I’ve been perplexed and dismayed for a few months now when thinking about the current state of music. We’re living in the era of music that relies too heavily on free downloads, more beats than thought-provoking lyrical content and shocking ‘announcements’ to drive album sales.
I just started listening to the radio again at the beginning of the summer. Was I happy with what I was hearing? Meh, maybe 75 percent as opposed to the good 90 percent of the late 90s and early 2000s. The cause, I realized, was that every song pretty much sounded the same. If I wanted the depth and relatable sounds I had grown up on, the SWV, Jagged Edge, Guy, Brian McKnight, Aaliyah, and Joe, then I would have to dig deep, reach back and pretty much forsake much, if not all of what is being played right here and now in 2012.
R&B was a mainstay for me growing up. There was soul there. Though I couldn’t completely relate to Faith Evans telling her man that she would never let him go, or Babyface outlining just exactly how fierce his girl’s “Whip Appeal” was, I saw R&B as a goal. I wanted to know love like that and yes even in some silly way I wanted to know the heartbreak of it too. R&B was what we came home to after pop, rock and rap amped us up for the day. Now, the house is no longer a home because R&B has been kicked out to fend for itself outside the realm of the mainstream music industry.
It’s been kicked out by everyone in the house: First of all, consumers. We complain that “Don’t nobody sing about nothin’ no more,” yet we twiddle our thumbs and look everywhere but to the music shelves in our local retailers when great R&B albums are released. When do we come out of pocket? For a Jay & Yeezy concert? Okay, that’s cool if that’s truly your preference. But honestly, Carl Thomas and Tamia, two of the brightest voices of R&B for YEARS, have put out absolutely phenomenal albums this year and I had to go in search of reviews for both. We say we want it, but do we support it? I’ll never forget how people used to wait in line to buy whole albums. To get that CD in their hands. To support the artistry that spoke the most into their lives. Now we pick apart these artists’ hard work and effort, barely ever spending that little $9 to $12. I’m guilty of it.
Secondly, R&B has been kicked out by the new generation. And to be fair, it’s not entirely their fault. When I was coming up, R&B was good music because it was relatable. People were in love. It wasn’t corny or foolish to put yourself out there for the sake of love. It was real, honest, respected. Grown folks could see themselves in the music and us young folks had something beautiful to look forward to. Nowadays, people mostly look to music to live a life vicariously that they’ll never get to experience firsthand. I will never know the life of a bada** rockstar. I’ll never know the lifestyle of a foul-mouthed, bootylicious Barbie but Rihanna and Nicki Minaj give me an all-access pass into that world. No shade. They’re getting theirs. But the depth they’ll deliver to me is few and far between. And so it is with the newer generation. “Love” and all of its highs and lows is for the birds to them. It’s wack. They can’t relate to a love song, but they can sure get with a jam about sex. People who thought the 90s were hyper-sexualized and overly gaudy are probably crapping bricks right now. Where we used to love music we could relate to, we now love music we pretty much know nothing of the lifestyle except in fantasy. People are not openly proclaiming that they are in love and everyone is cynical about the possibility. The real R&B artists who are STILL MAKING MUSIC, as an amazing musician friend of mine pointed out, aren’t being supported and won’t draw a cult following like Nicki Minaj because nowadays the masses want crazy, flashy sex in their music instead of easy, sweet adoration. We cling to heavy beats and synths instead of deep, poetic lyrics.
Thirdly, the music execs and DJs have abandoned R&B. Raphael Saadiq’s Stone Rollin’ album last year was the bees knees. It brought a sense of balance from new and old school back to today’s music. How much press did he and his ridiculously talented band get? How much promo did he get? How much air time did he get? DJs play the same four songs in the heaviest of rotations DAILY. Where’s the pressure for them to be more open to a wider range of music? DJs have a larger amount of power than they let on and we, AS THE LISTENERS, even believe.
The blame can’t be placed on any one group. All of us, consumers, execs, DJs, lovers and friends have done our part to push R&B out to make way for anything and everything that will “cross over.” Anything that will make a fist pump, and anything that can become a dance jam for a club where they twirl around glow sticks and dance off beat. It’s time we start making our way back to the artists who are still making music of substance before we look up and realize too late that one of the greatest genres has become extinct.
La Truly is a late-blooming Aries whose writing is powered by a lifetime of anecdotal proof that awkward can transform to awesome and fear can cast its crown before courage. Armed with the ability to purposefully poke fun at herself and a passion for young women’s empowerment, La seeks to encourage thought, discussion and change. Her blog: www.hersoulinc.com and her Twitter: @AshleyLaTruly.
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