R&B is on a respirator. Once a celebrated genre that has given the music industry some of its most praised acts (see Luther, Whitney, Aretha, Marvin), the musical styling is unquestionably losing its identity to Hip-Hop and now Electro-Pop.
The question at hand: is R&B on its last breath or is revival in its future? In a three part series, That Grape Juice will analyze three sectors of the fallen genre: ladies (songstresses), males (crooners), and groups (both male and female) to determine if resurrection is in its future or if it will find permanent rest in the history books.
Next up, gentlemen…
One quick peruse of today’s Pop charts and Marvin Gaye might have a new reason to ask ‘What’s Going On’? 2011’s Billboard charts stand almost tenantless of R&B testosterone, with acts like Trey Songz acting as sole representative of the dying breed. Such turn of events beg the question; Where did the male R&B singer go?
Rewinding to the beginnings of R&B sees acts such as Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, and Gaye winning over multi-racial audiences, breaking down barriers while ‘breaking it down’ on global stages. These are the men who effortlessly denoted what the generations that succeeded them would call ‘swag’. And, though Gaye himself is touted as one of the greatest R&B vocalists of all-time, his contemporaries yielded no shortage of competition.
Fast forward from the Motown heyday of the 60s to the 80s and early 90s and you’ll see R&B replace disco moves in place of slow grooves, and balladeers take the forefront. And, while the Prince’s and Michael Jackson’s were migrating from their native genre to Pop crossover territories, Peabo Bryson, Gerald Levert, Babyface, Tevin Campbell, and the era’s king crooner, Luther Vandross, were busy enacting an R&B renaissance. Although not dominating the Pop charts like their R&B female counterparts (see Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey), there was certainly no dearth of R&B divo, crafting unforgettable hits and designing the soundtrack to our generation’s ‘old school’.
And then there was R.Kelly. With highly sexualized lyrics and suggestive stage shows to match, Kelly single-handedly ushered in a new era of R&B – discarding the debonair of Romance&B in exchange for Risque&B. Crowned the genre’s new king, the singer undeniably stands as the bridge between the balladeers of yesteryear and today’s R&B. And, while the Brian McKnight’s, Jon B.’s, Maxwell’s, Ginuwine‘s, and co. crooned to varying, altogether commendable chart success, the 90s saw no other R&B male take the industry by the reins like Kelly until Usher.
With Kelly’s packaging, albeit diluted, Mr. Raymond saw his rise to fame come on the wave of teen idolatry. Even with the record buying public partial to Popi’er counterparts (Backstreet Boys, N’sync, etc.), Usher still never abandoned his R&B roots, wielding such career defining hits as ‘Nice and Slow’, and later ‘You Got It Bad’ and ‘Confessions’.
Fast forward to today. After a decade of Hip-Hop influence, even neo-soul and traditional R&B singers (Mario, Jaheim, Musiq Soulchild) have tried trading in their signature mid-tempos to conform to the genre’s stylings (bass heavy and oft misogynistic lyrics) – to mixed success. And with Hip-Hop’s hand itself slowly losing grip on the industry, failures in both Hip-Hop and R&B have encouraged the Usher’s (see: ‘Here I Stand’) and co. alike to conform (to varying degrees) to the industry’s new tyrant – Electro Pop.
So, where does the R&B male fit in?
While a new class lay waiting for chart recognition (Lloyd, Miguel, and the like), this generation’s leaders are undoubtedly Ne-Yo, Chris Brown, and Trey Songz. Interestingly, though all three are billed as R&B artists, none have remained as loyal to the genre as Songz (noted: the first to debut, but the least successful of the three). Could such be due, in part, to his allegiance to R&B?
That Grape Juice wants to know…