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Resurrecting R&B (Part 1)

RB dead e1310585377755 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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Usher: Innovator Or Follower?

usher uu 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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Analysing Ashanti

ashanti 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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Calculating Christina Aguilera’s Comeback

aguilera 11 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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Keri Hilson: Searching For Solo Success

Keri+Hilson+kerihilsonuk 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


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Is The US Music Market Divided By Colour Lines?

4248733340 3c146825b7 Is The US Music Market Divided By Colour Lines?

Ciara, Kelly Rowland and Justin Timberlake. These artists are among the very best of their generation; each dominating a completely different genre of music. However, they all have one thing in common: the inability to successfully branch out beyond the confines of their primary music markets and into different genres. It seems that unlike international territories, the US music industry remains segregated; governed by unspoken rules regarding race and ethnicity; refusing to allow artists to explore new sounds that do not match established audience perceptions of what they acts “should” be performing.

Indeed, the US music scene remains intent on suppressing the talents of artists; stuffing them into box marked by  various stereotypes. For instance, when Ciara first emerged on the charts in 20o4, she was hailed as one of the hottest newcomers in R&B, partially filling the void that was left by the late Aaliyah. From her Hip-Hop-inspired sound to her full-fledged Urban appeal, she easily dominated the R&B charts for most of that year. Yet, Ciara found herself on the receiving end of severe criticism when she indulged in Pop/Dance music on her ‘Fantasy Ride’ LP, with several US critics and DJ’s claiming that she had abandoned her Urban audience in an effort to to appeal to a more “white” following.

Kelly Rowland has encountered a similar backlash in recent years as well. Despite struggling to score a hit after her initial solo smash, ‘Dilemma‘, Rowland seems to have finally found her niche with her new Dance-oriented sound; amassing incredible success in the UK, Europe and Australia. Nevertheless, such triumphs were not reflected in the US, where her 2009 hit, ‘When Love Takes Over’, only peaked at #76 on the Billboard Hot 100. Like Ciara, many of individuals in the US refused to acknowledge her artistic growth and criticised Rowland for abandoning her Urban roots.

Nonetheless, these pressures are not only encountered on the charts. Justin Timberlake had several incredible accomplishments across all formats, especially with his TI-assisted hit, ‘My Love’. However, his music was blatantly ignored by his own peers at the Grammy Awards where they refused to nominate his straightforward Urban recordings in any of the R&B categories; an occurrence many attribute to the colour of his skin.

So, while many many aspects of life in the US are slowly being liberated, the music industry remains an area of tension and unfair categorisation. In light of new reports that even Jennifer Hudson is being forced by industry pundits to rework the Euro-dance sound of her upcoming album and stick to her R&B roots, it is clear that full artistic freedom continues to be subjected to underlying pressures involving race and ethnicity. However, with Rihanna and Beyonce managing to successfully branch out and evade such conflict, there may yet be hope for other acts as well.

Do you agree that the US music market is divided

by race and ethnicity?

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The Music Industry’s Age Limit On Success

24g93cz The Music Industrys Age Limit On Success

The music industry has many biases against women involving skin colour, body type and even the texture of their hair. However, the most prevalent of all these issues is the one that most people overlook: age. It seems that as soon as  a female artist nears the dreaded age of 40, the clock starts clicking against her, with each passing moment being nothing more than borrowed time. Indeed, while many may herald a woman’s 40th birthday as a milestone of achievement, the music industry considers it be an expiration date.

No matter how successful or famous the act, the age of 40 presents a hurdle that is near impossible to overcome. From Toni Braxton to Jennifer Lopez, female artists struggle to find their place on the charts amongst their younger counterparts, regardless of their talent or the strength of their material. For instance, Janet Jackson’s latest album, ‘Discipline’, boasted some of the best records she has released since 2001’s ‘All For You’, yet it has been unceremoniously overlooked by the masses. Yet, there is one thing that women can do remain relevant: change their target audiences.

Female artists receive tremendous pressure from their fans and critics alike to start “acting their age” once they enter their 40’s. Suddenly, the revealing clothing and playful lyrics that defined their music before their 40th birthday become taboo. These women are automatically expected to behave more ‘maturely’ and craft material to attract consumers within a similar age bracket on the Adult Contemporary formats. For instance, Mariah Carey,whose sex appeal is almost as famous has her vocal range, is being pressured to tone down her look and “grow up”. In fact, she was slammed by various critics for her #1 single ‘Touch My Body’ (which she made when she was 38) because of its “juvenile” lyrical content. It seems that women are expected to magically transform into political analysts as they grow older; placing their sex appeal and playfulness in a box, only to be used behind closed doors.

Interestingly, male artists do not face similar criticism for their musical efforts. Jay-Z and R. Kelly, for example, are both over the age of 40 yet neither have been told to adjust their lyrics. Quite notably, R. Kelly’s ‘Untitled’ album was littered with sexual content with hardly anything resembling the ‘mature’ sound of ‘I Believe I Can Fly’.

Thus, it seems that the music industry is just another construct of the male-dominated world in which we live, where women continue to be pressured to conform to certain standards that men manage to evade. Nonetheless, many may argue that women themselves are at fault for their own downfall. While it may be true that women have to work harder to achieve success in their 40’s, artists like Madonna and Sade Adu (who are both in their 50’s) continue to enjoy similar accomplishments to what they did in their youth. Maybe some female artists get too comfortable with their earlier achievements and their declining success is simply a signal from their longtime fans to step up their game.

Do you think that the music industry has an age limit

on success?

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