I’m a music snob who doesn’t listen to the radio anymore. Besides growing up in the late 90’s and going through a phase where I, like most kids, was obsessed with pop artists like *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera, R&B has always been my preferred genre of music. Destiny’s Child’s sophomore album, The Writing’s on the Wall, was the first album I remember asking my parents for. I grew up having the privilege of listening to them play artists like Earth, Wind, & Fire, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, and Rick James, never minding the fact I had no business listening to songs like “Give It To Me Baby” and “Mary Jane.” Cassette tapes by Toni Braxton, Johnny Gill, and the Soul Food soundtrack could often be found scattered around their cars. I’m already anticipating December when I know I’ll have to sit through my mama having Luther Vandross’ Christmas album on repeat and can still hear my daddy saying, “Can’t nobody sing like Whitney Houston,” a fact I still agree with him on ‘till this day.
I can also remember sneaking and listening to my aunt’s Angie Stone CD, and finding her stash of those Body & Soul compilations that black aunties love so much; the ones that had those infomercials that would come on and interrupt your late night cartoon watching in the summertime. My other aunt introduced me to artists like Janet Jackson and Jill Scott, two women who are still some of my favorite singers today.
The 90’s were one of the (if not THE) golden ages of R&B. It was a time when R&B artists constantly topped the charts and the lyrics were all about love, having fun, and togetherness. Being born in 1994, I can faintly recall choosing sides when Brandy and Monica released “The Boy is Mine,” listening to Mya and Blackstreet sing “Take Me There” during The Rugrats Movie credits, Lauryn Hill dominating the industry with The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and being inspired by R. Kelly’s “I Believe I can Fly” towards the end of Space Jam, though it’s worth noting I no longer listen to R. Kelly for ethical reasons.
When I was about 12, I truly started exploring the decade’s contribution to the genre, acquiring a taste for artists such as En Vogue, Tony! Toni! Tone!, SWV, Boyz II Men, TLC, Xscape, Mary J. Blige, and Mariah Carey. All of their music made, and still makes me go, “Dang, why couldn’t I have been born just a little bit earlier in order to fully appreciate this greatness!”
However, as I went through elementary school, R&B still held a reasonable clout in the music world. Ashanti and Alicia Keys came onto the scene and broke the charts with songs like “Foolish” and “Fallin.” Usher gave us albums like 8701 and Confessions, spawning crossover hits like “U Got it Bad,” “U Don’t Have to Call,” (which I’ll still drop everything to turn up to with no shame in 2016), “Burn,” and the title track “Confessions.” Queen Bey started her solo career with Dangerously in Love, giving us “Crazy in Love” and “Baby Boy.” And we cannot forget Mariah Carey shutting everybody down with the comeback of the decade, The Emancipation of Mimi. The last forty seconds of “We Belong Together” is one of the greatest musical moments ever. EVER.
By the time I was in middle school, a new variant of R&B broke through called Crunk & B. This was when it became popular to infuse the Lil Jon pioneered “crunk” genre with R&B. Ciara quickly became dubbed the “Princess of Crunk & B” when she debuted with hits like “Goodies” and “1,2 Step.” Songs like “Yeah!” by Usher, “Do it to It” by Cherish, and “Girlfight” by Brooke Valentine also became popular during this new era of R&B. Basically, if you heard “This is a Jazzy Phizzle Productshizzle” at the beginning of a track from 2004-2006, you knew it was about to be lit!
But while it was great at the time, it can almost be suggested that Crunk & B ruined R&B. It ushered in a new trend of watered down vocals (no shade) over a hip-hop beat. It robbed R&B of its uniqueness. It reached a point where you could hardly find a decent R&B song without a featured rap verse. Lord knows I love hip-hop and a good Ashanti and Ja Rule collaboration, and I also realize that the two genres have always been closely related, but I still prefer them to be distinctly separate.
Crunk & B has unfortunately left it’s mark on the R&B of today, hence the reason I no longer listen to the radio. I just cannot get with this new era of artists repeatedly sing-talking over a trap beat about a dysfunctional relationship. Yeah, I’m talking about you, Bryson Tiller (wit ‘cho fine self). Chris Brown’s sound, which was once solidly R&B, is becoming more and more hip-hop influenced. Even my beloved Usher is out here singing over a trap beat on “No Limit,” trying to keep up with the youngins.
Where is the love and the passion? The music that made you feel good? The songs that made you dance and cruise down the street with the windows down with your best friends? Or got you through a breakup? Or, in some cases, made the breakup worse. R&B needs to get back to those spinning-around-in-circles-crying-and-falling-on-your-knees “Baby please take me back!” days that Dru Hill, Jodeci, and Blackstreet, who gave us the most extra R&B song of all time with “Don’t Leave Me,” perfected. I mean, Trey Songz has tried, but it just comes off as campy and poor acting when he does it:
And you know it’s bad when rappers are having to pick up singers’ slack. J. Cole calls singers out in “G.O.M.D.,” saying “It’s called love. N*ggas don’t sing about it no more, don’t nobody sing about it no more.” Drake shouldn’t be out here making better R&B-esque music than actual singers and I never want to hear Nicki Minaj singing a hook ever again.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m fully aware that there are plenty of great R&B albums still being made. Jazmine Sullivan, Miguel, Tyrese, Tamar Braxton, and Jill Scott have all released incredible albums over the past couple of years. Fantasia just released her fifth studio album today. However, these albums didn’t have much hype surrounding them because they didn’t go along the lines of the R&B that’s currently mainstream. Does this diminish their quality? Absolutely not! However, I guess I just miss the days when this standard of R&B was mainstream, not this new standard of “trap/soul.”
Someone once said, “Rhythm and blues is a feeling and emotion. If you don’t have one or can’t feel the other, then you can’t relate.” Until singers today understand that, my radio is staying off.
X’s and O’s,