I’m the type of person that loves riding in the car and vibing to some good music, whether I’m making a quick run to the store or driving out of town. One thing that can quickly put a damper on this is an uncharged iPod. So when my digital collection gave out on me the other day during one of my vibe rides, I reluctantly turned on the radio. In a R&B mood, I flicked back and forth through the limited urban radio stations hoping to catch something to sing my heart out to. Up next on the first station? Usher’s “Lil Freak.” I tuned to another only hear Trey Songz “Say Ah.” In between the same five hip-hop songs the stations had in rotation, Monica’s “Everything” was tossed in; offering a brief breath of fresh air from the sex club anthems.
As much as I hate to sound like the old heads constantly reminiscing about how much better music was back in the day, I must admit that a lot of today’s R&B seems to be falling short of that soul-stirring, make-you-feel-some-kind-of-way music that once identified the genre.
Not many years ago, there seemed to be more variety and space in the industry for R&B artists. Even with the domination of mainstream artists like Beyonce and Ashanti, singers like Carl Thomas, Jaheim, Vivian Green, Avant and many others, had a chance at success. Moreover, R&B had range; from the straight-up baby-making music to the sappy love-struck ballads. Today, not so much. Besides the fact that the ability to sing is no longer a requirement, a lot of “R&B” lacks substance and feeling; with many of the songs played on the radio being uninspiring and predictable. A lot of focus is placed on the commercialization of hip-hop, but many times I wonder if R&B is losing soul as well.
As a child in the 90s, many of my fondest memories are set to the music of singers and groups like Brandy, Monica, Aaliyah, SWV, Faith Evans, Toni Braxton, En Vogue, 112, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Boys II Men, Dru Hill–the list goes on. Before I knew what being in love felt like, I had “A Vision of Love” thanks to Mariah Carey, and SWV’s “Weak” gave me an idea as well. I could imagine the pain of love loss by listening to Brandy’s “Brokenhearted” or Toni Braxton’s “Un-break My Heart.” As a teenager in the earlier years of this decade, I would stay on the phone all night boo-loving to songs like Aaliyah’s “I Care for You” or Avant and Keke Wyatt’s “Nothing In This World.” There was always an array of great singers and music. But, it seems things have changed.
I know it’s not good to live in the past, but when it comes to R&B, “I want that old thing back.” Much of the chart-topping music has become very lackluster. I know there are talented artists today who, in some cases, don’t get the attention they deserve. However, it’s sad that one must dig and search for good R&B music now.
Male artists in particular are starting to sound more like rappers. So many insists on taking on the role of the ladies man. Did chivalry die and take love with it? What happened to the feel good songs and and the beautiful odes to that special person in your life? What can young couples claim as “their song?” Boyfriend or not, in high school I already had Musiq Soulchild’s “Love,” Jagged Edge’s “Let’s Get Married” and Dru Hill’s “Beauty” set to play at my future wedding reception. Along with some variety and substance, can the love song make a comeback too? Oh, and don’t forget some good old originality and soul. In short, R&B—I miss you.