What Happened to R&B?

By Camerin Jae for Cr8tions Magazine Jan/Feb 2017 Issue

When listening to music today you hear the same thing repeatedly, You hear the same string of beats, tempos, and rhythms. But what happened to the soul and the true rhythm and blues that we all grew up listening to? We always talk about 90s and early 2000s music but no one is trying to bring it back. That sensual, loving, speaking-to-you kind of music.

For instance, today we have trap music and all of the musicians that have soulful voices such as Jazmine Sullivan, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Jill Scott seem to be pushed down into the underground music. They seem (in my opinion) only to be brought out when we have award ceremonies such as The Soul Train Awards, only to be pushed right back down. We used to have amazing music but nowadays everything is slowly starting to sound the same and anyone trying to be different is casted aside. Even the rappers today aren’t talking about anything that is different other than Money, Women, and Sex. They put the different genres of music on the B list or even lower than that, when in reality they are some amazing artist that deserve better acknowledgement for their talent(s).

I actually prefer to listen to these specific type of artist rather than listening to a lot of the big (well known) rappers and singers out here today. I will, however, admit that the beats of today’s music are some what fun and catchy, but I would love to hear someone in the likes of Tupac and Biggie. Both artist are well known for their controversial lyrics that sparked important discussion and both were fluent like poets. I can literally count on one hand who the artists are that I have personally heard, that have musically covered major subjects of great importance such as The Black Lives Matter Movement & Black on Black crime(s). I strongly believe the messages that they are putting out there today needs to be more positive and uplifting for one another; Because it is deeply needed right now.

It’s enough that the media puts people of a specific ethnic background in a negative light already and therefore, it is disappointing to be reflected as just one category, when we are full with an abundance of some much variety.

My personal first memories of R&B as a black child is only two things: Either you’re going to spend the day cleaning the house or you’re going to a cookout. At the cookouts, you’re going to see all of your family members jamming and having a good time and you’re going to end up doing the electric slide. You’ll hear something amongst these songs: “September” by Earth,Wind,& Fire, “Before I Let Go” by Frankie Beverly, or “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green, and the list goes on. In today’s music, you probably wouldn’t feel as comfortable to play it in front of your children or certain family members. Almost every word that a rapper and singers say is either a curse word or something sexual that is most likely highly inappropriate.

Most of today’s music has to be censored so much that you can’t really enjoy it yourself, and one might feel or think “What’s the point in playing it?”. Many parents have even stopped listening to music all together with their children around because they don’t want them to pick up on the inappropriate nature. It’s saddening to watch and know that today’s children might not experience the bonding memories that one shares with the adults of their family through the effects of great soul music, such as we have.

Many of our iconic artists also have made the transition from R&B to hip hop, rap, and even pop today. The artists that come to mind for me are Beyonce, Usher, and Chris Brown. I listened to Beyonce and Usher from the 90s all the way thru to where they are today and one could hear where they decided to make that change as well for themselves. I believe they also recognized the slow fading of R&B and decided career wise to appeal with what is more popular in today’s music. Though both artist still hold on to their roots of course in songs such as Sandcastles (Beyonce 2016 Lemonade album) and There Goes My Baby (Usher 2010 Raymond VS Raymond album), which also displays they still process not only soulful lyrics but also very powerful vocals.

Many of the R&B singers that have also made the genre change, have express their doing so in order to widen their span of audience and not to appeal to just a specific ethnic group. For example, survey shows that singers such as Trey Songz, Mary J Blige and R Kelly, are most appealing or popularity lies more within the african american community; My strong beliefs are because of their strong influential background in R&B more than anything else. However, These artists have had a majority of their number 1 hits that have made it to the radio stations that are mostly known for playing pop music, but the demographics of it all show that they are catered to mostly towards R&B, which audience is primarily African American. Chris Brown is also another artist that was mostly known in the R&B community but since coming out in the 2000s to now his R&B career quickly did an about-face into the pop and hip hop direction. Two prime examples his song “Run it” in 2004 and in recent years he has come out with “Yeah 3x” which has more of a pop music feel to it.

It appears as if the goal of many young artists today is to focus on one demographic which entitles selling a (somewhat) false reality of living like millionaires, being with the quote on quote “Baddest” women, Killing and sadly disrespecting people. Not realizing how impressionable the minds are of the young people that are listening to their music. Where as their goal should be to make music that crosses all barriers, making a world known name for themselves and building a career that will last a lifetime. Artists like John Legend have brought us back to our realities. When he releases a song it has to do either with love, life, or hope which we need in this time and people across all demographics love him because his music is something that isn’t common today.Many artists that have recently come out only have about one or two hits and then they disappear from the scene. If you look at the R&B artists from the 70s- early 2000s a lot of them may not be making new music but the songs they did make are still making money, touring, and performing or being heard by many. It seems like people are holding their breath waiting from a good R&B song to come out and when it does they exhale because it’s not something that has to be censored and can be enjoyed by all.