6:58 pm - 04/09/2012

Is R&B Having an Identity Crisis?

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The-Dream has written dance-pop hits for the likes of Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Mariah Carey, but his solo career has largely been about recording R&B. So he knows a thing or two about the phenomenon he recently complained about in the pages of The Guardian. "What's crazy is that blacks can't do soul records any more," he said. "We love Adele singing it, but Beyoncé singing it? No, the tempo's too slow, gimme the club hit. Now the blacks in America are responsible for the pop records, and everybody else is singing soulful records. It's weird to me. We're pigeonholed over there."

What's striking, though, is that only a few days later, Stephin Merritt—singer for the decidedly un-club-friendly, un-R&B indie-pop act The Magnetic Fields—voiced similar concerns to LA Weekly. "I like Adele, though I have some reservations about why people like her," Merritt said. "She really has a lovely voice, but I only get suspicious when people get excited about British people who sound like American black people."

"Basically she sounds like Anita Baker," Merritt continued. "And people are not, you know, wild and crazy about Anita Baker. And I think about the whole, with the racism, when people love when British people sound like American black people."

Both remarks sparked criticism. Some questioned The-Dream's own role in the state of soul, while others charged Merritt with hypocrisy (he's faced accusations of racism, himself). And plenty of Adele fans were quick to argue that the singer's success comes from the quality of her music and the fact that it sounds different from anything else on radio. What's inarguable, though, is that the two men's statements speak to larger, widespread anxiety about the state of modern R&B—and black peoples' place in it.

It's not that there are no new black R&B artists. Singers such as Jazmine Sullivan, whom Adele beat out for Best New Artist at the 2009 Grammys, offer music just as soulful and introspective only with a minuscule fraction of Adele's fame. The same can be said about a gifted vocalist like Ledisi or Miguel. And it remains to be seen whether a newcomer like Stacy Barthe will enjoy Adele's success or turn out to be the Sharon Jones to her Amy Winehouse.

The problem, many black R&B artists say, is the way that in-vogue club pop sounds have infiltrated the genre they love. So-called R&B radio stations play music that, save for tracks from the likes of Trey Songz or Mary J. Blige, aren't actually R&B—yet get labeled as such because black artists are singing on them: tunes like Drake and Rihanna's "Take Care" or Usher's "Climax" (which Usher calls "electro soul," whatever that means). Earlier this year, Boyz II Men, who at their peak scored several megahits off their soulful tracks, made this point. On the state of contemporary R&B, member Shawn Stockman said, "It's taken a step to what I think really isn't R&B. It sounds more electro pop, I think the only reason people call it R&B is cos black folks are singing it."

In 2010, Erykah Badu turned off her radio and took to Twitter to complain as well about the "electro pop" turn R&B has taken, writing: "They playd 6 in a row today- #pop techno songs back to back with so called r&b and rap artists... on the [hip-hop] station. Where I been? Like I said, how y'all gone STAND by and let our music turn into pop techno cornball ass music?"

She went on: "I like the idea of no distinction in race when it comes 2 music, but SOULkeepers, U dont give up the boom bip and the hump 4 the payday."

Trey Songz, one of the few successful artists where the R&B tag is actually applicable, echoed Badu's thoughts in an interview with the Power 105.1 radio show, "The Breakfast Club." "The success of crossover is something we all want to attain, but the route to get there is what's important to me," Trey said. As for why so many of his peers have changed their sound, he acknowledges that it was "the easy thing to do right now to get a hit." Indeed, Trey noted that, "It's not cool to be an R&B singer no more."

As a child of the '80s, Trey can remember when it was cool and how soul singers didn't have to go so left to enjoy certain successes. He said he could recall "a time that Luther Vandross could sell out Madison Square Garden four nights straight with straight soul music and be in the top 100, but that's not what it is right now."

On that same show this week, another R&B artist, Dawn Richard (Danity Kane, Diddy-Dirty Money), spoke about trying to bring innovation to the genre but opting to start off independently releasing her music. It seems label reps would tell her they liked what they heard, but found the sound too risky to offer a record deal.

Rationalizing their ambivalence, Richard asked: "Why would you take a risk on a brown girl? There's no brown girl considered pretty right now poppin' in the game. A dark skinned game. Kelly Rowland? There are, but I'm talking about in that crossover world. They're not allowing it."

What has been allowed, though, is what's selling on radio. The traditional notion of R&B may not be dead, but it does seem destined to live in obscurity until popular tastes change again. As Badu put it, "I love house and techno as a side dish. But now it's served as the main course AND that's ALL u gone get."

