“Black singers…gotta make you cry; they gotta make you hurt; they gotta make you feel pain, singing ol’ fucked up songs to try to make you weep”
– Bernie Mac (R.I.P) – Original Kings of Comedy
You know, there’s a reason why Bernie Mac was so great, because in his own style and use of Chicagoan vernacular, he entertained and educated all at once, and he wasn’t just a large man who came off as abrasive, loud, or threatening. In this one particular excerpt, he was talking about the differences between Black & White funerals, particularly the gospel singers. It’s true, there’s no stranger to emotion when it comes to hearing the soul of a gospel choir belting out the hymns of the Lord at all levels of decibels, followed by either the simplicity of a piano, or the orchestration of organs, percussions, and tambourines alike. It’s quite the scene, and has been the guiding light in creating the best singers – straight out of church. Now, when you turn on the radio today, or even open up a website or two to see what’s happening in R&B, you don’t find that soul. Anywhere. At all. It’s non-existent and quite frankly it’s a damn shame. The talk of the town has been and still is that “hip hop is dead”, when in actuality, look at R&B and tell me that hasn’t been a walking corpse since Usher dropped Confessions, or (for argument’s sake) since Justin Timberlake dropped FutureSex/LoveSounds, although you can throw him into Pop music. The point is that the soul is gone. You’re not crying because of lyricism, you’re crying because of the pain in your ears that has to endure hearing the nails-to-chalkboard-atrociousness that is “mainstream radio” and I blame record labels for that, but also with the changing tide in music’s audience, there’s them to blame as well.
Two of the first CDs I ever had were Monica’s The Boy is Mine and Brandy’s Never Say Never. My mother played everything from Sade, Madonna, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald (amongst many others), so before you cast judgement…level with me. When I first heard Have You Ever, I had feelings like no other for no reason. Why were the wells of my eyes liquidizing? Why was there moisture? Who was I missing so badly? Nothing made sense. Monica’s For You I Will, listen – if that didn’t make you want to experience at least a little of what love was like, then I can’t say much for what part of a soul you may or may not have in your system, because that was some serious thing going on. You couldn’t go through the 90s (as I’m a product of that era) without appreciating the talent that just kept churning out album after album and R&B was the real wave that would just carry out making timeless music – and then it stopped. The problem is that R&B stopped selling, and people weren’t caring for the fundamentals of what made R&B so great. All of our legends vanished into acting, Pop music and/or reality TV. I thought it was just something that was a phase, but it turned out to be more permanent. Why? I don’t know. Does anybody know? Are people aware of where R&B packed up its things and vanished into the night? If so, can we have it back? It’s been a minute. It can come home now.
I can’t be the only one who has felt the frustrations of the decline of R&B. In fact, I know I’m not the only one. So I asked my friend Liz to air her grievances as well. Proceed.
As I sit here listening to Chris Brown’s new album X, I think to myself, “where is the love?” It may not be the best example, but these new/young artists are what R&B’s future rests on. Some of them are talented singers, but what are they doing with those voices? They rap, sing, make up a new dance, and tell us how well they eat pussy. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like the upbeat catchy songs with good hooks. I enjoy the “dance like my parents aren’t watching” kind of songs as much as the next girl but there’s a limit. If all I wanted to hear were lyrics about strippers, one-night stands and the different synonyms for eating pussy, I’d be listening to another type of artist, not to “R&B.”
The other issue is I have no clue what to call R&B anymore. I might be giving up on searching for it because these pop singers like Adèle, Sam Smith, Ellie Goulding & Sia have more Soul in them than these acclaimed Rhythm & Blues artists. The emotional, passionate, and heartbreaking songs we are all looking for, have moved to other genres. I like listening to music knowing it’ll make me feel something, knowing I’ll be able to relate to it, knowing that I just got broken up with and I’ll find the exact song that’ll make me cry myself to sleep for a week straight. After that, I like knowing that I’ll find the song to make me believe in love all over again, the perfect song that’ll make me want to get married even though I don’t believe in marriage, the perfect song that makes you think of your new boo. Rinse, repeat. Get my point? Why would I want to get interrupted in the middle of a potentially great album to hear “804-335-0051, LOL smiley face.” WHAT. THE. FUCK. IS. THAT? It’s clearly a joke when you’re trying to make love through an entire album.
Listen, R&B, if you’re not planning on coming home, at least let us know when you’ll be back.