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Let's Talk The State of R&B Inspired By Boyz II Men's Shawn Stockman

I talk often about my discontent with the state of R&B and missing what it used to be, so after seeing an Instagram post by Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman, I felt it would now be a good time to write about the state of R&B.

Remember at one time when rap was allegedly pronounced dead or a little unconscious and auto-tuned pop songs had taken over the charts? Has this same thing happened to R&B? The genre has certainly seen icons like Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye, and many more come through, but what is the current state of R&B now? Perhaps discordant sounds and hyper-sexual themes have moved us from baby making music to a pop or hip hop blended kind of R&B. The genre has gone from “I’ll Make Love To You” to “pull your panties to the side”. It seems to be more about making a quick hot single than making a lasting and indelible mark on music. If it’s about money only and making “popcorn music” then one’s artistry is already at jeopardy. R&B is having an identity crisis.

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Many artists have spoken about the genre and why it seems to be dying compared to the hip hop and popular genres. Some believe that R&B has lost its way compared to the dominance it held in ’90s. Another argument is songs lack real vocals, real emotion, live instrumentation, and love. R&B should not be “pull your panties to the side and these hoes ain’t loyal” but it is right now. R&B was a genre that gave you great vibes and evoked emotion in ways that no other genre could. R&B shaped the music industry for decades, but now it seems to have abandoned the amazing foundation it was built on (think ’60s,’70s, ’80s, ’90s). Interesting enough genres like country music have been able to stay true to their roots and continue to sell and win big.

Boyz II Men was recently awarded top R&B group of the century by the RIAA. Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman stated “If no one else is gonna say it, guess I will! It’s simple, the songs are too damn raunchy! You cannot play half the rotation from black artists on prime time radio because the songs are too suggestive! There’s no mystique, nothing romantic or gentlemen-like in the lyrics! Yeah, it might get you turnt in the club, and a small group of people may support it, but it’s not enough to get airplay in those formats that matter! And despite what advertisers to stations may think, I personally don’t believe that all young kids want to hear is that type of music all day. Change the songs producers, writers! You are the taste makers, not the labels! And then you will see a change!”

He went on to say, “What’s with R&B singers trying to be thugs? Cut that sh*t out and make some good music.”

Stockman also commented on why artists like Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke are dominating the R&B genre right now. “While bruh bruh’s in the club talking about sluttin’ chics out calling them b*tches, JT and Robin are in the lounges romancing them.”

What happened to real R&B? I’m talking that ’60s-’90s R&B feel. What happened to timeless classic R&B, when people were really singing, true vocals, a cappella tracks, sick vocal runs, live instrumentation, love songs, sensuality, the funk, the new jack swing, the neo soul, doo-wop, the tight harmonies, the sick vocal arrangement, funky bass lines, ballads, when vocals or even production alone would give you chills or raise the hair on your arm or even make you cry with emotion? It’s incredible how you can play songs from years ago that still make you “jam” because the timeless quality of the music. But where is this kind of R&B? R&B’s role in both American and black culture is too crucial to let it fade to black or conform.

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The genre has gone completely pop or hip hop. The rappers are singing or the songs sound almost techno. Today’s production such as auto tune and things of that nature also affect the soulfulness of the music. R&B production, composition, and vocals at times are a little monotonous now. Sure there are some truly talented singers keeping the genre alive such as Fantasia, Marsha Ambrosius, John Legend, Jennifer Hudson, Pharrell, Chris Brown (at times), Frank Ocean, Miguel, The Weeknd, Bobby V, Neyo, Trey Songz, Melanie Fiona, TGT, Sevyn Streeter, and Usher just to name a few, but how could something so amazing fade to black or be on life support as a genre. Veteran R&B solo artists and groups are still touring and making music such as Beyonce, Toni Braxton, Babyface, Mariah Carey, R.Kelly, Mary J.Blige, Maxwell, Eric Benet, Kelly Price, The Isley Brothers, New Edition, Boyz II Men, Jagged Edge, 112, Silk, Dru Hill, K-Ci and JoJo and many more but even still, for some, the efforts seem to be scattered or come across as an afterthought in relation to mainstream success sometimes.

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Even at a time when artists like Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, Timbaland and Aaliyah, Total and Biggie married hip hop & R&B you still felt the presence of R&B. Now many will argue that there is not a lot of separation.

As a journalist who just turned 26 I have been fortunate to make some amazing strides in 5 years as I have talked to/(and or interviewed) Boyz II Men, Jodeci, Dru Hill, Jagged Edge, Silk, 112, R. Kelly, Babyface, Teddy Riley, TLC, Donell Jones, Kelly Price, Eric Benet, The Isley Brothers, New Edition, Kenny Lattimore, Brandy, Monica, Faith Evans, Nicci Gilbert, Xscape, H Town, Shai, SWV, Ginuwine, Tyrese, Tank, Keith Sweat, Mint Condition, Monifah, RL, Angie Stone, Mariah Carey, Jermaine Dupri, Bryan Michael Cox, Chante Moore, KeKe Wyatt, Case, Charlie Wilson and many more amazing artists and producers that were influential from the 60-90s/early 2000s era. Many talked about how amazing R&B used to be and what they are doing to continue to keep the style and genre afloat. The key phrase is “used to be” showing their acknowledgement of the fact that there has been a change or shift. Some have remained positive and optimistic by saying that R&B is in a good place, and it’s evolving.

