Anyway, back to McKnight, the only way for a singer today to break through for the charts is by mimicking what is “in” right now – in McKnight’s case, taking it to the next level of explicit-ness. But while folks might consider McKnight’s concept of an adult mixtape a fail, I think that even in his half-jest, he might have opened the floodgates of more “adult” themed R&B songs in our future. I mean, it wasn’t that bad of a song and I bet right now there is an artist out there saying, “Hmm, this could probably work.” Unfortunately for McKnight, he is not going to get credit for it because in all truthfulness, nobody really cares about Brian McKnight anymore. And that is kind of poignant.
McKnight’s last successful album was in 1999, when he released Back at One, which sold over three million copies. Since then, McKnight has been floundering music-wise and has taken up other career options to stay relevant, including brief stints as a late night television host, a radio DJ at several stations across the country and appearing on the second season of “Celebrity Apprentice,” which I didn’t remember until looking it up for the purpose of the column. And I am a faithful viewer of “Celebrity Apprentice.” Sad, I know.
Last year, McKnight released his tenth studio album called Just Me. Haven’t heard of it? No surprise there considering you probably didn’t hear albums six through nine neither. As much as some hate to admit it, after a while, McKnight’s sound just got kind of boring. While not many artists today can touch his songwriting skills and ability to put together a decent arrangement, musically, it just started to sound the same. Sure, there were songs about love and romance, but they were the same love songs over and over again. When you think about it, even in relationships, there is only so much romance you can take before you’re like, “Okay, are we gonna get freaky or what?”
I guess my point is that it is not fair that folks hold McKnight to the squeaky clean crooner image he had in the past, especially if no one is running out to support the musical styling that we all claim we would rather see from him. Besides, what he is best known as is an artist first. And many artists – heck, many non-artists – like to expand beyond what we like to remember them by. Look at R Kelly. No one played up the sex on wax angle more than he did. Now he is wearing suits and singing about love. And Nelly Furtado went from being an emo-folk singer singing about being a homeless bird to a pop princess talking about being a promiscuous girl. And so did Jewel for that matter. And how can we forget Darius Rucker from the mega popular Hootie & the Blowfish? He not only went country but had a huge career that rivaled the success he had with the Blowfish. Now, whether or not McKnight would have been successful at playing up a freakier image of himself is anyone’s guess. But it wouldn’t hurt to try, because what he has done for the last 20 years, just isn’t selling right now. And above all, folks have to eat. You don’t want McKnight to starve do you?
Ironically, a couple of hours after watching – and singing – the “If You’re Ready to Learn” song, I saw another video of Alfonso Ribeiro, aka Carlton from the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” doing some sort of flash mob where, you guessed it, he was doing his signature Carlton dance. I have a very strong feeling that Ribeiro will be doing that dance through his 80s. This is what happens when we don’t allow folks to move beyond what they are best known as. They become middle aged men, saying stuff like “What you talkin’ ‘bout Willis” or dancing to Tom Jones or singing a slightly varied version of Anytime for the rest of their lives. And besides, he’s grown. And this might be a shocker to all you kiddies out there, but grown folks get it in too. So why can’t he sing about it?
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