The article expands on the core of The-Dreams comment posted here and lets the pollen fly. Music associated with black culture is only interesting (and commercially successful) when sung by someone else and it speaks to the rebranding of R&B, e.g., calling Rihanna R&B when she clearly isn't.
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brucelynn 9th-Apr-2012 11:45 pm (UTC)
Here we go


I'm ready for this post
snuffyqui45 9th-Apr-2012 11:48 pm (UTC)
Wasn't this a post already?

friarsfire 9th-Apr-2012 11:49 pm (UTC)
I linked to the earlier post. The issue was just brought up again - as it should be, tbqh.
pistol_eyes 10th-Apr-2012 12:08 am (UTC)
smilofax 10th-Apr-2012 12:28 am (UTC)
It was originally just the Dream's comments, this brings up the issue as a whole. But yes it was
fabouluz 9th-Apr-2012 11:48 pm (UTC)
Electro-Pop has definitely took over every genre of music. I think it's all about having personality and a powerful voice, you can't just have one or the other.
quote_me_once 9th-Apr-2012 11:49 pm (UTC)
um. rihanna?
friarsfire 9th-Apr-2012 11:50 pm (UTC)
snuffyqui45 9th-Apr-2012 11:51 pm (UTC)
gaga 9th-Apr-2012 11:59 pm (UTC)
lol oop
kwikimart 10th-Apr-2012 02:53 pm (UTC)
Bloop bloop!
kurtvonnegut 9th-Apr-2012 11:48 pm (UTC)
lol why is stephin merritt's opinion in this piece tho

i mean don't get me wrong the magnetic fields are cute but idg how he relates to any of this
likegunfire 9th-Apr-2012 11:48 pm (UTC)
everyone support brandy's new album when it comes out in 2 months
sodapopconnect 9th-Apr-2012 11:58 pm (UTC)

Brandy the original trend-setter. She's even got our majesty biting off some of her style.
gaga 10th-Apr-2012 12:00 am (UTC)
omg i LOVED this shit as a kid
hazel_belle 10th-Apr-2012 12:33 am (UTC)
We'd get there earlier for this as kids and make roller coaster sounds.
nathanandbarry 10th-Apr-2012 01:13 am (UTC)
me too. Kids are so easily amused. haha.
vanishingbee 9th-Apr-2012 11:48 pm (UTC)
I am ready for this post tbh.
brucelynn 9th-Apr-2012 11:51 pm (UTC)
me too lol
vanishingbee 9th-Apr-2012 11:52 pm (UTC)
I'm in exactly the right mood for it lol
quote_me_once 9th-Apr-2012 11:49 pm (UTC)
i hope ppl don't think starships is hip hop/rap.. going on erykah badu's topic.
rihanna 9th-Apr-2012 11:49 pm (UTC)
waiting 4 mariah to come back and have another emancipation <33
pistol_eyes 10th-Apr-2012 12:08 am (UTC)
eccentricvibe 10th-Apr-2012 12:13 am (UTC)
I hope so.
chantemarissa 10th-Apr-2012 12:20 am (UTC)
me too
nomoneyfun 10th-Apr-2012 02:07 am (UTC)
Basically. The current pop scene is all ash and she's lotion.
blanketinapark 12th-Apr-2012 10:20 pm (UTC)
thrillho 9th-Apr-2012 11:51 pm (UTC)
R&B hasn't been 'rhythm and blues' since forever, and even then white English kids were internationally more successful than any black American R&B artists ever were (Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin etc.).
friarsfire 9th-Apr-2012 11:56 pm (UTC)
killerqueen 10th-Apr-2012 12:04 am (UTC)
su20 10th-Apr-2012 12:28 am (UTC)
pretty much
gogeta1 10th-Apr-2012 12:44 am (UTC)
whitegirlthin 10th-Apr-2012 01:40 am (UTC)
true enough
kwikimart 10th-Apr-2012 02:56 pm (UTC)
Sad truth
smilofax 9th-Apr-2012 11:51 pm (UTC)
I agree with everything in this article and the whole Dream/ Stephin Meritt comments are just proof that when a black person makes a comment about race issues= playing the " Race Card" and when a white person does it = "the truth"
vanishingbee 9th-Apr-2012 11:54 pm (UTC)
well didn't you know, in the race debate white people are unbiased, while any POC is just being TOO SENSITIVE!
jeugd1 10th-Apr-2012 12:05 am (UTC)
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sodapopconnect 10th-Apr-2012 01:30 am (UTC)

