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Resurrecting R&B (Part 3)

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 has unquestionably lost 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

Ladies first, gentlemen next.  So, last, but certainly not least, groups.

Recently browsing a Billboard chart, I was tempted to do an R&B roll call. Single ladies? (spare, but here). Fellas? (few but still there). Groups? (*insert cricket sound*). Let’s face it, the R&B group is extinct. Gone are the glory days of Motown where The Temptations and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles dominated airwaves and The Supremes reigned supremely on radio and charts alike. The Motown movement paved a precedent by which the 70s (Isley Brothers, O’Jays, too many to mention) and 80s (Levert, Debarge, Guy, New Edition) eased on down the road to chart success. Assisting R&B’s lead solo acts in solidifying the African American presence on Billboard, they effortlessly constructed the soundtrack to this generation (and its parents’) ‘old school’.

But, while the groups of yesteryear provided launching pads for some of R&B’s brightest stars (The Supremes – Diana Ross, Levert – Gerald Levert, Labelle – Patti Labelle, Jackson 5 – Michael Jackson), the 90s saw a new brand of R&B group. While Boyz II Men and En Vogue led the pack and were arguably the greatest grandchildren of their R&B forefathers (in terms of comparability), many other 90s groups unveiled an unparalleled blend of sass, attitude, and sex appeal. TLC, SWV, and Jodeci, later followed by Dru Hill, 112, and Jagged Edge are just a few of the groups from that era who helped redefine R&B while fusing with other popular genres of the era. And with the late 90s and early 2000s being dominated by Destiny’s Child, R&B groups were still proving that they were truly ‘survivors’.

Oh, how the times change. With Destiny’s Child’s subsequent disbanding, rebanding, then re-disbanding, no other R&B groups have risen to such pop prominence since. The mid-2000s saw B2K and later Danity Kane be sole representatives of the genre on the Pop charts. That, however, was surely short-lived.

Where, oh where, did the groups go?

We’ve seen many-a-90s group reband (SWV, Jodeci, TLC, Dru Hill), while some never left. But even collectively, their presence on Pop charts is nondescript. And with no noteworthy new class in waiting to take the reins:

That Grape Juice wants to know:

Is there room for a new class of R&B groups on the charts?

or

Will this sector of the genre become permanently absent?

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Music

Jennifer Hudson: Product vs Promotion

Peruse of the Pop charts may give fans a new reason to ask ‘Where You At’ to R&B belter Jennifer Hudson.  The Dreamgirl, who seemingly saw her rise to fame happen overnight, has now found audiences sleeping on her material.  But, to doubt Hudson’s celebrity would be ill as her star in other formats seems to burn as brightly as ever with endorsement deals and silver screen appearances showing without shortage.  However, the platform that originally put the ‘Spotlight’ singer in the spotlight has found itself fading.

Fans first saw Hudson make her way through the ranks of American Idol with fellow belter Fantasia.  The latter walked away with the crown, but Hudson (later) walked away with the gold.  Her 2006 film debut in ‘Dreamgirls’, opposite Pop megastar Beyonce, and 2008 self titled debut album lifted the Idol alum to dizzying heights of decoration (Oscar, Golden Globe, Grammy).  But, as Hudson’s headlines fluctuated from chart toppers to personal tragedies and triumphs (that later led to an extended break from the public eye), every year of her absence still saw her active on the big screen but not Billboard (‘Sex and the City’, ‘Secret Life of Bees’, and ‘Fragments’).  Of course, only leaving fans that much more anxious (and angry) for new material from the Chicagoan songbird.

3 years after her first tread on charts, the singer returned with ‘I Remember Me’ led by the ballad ‘Where You At’.  With stiff competition from R&B comeback kid Chris Brown, Hudson’s promotional promenade left no stone unturned, hitting (what seemed like) every major hotspot available at the time.  It seemed to pay off.  With no single in sight on Billboard’s Hot 100 upper half, the singer still managed to move 165k her first week.  However, fans quickly forgot ‘I Remember Me’.  And with watch for its follow-up single ‘No One Gonna Love You’ fading due to everlasting press for the singer’s Weight Watching, ‘Remember Me’ was ironically minimized to a distant memory.

So, what is the problem?  As Brandy, Mya, and many other R&B divas can attest, extended breaks in an ever-changing Pop landscape doesn’t lend many favors.  But, many will argue Hudson’s entire package (look and sound) have improved since her debut effort.  On the other hand, with Electro-Pop still being the dominating force in the industry, is there just not a place for R&B acts who curtail choreography and a troop of background dancers bumping to a beat?  Or, though Hudson’s promo schedule saw no shortage of stops (even months after its release), was there just too much promotion of the wrong single? Material not up to scratch?

