ON R&B's "LOST" IDENTITY (part 1 of 2)

By Ogochukwu Adaikpoh

It is commonplace these days to say one or two things about the current state of music especially R&B who today's discourse will attempt to cover a little more adeptly.

I can recall fondly in my younger days, listening to the soothing sounds of Motown and Stax singers, wondering in my little mind what Stevie Wonder meant by "a ribbon in the sky for our love," being puzzled at Marvin Gaye's pleas for his "Distant Lover." Fast forward to 2005 and I feel as though my ears are being impaled listening to Omarion's erstwhile "Oh" song or is it "O!" whatever its called these days. But this is not a personal tirade or bash-opportunity.

I love R&B genuinely. Not just because of its love innuendos, pleas or moans but because of its soul, its otherwise ethereal purity which it started off with in the days of its first projections out from under the umbrella of jazz. It was one of the first sub-genres of black music to truly branch out and blossom into its own and carved its own niche and fans, creating a place it truly deserved. Yes, those were the good ol' days but I feel as though too many a time the current music consumer landscape tends to be unforgivable to those in the genre that are trying to expand upon the existing genre. Could this be our compulsive obsession over the past so much so we refuse to give a chance to the present?

What about the current juxtaposition of hip hop and R&B. Hip hop being the "baby" of R&B has subtly swallowed up the center of R&B leaving us with bits and pieces to swallow or digest as the case may be. I really cannot say where it all went to the dogs but I think hip hop's popularity somewhat contributed to the loss of R&B's identity. Far too many times today listening to the run-of-the-mill R&B song you always wonder to yourself, "doesn't this sound like a hiphop beat?." Maybe it is the advent of hip hop producers attempting that which actual musicians (people who played instruments) did yesteryears? The substitution for protools instead of the actual horn or clarinet?

However, I won't go as far as saying all production from hip hop producers is totally bad or has resulted in R&B's downward spiral. It would bring up the argument/debate of the case for instrumentation vs. computerization. Manual vs. technology. That is another animal I will deal with later on.

Suffice it to say that there is something desperately lacking in R&B right now. It somehow has lost its way. People are not paying attention to the details as they should have.

Back to the case of hip hop's influence, these days almost every popular mainstream R&B song either has what should be an otherwise hip hop beat playing in the background or has a rapper/emcee rapping alongside the R&B singer. Remixes as well are not even safe. I don't know if its the remix also that led to the loss of identity R&B suffers now but I do admit it was fun in those days listening to Total and other early and mid 90's crooners who had hip hop remixes. Which goes back to my earlier statement of how hip hop infiltrated and took over. Maybe hip hop's popularity is to blame to an extent but I can argue that hip hop is part of the reason why some of us young upstarts were able to tell who George Clinton is, be familiar with a Curtis Mayfield line/hook etc, etc. Thanks to sampling.

I shall delve into the elements I believe are lacking in today's R&B soundscape and have led to its loss of identity and maybe seek to find solutions. After all, its not enough to speak on the things which ail a thing/phenomenon etc but better yet to provide an answer or answers to the questions that draw forth the ailment.

Peace and God's Blessings.

Email Ogochukwu at Ogochukwu60@hotmail.com

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