helloneworld 10th-Apr-2012 01:51 am (UTC)
smilofax 10th-Apr-2012 01:54 am (UTC)
pretty much
quote_me_once 10th-Apr-2012 02:04 am (UTC)
kwikimart 10th-Apr-2012 02:56 pm (UTC)
pretty much!
bestcoast 10th-Apr-2012 12:22 am (UTC)
lol yep this is exactly what i got from this article
rihanna 9th-Apr-2012 11:57 pm (UTC)
gaga 10th-Apr-2012 12:02 am (UTC)
nullteiler 10th-Apr-2012 12:02 am (UTC)
her voice is so powerful!
Adele who!?
nomoneyfun 10th-Apr-2012 02:08 am (UTC)
pistol_eyes 10th-Apr-2012 12:09 am (UTC)
jeugd1 9th-Apr-2012 11:51 pm (UTC)
inb4 Ebey stans try to use this as an excuse to why 4 flopped

There's no brown girl considered pretty right now poppin' in the game. A dark skinned game. Kelly Rowland? There are, but I'm talking about in that crossover world. They're not allowing it....so fucked up and sad
shit we need some good 90s R&B music back
we also need St Lauryn back

Edited at 2012-04-09 11:52 pm (UTC)
snuffyqui45 9th-Apr-2012 11:53 pm (UTC)
Oh god Lauryn. Why did u have to go crazy?

I blame Wyclef.
friarsfire 9th-Apr-2012 11:54 pm (UTC)
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sodapopconnect 9th-Apr-2012 11:55 pm (UTC)
That's the thing though, I don't think we will ever see/hear RnB like it was back in the 90's. Maybe in another 10 years or so...tbh I listen to more of my 80's/90's jams than anything else.
lestat 10th-Apr-2012 12:04 am (UTC)
lauryn is a legend but she doesn't owe the public any more music if she doesn't want to do it.
pistol_eyes 10th-Apr-2012 12:13 am (UTC)
idk I think people are fooling themsleves if they think Lauryn still has the ability to drop more game changing music. And it's been too many years since MELH. How many artists have dropped a flawless, historic record and follow it up with another flawless, historic record?
lovedhurtlost 10th-Apr-2012 12:23 am (UTC)
Plus, Lauryn's voice is no where near what it used to be.
pistol_eyes 10th-Apr-2012 12:27 am (UTC)
theonlykow 10th-Apr-2012 04:51 am (UTC)
I love the shit out of her Unplugged 2.0 set, and it's all new material. I agree that she's been out of the game for so long, whatever she puts out now is going to have to prove itself, but I found Unplugged 2.0 to be a worthy followup to Miseducation.
oh7 10th-Apr-2012 12:30 am (UTC)
we also need St Lauryn back

andthenwevomit 10th-Apr-2012 12:45 am (UTC)
90s R&B was perfect!
fashionbabylon 10th-Apr-2012 01:00 am (UTC)
st lauryn, more like lauryesus tbh. came to earth, gave us some perfect tracks, then died for our sins and everything since then has been kinda whateva
kwikimart 10th-Apr-2012 03:00 pm (UTC)
Exsqueeze you?

"4" debuted at no.1 like ALL Beyonce's albums and has grossed over a million dollars so far plus it's given her some of the best critical acclaim of her career. I wouldn't use it as an excuse because I don't need one. "4" didn't do as well as her other albums because it's not what people are used to from her.

IA about everything else tho.
edas 9th-Apr-2012 11:54 pm (UTC)
The dream is a dick.
friarsfire 9th-Apr-2012 11:55 pm (UTC)
elementalranger 10th-Apr-2012 12:05 am (UTC)
u didn't hear about all that shit he did to christina milan right after she had their baby?
myblackass 10th-Apr-2012 12:17 am (UTC)
He went on vacation with his jump off and his wife (Christina Milian) found out when she saw that pap photos.
devetu 9th-Apr-2012 11:56 pm (UTC)
no mention of the weeknd?

don't curr about this article then
friarsfire 9th-Apr-2012 11:58 pm (UTC)
devetu 10th-Apr-2012 12:01 am (UTC)

but the morning, house of balloons, the party and the after party are my faves
eccentricvibe 10th-Apr-2012 12:33 am (UTC)
I never really paid attention to The Weekend but I really like this. Do you have any other recommendations?
smilofax 9th-Apr-2012 11:58 pm (UTC)
Isn't the weeknd just a bootleg version of The Dream, I downloaded all three of his eps and only liked 2 or 3 of the songs.
laurie_springs 10th-Apr-2012 12:21 am (UTC)
The Weeknd has done more for sheer production quality than r&b....probably the real reason Dream is so salty now lol
cherrycoloured 10th-Apr-2012 12:54 am (UTC)
I went into this article expecting a mention of The Weeknd, and was disappointed to not see his name. He's so brilliant!
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