We want you to weigh in:  Jennifer Hudson – Product or Promotion?  What’s to blame?

Your thoughts?

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Music

Trapped In the Closet: Hiding In Hip-Hop (Part 1)

‘How We Do’ rapper The Game may not be mostly remembered for insightfulness and thought-provoking statements, but his sentiments on closeted homosexual rappers in the industry did cause a firestorm this week. Blazing the blog-o-sphere, discussions on Game’s ‘insight’ (or maybe just plain sight) had tongues wagging. Agree or disagree, his disposition doesn’t delve into the unknown – just the unspoken.

Traipse the political terrene and anyone not living under a rock has seen the last couple of years spawn unprecedented progress in gay rights period, let alone in the Pop musical landscape. Lady Gaga, Jessie J, Ricky Martin, and Adam Lambert are just a few of the openly bi or gay stars who are pushing an envelope (arguably) signed and sealed by Melissa Etheridge, George Michael, and Boy George before them. But while Pop is busy pushing an envelope, hip hop maybe busy hiding it, sweeping it under the taboo throw rug. For while the male-dominated industry has embraced ‘openly’ bisexual rapstress Nicki Minaj, that embrace may border more on fantasy than respect. This, of course, would open up the argument that women who openly flaunt alternative lifestyles are more easily accepted than men.

Regardless, in a land where hyper-masculinity is often used to denote (and sometimes disguise) one’s ‘true’ hip hop identity, those who do not succumb to the stereotype are often branded ‘gay’. There are few R&B male singers who are relevant that haven’t had the title accompany their name at one period of time. So, we’ve already asked you:

‘Will Hip Hop ever accept an openly gay/bi male rapper or singer”. And we, as ever, appreciated your feedback. But now, let’s twist it. That Grape Juice wants to know:

Why, when other genres are beginning to embrace being ‘out’, does Hip-Hop not?

‘Would you still support your favorite rapper/singer if he or she came out of the closet’?

———————————-

Click here to WATCH Part 2 of Trapped In the Closet: Hiding In Hip-Hop
on That Grape Juice TV!

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Music

The Results Are In. Rap’s Reigning Emperor Is…

You voted in your thousands, all in support of who you believed deserved the title of Rap’s Reigning Emperor.

In a list which included the likes of both The Game and Kanye West,  Rappers of both sexes were included to pay homage to the plethora of both male and female Rappers whose artisty has both shaped and influenced the way the world sees Rap/Hip Hop music to day.

Now, find out who YOU decided was most deserving of this title below…

(more…)

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Music

The King Of Rap Is…

With Lil Wayne‘s upcoming LP set to shift a mind blowing 850,000 units this week, Jay Z and Kanye West‘s ‘Watch The Throne‘ now one of the year’s fastest selling releases and The Game‘s ‘R.E.D. Nation‘ currently #1 on this weeks Billboard 200, it would appear  Hip Hop music is once again being warmly embraced by the masses.

Ever eager to discover what’s on your mind, we here at That Grape Juice HQ want to know…

Who do YOU feel is Rap’s Reigning Emperor?

Get voting below!

(more…)

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Music

There’s Something About Kreayshawn

Anybody who has found their way to YouTube in recent weeks would have found her impossible to miss.

Now a featured visual on the video sharing site, she has now generated a total of 61, 103 subscribers and a whopping 14 million views for her first video for the now viral hit ‘Gucci Gucci’.

Rising from the artistically rich San Francisco Bay, she has become one of the world’s fastest rising stars.

Armed with a   braggadociously ‘based’ sound and an almost uniform like Retro Hood-Glam swagger, her name and annoyingly  catchy sound have now become subject to polarized opinion.

Some love her, and others love her less but one thing all can agree on is the fact that she now become inescapable to anyone paying close attention to Pop Culture’s ever changing climate.

So exactly what is it about Kreayshawn that has everyone buzzing?

(more…)

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Music

Teairra Mari: Product vs. Promotion

Teairra Mari’s story went from fairy tale to forgotten tale in less than 12 months. Once upon a time heralded the ‘princess of the Roc’, 2005 saw Mari making her way onto the charts with ‘Make Her Feel Good’ – the thumping summer grown woman anthem. The then 17-year-old sang the commanding lyrics with a ‘Miss Thang’ conviction that would even make Monica proud. But even with all the promise and supposed support from then-mentor Jay-Z, Mari slowly found herself fading behind the chart success of wicked label-sister Rihanna. The latter, who was capitalizing off the then declining Caribbean craze sweeping the charts (see: Sean Paul, Elephant Man, etc), saw instant out-of-the-box success – interestingly with less visible support from shared mentor Jay-Z.

