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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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Music

Usher: Innovator Or Follower?

Usher has long been heralded as one of music’s most celebrated artists. Ranked as the 2nd most successful act of the last decade on the Billboard charts, he managed to give R&B music a voice amidst the expanding sea of Hip-Hop and Pop artists who began to dominate radio stations in recent years.

Nonetheless,  it seems that the tide of change has finally gotten too powerful for even Usher to resist as he prepares to reinvent his sound with the launch of a new genre he calls “Revolutionary Pop”. This decision has left many of his loyal fans baffled as they wonder if he is truly being innovative or simply joining the Pop music bandwagon in an effort to remain relevant.

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Music

Analysing Ashanti

The astronomical ascension and collapse of Ashanti’s career have bewildered industry pundits for quite some time. Within a period of just 6 years – from 2002 to 2008 – the former Princess of R&B has fallen from the triple platinum success of her self-titled debut to barely selling 200k copies of her last album, ‘The Declaration’.

Although there is no obvious reason for the decline of Ashanti’s popularity, many agree that it coincided with the explosive arrival of Beyonce the solo artist – who is simply a better singer, dancer and performer – and the crumbling of the Murder, Inc. empire.

However, regardless of all that has happened, there are many who cling to the hope that Ashanti will return to relevance. Still, the key question that arises from this situation is this: what type of sound will she need to accomplish such a career revival?

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Music

Calculating Christina Aguilera’s Comeback

2010 will be remembered as the year of incredible comebacks. From the once exiled Chris Brown to Monica – who many thought had retired – several artists managed to revive their careers and recapture their former positions at the top of the charts.

However, there is one artist who failed to regain her previous glory; an artist who encountered resounding rejection from consumers and critics of both music and film. Who is that artist? Christina Aguilera.

The former Pop princess has fallen to cataclysmic career lows and where she once seemed primed to claim a spot in history as one of music’s legendary divas, Aguilera is now being labelled as a has-been despite being only 30 years old.

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Music

Keri Hilson: Searching For Solo Success

Will Keri Hilson ever get a hit as a solo act? This is the question that many critics have been asking themselves since Hilson debuted her ‘In A Perfect World…’ LP in 2009. Although she has managed to land multiple singles in the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100, Hilson has yet to do so as without the assistance of other artists featured on her tracks.

From her own massive hit ‘Knock You Down  (Ft. Ne-Yo & Kanye West)’ and the club-banger ‘Turnin’ Me On (Ft. Lil Wayne)’ to her guest appearance on Timbaland’s ‘The Way I Are’, Hilson has made her mark on the charts time and again. As a songwriter, she has crafted moderately successful tracks for both Britney Spears (‘Break The Ice’) and for Timbaland (‘Scream’ – on which she was featured alongside Nicole Scherzinger). Yet, none of the songs that she has released on her own have managed to make a dent on the charts.

For instance, ‘Energy’ – the 1st single from Hilson’s debut album – failed to make it pass #78 on the Billboard 100 and only managed to scrape the #21 spot on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs tally. Her second individual release, ‘Slow Dance’, performed even more poorly by only peaking at #49 on the US R&B charts and completely missing the Hot 100 altogether. While Hilson did accomplish a hit in Europe with ‘I Like’, many argue that the song only achieved such status a result of it being associated with the hit German film ‘Zweiohrküken’.

So what is the possible cause of the seemingly impossible task of Hilson finding her way to the top 10 of the charts on by herself? Many speculate that she simply lacks the ‘it’ factor and raw energy (no pun intended) that her chart rivals Ciara and Beyonce possess. Certainly Hilson’s material has been sufficiently promoted by her label, and she has both the talent and the looks to be easily marketed to a wide audience. Whatever the reason, Hilson needs to deliver a successful solo effort on her next LP or else she will continue to be known as the Collaboration Queen by her doubters.

Do you think that Hilson will ever get a hit on her

own?

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