying to explain the type of music I wanted to make to producers, and them not understanding, the more I started to retreat in to my own creative space. I removed myself from trying to convince other people that this would work and just started honing my own style. I started producing for myself and trying different things that I thought were cool, that I wasn't hearing."

This was riskier than it seems in today's multi-genre context. "If you look at who the premier artists were at the time [of Young & Free], Usher was huge, Ne-Yo was just starting out, Chris Brown was starting to flourish. This was the scene in male R & B. There wasn't much room for creativity. Either you fitted in with that aesthetic and sound or they didn't know how to market you. There was no alternative sound in urban R & B. I was trying to find my way when the music around was typical R & B."

Mr Pimentel's breakthrough moment was the song "Sure Thing", which, like much of the music on his eventual debut album, All I Want is You (2010), "came from me feeling frustrated. And it's always in those moments of frustration that I find something that changes my life. It's when I get fed up with something that I'm able to make the necessary changes." Continuing to be dogged by ill fortune, the singer watched as a legal dispute delayed the album's release for two years. With hindsight, he says, that hiatus was a blessing, in that it gave him the time to reflect deeper on what he wanted to achieve, and what he was determined to avoid. "Popular music now has become so in the box and digital, there's nowhere else for it to go; it couldn't get more digital. So I think we're going to hear a lot more live music in general. I was inching towards that on Kaleidoscope Dream. On the next one, you're going to hear even more than that."

With kindred spirits such as Mr Frank Ocean also helping to broaden our perceptions and expectations of hip-hop and R & B, 2013 is a good time to be an artist bent on experimentalism and resistant to creative straitjackets. That said, Mr Pimentel is also an in-demand guy for the genre's biggest stars, recently collaborating with Ms Mariah Carey on her latest single, "Beautiful", and, rumour has it, set to appear on Beyoncé's forthcoming album. Trying to get him to confirm that rumour produces the following exchange. You've done something on her new record, I say. "Is that a fact?" he replies, arching an eyebrow. That's why I'm asking, I continue: is it? "I dunno." Maybe? A long pause, as a smile plays on his lips. "I suppose." Cue yelps of laughter. So that's almost certainly a yes, then.

The album artwork for Kaleidoscope Dream

Mr Pimentel's most recent brush with notoriety was not, however, a pop-royalty collaboration, but his attempted leap from one area of the stage to another during a performance at last May's Billboard awards. Mistiming the jump, he accidentally kicked a fan in the neck ? a clip that immediately went viral. He claims now that he sought out the fan as soon as he could, and ensured that she was taken to hospital. That must be the worst side of the internet for a public figure, I suggest. "Actually, I think it's the funniest side. And that's life, man. I knew when I was young, there were things I could not fathom that would come along with possible success, being in the limelight, pursuing your passion. But that goes for anything, whether you want to be a poet, a lion tamer, or dig ditches in Africa. Whatever your passion, you can't reckon with what comes along with it until you are there, until you start to see that for yourself. That's one of the trade-offs.

"I put myself on the line creatively every day because I need to as a human being. That's what makes me happy, what makes me feel fulfilled, what keeps me sane." And the rest of it? We have to hope that the rest of it, what Mr Pimentel calls "the other stuff", keeps him frustrated, and makes him as mad as hell. Why? Because the music that comes out of that feeling is extraordinary. And because the worst thing that could ever happen to him creatively is that he wakes up one morning and the only thought that comes into his head is: life is good.