As both singer’s second singles from their debut albums failed to make much noise on charts, it seemed both were headed down the road to obscurity. That is, until 2006 saw a revamped Rihanna – more sex appeal, bigger budgets, stronger support. On the other hand, those who waited for a remixed Mari…waited.

…and waited. Mari finally reappeared in the late 2000s with the single ‘Hunt 4 U’, which failed to capture much attention the charts. Since then, Mari has become the mixtape queen; releasing song after song with no real response. Even when things appeared to look up after she scored high profile rapper assistance with singles ‘Cause a Scene’ (featuring Flo-rida) and ‘Sponsor’ (featuring Soulja Boy), Mari still failed to manage anything more than a briefly bated buzz.

Regardless of taste, one has to admit that all three singles from Mari’s unreleased sophomore album were quite commercially viable. Even in a musical landscape dominated by electro-Pop, the disregard of Mari’s music is surprising given the number of releases (visuals and audio) the singer has amassed over the last 2 years. However, this week Mari may have found her prince charming in label-head, producer Rico Love after word spread about the singer’s recent record label relocation to Love’s imprint ‘Division 1’ (Universal motown). Alas, we will all have to stay tuned to find out how that story ends.

So, That Grape Juice wants you to weigh in: Teairra Mari – Product vs. Promotion?

Is her product just not commercial enough for success (given the musical climate)? Or have Mari’s musical endeavors suffered marketing mishaps? Does she actually have a chance this go round?

Your thoughts?

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Music

Lip Syncing: A Necessary Evil?

Some swear against it. Some swear by it and there isn’t a Music Award Show that goes by without viewers bringing it up.

Lipsynching.

‘The technical term for matching lip movements with sung or spoken vocals.’

Ever a hot topic on the lips of many a music enthusiast, we here at That Grape Juice HQ want to know….

Is Lip Synching a necessary evil?…

Read more below…

(more…)

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Music

TMI: Is Twitter Ruining The ‘Pop Star’?

Think back.  Before Youtube allowed you to ‘broadcast yourself’ and ‘friending’ or ‘following’ were household terms.  Even before Myspace and the endless kaleidoscope of social networking and social media outlets at our fingertips (blogs, social bookmarking) became the norm, the divide between the celebrity and the commoner was almost un-crossable.  Besides the occasional sweepstakes won and chance meeting on the street, the interaction between the celebrity and commoner was often left to professional encounters (paid public appearances, concerts, and the like).

However, with the advent and subsequent popularization of social networking, websites like (what was) Myspace and Facebook have helped blur that line, making celebrities all-the-more accessible to their adoring fans.  And time has shown that no outlet has better proven the beclouding of the barrier than Twitter.  Easily the most popular social networking site amongst celebs, the site is a testament to celebrity ‘outreach’, demoting celebs from their ‘demi-god’ statuses and, to great degree, humanizing them.  Giving glimpses into what once were mysterious private lives.

On a note separate from fan interactions, Twitter’s ability to give the un- or under- promoted artist a chance to take matters into his or her own hands, separate from record labels or official websites, has also proven itself to be a benefit.

But, every good thing comes with a price and it is no exception.

Twitter has shown us the good, bad, and ugly of many of our favorite celebrities.  Ask Rihanna, 50 Cent, Keri Hilson, Trina and other Urban pop stars and they’ll tell you the power of the almighty tweet – and the backlash it can ensue when an altercation arises or a joke goes too far.  And then there’s poster-child for Tweet-misuse, Chris Brown.   Rarely have two weeks gone by this year without having a negative headline and the keywords ‘Twitter’ or ‘tweet’ somewhere near his name.  From e-altercations with fans and other celebs alike, Brown has become the reigning representative of what happens ‘when tweets go wrong’.

So it begs the question:  While the benefits of marketing and PR are endless on the social media front, does Twitter cause the demystification of the “celebrity” – thereby making them unappealing?

In simpler terms, That Grape Juice wants to know…

T.M.I.(Too much information?): is Twitter ruining the Pop star?

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Music

Resurrecting R&B (Part 2)

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…

Do you think that there will be a resurgence of mainstream R&B males?

