ON R&Bs LOST IDENTITY (PART 2 OF 2) By Ogochukwu Adaikpoh

In the last issue, I went on rambling about the misgivings of modern day R&B. With this issue, I shall proceed to delve further into the mis-trappings (if you will) by breaking aspects of the genre and the things I'd like to personally see corrected.

 

We'll start off with lyrics:

What is it these days with the hyper-sexualized moanings and bed-callings so rampant with today's singers? Somehow, I blame Robert Kelly (the pied piper of R&B as he fondly calls himself). What should be freedom of expression has turned into nothing more than a jungle-styled approach to everything romantic-based as far as love songs are concerned. Now I'm not going to totally blame Kells for all of that but when he launched 12 Play, his first album after leaving the now-defunct group, Public Announcement (oddly enough after Kells left it seemed the group just vanished into thin air, later on re-appeared sometime in 2000/2001 and that was the last we heard from them), somehow Kells managed to carve a niche for himself as being lewd-er and more graphic in his songs.

 

Somehow people were drawn to him and overnight the man became a superstar. However, at this time one can argue he was one of the only ones that stretched the genre that far. Not saying groups like Jodeci or H-town weren't a little explicit here and there but not so much as contained on one singular album. I mean prior to 12 Play who had really got in depth into the process of sexual intercourse or orgasms as Kells with precision splintered open for the world to hear.

 

Nowadays, singers just either put together jargon (in my opinion at the very least) or have someone write songs just strictly for radio play or the "catchiness" of it. I mean what could potentially have been not bad of a song with Mario's "how could you" turned into an audio nightmare when I heard the line....ghetto kama-sutra. I paused and almost lost a heart-beat. Who is in charge of coming up with these weak-minded phrases? This is what's killing good song-writing.

It would stand to reason that songwriters or the singers themselves either don't care anymore or just don't know how to pen good ballads at all. Bear in mind I'm aware that songwriting is a God-given talent, an artform that cannot be duplicated but can be developed and studied like all others. If this is true (and I really do believe so), why then is it that difficult for songwriters of R&B singers to put down great songs? The beats are catchy, some of the tunes aren't so bad, the bridge in R&B is returning gradually...so what then is the problem?

Again, I like to think laziness and or lack of talent has to do with this. Producers are being allowed in some cases to pen whole songs. I don't have anything against Rich Harrison but I don't think its a good idea for singers to let producers write whole songs. Not that the talent isn't there but could it be there are struggling songwriters out there with that life-changing ballad looking for a chance? Again, these are my opinions but I think we should debate these possibilities.

 

Another aspect of R&B that also needs addressing is the music itself or as we say in hip hop speak, "the beat." How did "the beat" originate? It is a valid question whose answer isn't at all far-fetched. I like to trace the timeline of the beat popping its head into R&B from around the mid-80's when the technology began expanding and artists discovered they didn't need to have musicians or bands back them up in producing. Artists such as Prince and Rick James, those who could play all types of instruments took over.

Some who didn't play all types delved into the growing technology. I think Zapp & Roger were some of the first then to toy with the drum machines then. I often heard similarities in their breaks to hip hop breaks. Of course hip hop was just an up and comer then and was stealing breaks from R&B but R&B was becoming more synchronized technologically.

It became less and less about the actual instruments being played and more about the sounds. This became more apparent in the early 90's. Then Teddy Riley invented New Jack Swing. I was fond of this genre. I really wanted to see this grow but this was one of the mud puddles where hip hop and R&B intermarried and New Jack became the erstwhile offspring of the union. More artists like P.Diddy continued to do remixes, meshing R&B songs on hip hop break beats and or letting rappers have a verse or two on otherwise completely R&B songs.

 

Not that this was necessarily a bad thing at the time for there were several classic material developed due to the newfound intermarriage. However, things took a downturn for the worse. R&B faded more into oblivion as Hip hop via rap became more apparent. This I think in some way was going to happen as in society some sub-cultures find their way into popular mainstream acceptance overtime. It was inevitable to an extent and the further merging of R&B songs to hip hop beats/sounds made this even more obvious.

They used to be remixes but before long they became actual introductory singles. In fact, I remember listening to Musiqsoulchild's first album, "aijuswanaseing" and thinking, "does he want to rap or sing?" Bear in mind, his album is an all time favorite of mine but I couldn't help wonder at how much hip hop inspired beats were sprinkled all over the album. Not to mention he did jack one of the Roots' beats for a song...but I digress.

 

The problem from my perspective here is not so much the use of hip hop beats but the dependence of R&B on hip hop to support itself. As if the genre was in need of help in order to facilitate its goals and directions. Its difficult to hear a very good song on the radio without having a rapper spit a verse or two. The song no longer has an identity of its own and is often called a hip hop song or attimes the rapper who usually is a guest artist on it.

This is part of what I believe to be the problem with today's R&B. Some might argue though that R&B's time is up. In a way, I think it might be true but hip hop, today's music golden child leans and depends heavily on R&B. Will tomorrow's new genre therefore become a complete interwoven couplet of R&B and hip hop? What about neo-soul(I loathe that phrase)? Will it once again find its own voice, reminiscent of Motown and Stax days? Or will it just remain our incapacitated effort at trying to relive past glory?

Why can't this generation have its own Marvin Gaye? or Otis Redding, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles? Maybe Trey Songz will become the next Donny Hathaway? Or Omarion may fit the gloved-wonder? I think Usher is well on his way there though and I am happy at least when I think of him as leading the charge but what is wrong with this genre some of us love?

I know mentioned lyrics, song writing and production but is there more? "Tinging" as we like to call it on okayplayer...which is a virulent form of trying to sing and rap at the same time; could this be the main issue?

The bottomline is this: R&B relies too heavily nowadays on outside factors. It is time for her to reinvent herself, go underground and rise again like the champion we know she is and is capable of being.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Email Ogochukwu at Ogochukwu60@hotmail.com

 

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