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Music

Pop Quiz: The Quest for Queendom

All of the monarchs of the music industry are resting securely on cemented thrones.  We have an undisputed Queen of Soul, King of Rock n’ Roll, King of R&B, and of course, a King of Pop.  Even though such title was initially self-proclaimed, there was no denying its delegation.  Interestingly, there is a vacancy on that list…the queen’s chair sits ostensibly empty.  And though many may vie and eye the throne, no woman has boldly professed herself as such (unlike her male counterpart).  So, it begs the question:  Who is the Queen of Pop?   While there are candidates many-a-fan would crown as such, there has been no definitively, unquestioned female pop potentate. And then…

In an age where the merit of ‘pop royalty’ is defined by fly-by-night radio hits and digital downloads, famed music magazine Rolling Stone developed an index of criteria to best crown the genre’s new queen.  For anyone who has been alive for the last three years (inhabitants of the animal kingdom included), it was a no brainer that Lady Gaga would be enthroned the genre’s reigning female monarch.  However, the list, which only included Pop’s active acts, was greeted with so much backlash it was later revised.

But, even the revision still featured Lady Gaga (a relative newcomer) above legends Mariah Carey and Celine Dion (with no mention of Janet Jackson or Whitney Houston).  While the magazine’s attempt to fill the void is applaudable, it is also laughable.  With music’s other matronly monarchs having a spate of success under their individual belts, is it really fair to say the Lady named queen would only have two albums under hers and less than 5 years in the game?

Thusly, That Grape wants to know:  what should be the criteria for determining queenship? Sales? Influence?  Awards?  If so, with so many candidates, who is the Queen[Q1] ?

That Grape Juice has chosen six leading ladies who would probably be the real contenders for the throne.  Each of the succeeding songstresses have, at minimum, 20 years experience,100 million records sold, and immeasurable influence over the industry (especially over those who decorated Rolling Stones’ list).  Did your fave make the cut?

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Music

Resurrecting R&B (Part 1)

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 has unquestionably lost its identity to Hip-Hop and now Electro-Pop.

The question at hand: is R&B (as a commercially viable force) 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.

As always, ladies first…

Turning the dial (or Youtube search engine) back 20 years to see the plethora of female R&B acts dominating the radios and Pop charts is a stinging reminder of a time when the industry thrived on variety.  From crossover acts such as Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Janet Jackson, to up-and-comers Mary J. Blige and Toni Braxton (just to name a few), there was no shortage of R&B estrogen on the airwaves or charts.  Not to mention such classic, yet then-active artists like Anita Baker, Aretha Franklin, and Gladys Knight.

However, as Hip-Hop/R&B fusions became more of a constant (which some attribute to artists like Carey and Mary J. Blige), the junior generation of R&B diva emerged in the form of the Aaliyah’s, Brandy’s, Monica’s, and eventually Ashanti’s.  Then, of course, you had that brand of 90s R&B diva (Faith Evans, Tamia, Deborah Cox and Kelly Price) who lacked crossover appeal, yet were still relevant – even if just appealing to a small niche.

But, as the 2000s rolled on and Hip-Hop was becoming the driving force of the music industry, ballads and slow jams were losing steam on the charts, and Hip-Hop was surely killing the R&B star. And while many of the time period marked Alicia Keys as a ‘savior of R&B’, she was one of very few pure R&B females who was granted relevancy in an increasingly convoluted music world.  Interestingly, though Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey (who by 2005 were considered veterans) were seeing some of the best numbers of their careers, the genre’s overall shortcomings were inescapable.

Then, as the Beyonce’s and the Rihanna’s of the music world began to dominate charts by willingly trading in their R&B humbling’s for Pop’ier hits, the 90s divas of yester-year who refused to succumb to the change found themselves succumbing to irrelevancy. Even those who once showed promise in the early 2000s (Amerie, Tweet, and co) were finding themselves lost in the fray.  Suffice it to say, the industry at large began to suffer (see: illegal downloading, cd leaks), yet R&B’s former leading ladies seemed to fall victim most (Brandy, Monica, Mya, and eventually Ashanti).

Fast forward to 2011. Where is  R&B female? Even with hints of recent reigniting of public interest (i.e. Fantasia’s ‘Back To Me’, Monica’s ‘Still Standing’), they alone are not enough to indicate a resurgence.  And, even with notable record sales (given the current musical climate), those sales are marginal at best comparatively.

Record sales aside, the presence of R&B females on the Hot 100 chart recently is rarely without rapper accompaniment. There is a new class of R&B divas, however.  While not reporting record-breaking numbers, the Keri Hilson’s, Kelly  Rowland’s, Jennifer Hudson’s, and co. are definitely making noise.  But, is it enough to resurrect the fallen genre? Or will R&B eventually rest in peace?

Do you think that there will be a resurgence of mainstream R&B females?

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