R&B Group Silk stated that R&B is missing love. John Legend stated that he continues to write love songs because they come naturally to him because he grew up on them. “I grew up on Marvin Gaye. There’s something about it. It’s so universal. Everybody feels these things,” said Legend. John Legend’s “All Of Me” is a top record and its just his vocals and the piano proving that R&B still has a place in people’s hearts and it’s still amazing enough to be supported.

At the 2013 Grammy’s Chris Brown stated to Ryan Seacrest, “A lot of the music nowadays, I love it, but it’s very gimmicky. Even some of my music is gimmicky,” he laughed. “But I just want R&B to go back to the real music—a lot of instruments, the real band, essence of being able to perform and be an entertainer.”

What happened to radio and record label support for R&B? What happened to artist development? Nowadays a R&B artist would be lucky to get their song heard on the radio. Some stations are strictly hip hop format and others claim to be hip hop and R&B but may only spin a few R&B songs a day or play songs that are rap with a R&B hook or R&B featuring a rapper. Consequently R&B is confined (when it comes to radio) to what have been labelled the old school stations or online playlist stations like Pandora, thus making it a generational gap for exposure to real R&B as the “old school” stations cater to/ attract an older demographic. R&B, without elements of other genres or overly sexual themes, seems to be a risk to record labels nowadays.

Some say that people don’t want to hear what they used to hear in R&B. Although music is supposed to evolve I believe that this is false. People absolutely still want to hear what they used to hear in R&B music. R&B used to have that magic that made you want to be in love. It had that magic to speak to your emotions or something you were going through. It was timeless so it would take you back to a time in your life each time you heard a song. Where are the story tellers? Where are the completely amazing bodies of work? Where is the music that makes you reflect on life and love?

If R&B and its support don’t go back to focusing on quality not quantity, in a couple of years the genre could be defunct.

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  • Binedra

    I 100% agree with this article. R&B has been hijacked, raped and left to die by lazy people who are out to make quick cash. The people behind music today are not interested in making lasting music. All I am hearing is sex sex sex: nothing is wrong with sex, but without love and romance it quickly loses it savoury.
    Unless greater efforts are made R&B will be a forgotten genre.

  • Eli Pinilla

    Male r&b reflects the mentality men have taken in regards to how we speak to, view, and treat women. We used to respect them more. And hold them at a higher value….I also think hiphop become more black culture as far as dominant form of music and r&b wanted to be like the rappers. So they tried to come out harder. More gangsta. And adopted a similar message to what the hiphop artists were saying and doing in regards to women….jmo though.

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  • Ravi Singh

    it’s not so much the sex as the music. r&b stopped focusing on itself and started focusing on keeping up with hop hop and imitating what hip hop was doing. it stopped creating new stuff until it became so blended with hip hop there is no difference. what is the difference between drake and r&b? what is the difference between future and r&b? chris brown raps and so do other r&b artists like ryan leslie and it’s like it’s to stay relevant and not just because they want to. the stuff that is coming out just sounds like watered down hip hop.

    r&b needs to focus on itself again or it will lose itself.

  • Genuinesol

    To begin, I agree with the point this author makes in regards to radio stations, even urban radio stations, that have adopted a primarily hip hop format and only give R&B a small corner of their airplay. That is the real issue. I do not agree that today’s R&B is in anyway inferior to decades of the past even though it is different. Surveys have shown that people always bemoan music of the current generation in admiration of music in the past.

    As this author has noted, there are many quality artists, too many to name in face. I am surprised however that the author mentions R&B and yet leaves off some of the larger names such as Beyonce (like it or not), Fantasia, K. Michelle, Tamar Braxton, Jazmin Sullivan, KEM, Anthony Hamilton, Chrisette Michelle, Jennifer Hudson, and Janelle Monae just to name a few. These artists in particular actually get airplay and even though some of them definitely merge other genres of music in their songs, they are still classified as R&B. A strong case can even be made for Rihanna who is a consistent chart topper and receives mainstream accolades. Then there are many underground artists who are producing fantastic music such as George Tandy Jr., SZA, Gabi Wilson (a 16 year music prodigy), and Dawn Richards. Some of these artists are starting to receive airtime but they are still mainly underground.

    The main problem, as cited, is the lack of airplay. That brings me to my question. All of these artists cited above have their fans and besides supporting these artists with our dollars, what can we do about the small pocket of airplay that these artists receive? There must be something we can do. None of these articles highlight some innovative methods we can enact change besides buying the albums and singles these artists produce. If they received more airplay then I am sure they would receive more support.

    P.S. Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke benefit from being white. They have done nothing amazing that has not been done before, is not being done now, and will be done in the future but because they are white, it is easier for them to crossover and have their music played on the more “mainstream” pop stations. We need to stop acting like they are the Great White Hypes when indeed they are white and they benefit from being such. Robin has acknowledge this while Justin Timberlake acts as if he receives no benefits from being a white guy who is simply doing what other black artists have done (Usher/ Neyo) and yet have a harder time receiving the same crossover appeal consistently. I can barely stomach him as a result.

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  • Lord Saltsworth McGinty III

    This is an outstanding article, my lady and I were talking about this not long ago. There are no songs that have come out in (let’s be conservative) say, the last 5 years that you completely obsessed about. Like you felt it spoke to you and what you were going through to the point where you damn near cried. The song that you played over and over after you and your lady broke up or some sh@t.

  • i absolutley love this article cause its so true you spoke on every aspect of the industry and its sad music just isnt the same which is why artist like silk jodeci boys to men etc etc etc are still touring and makinh music people like me hunger for it good read reyonce and shawn

  • Mark Lamount Burns

    Even though I mostly listened to hip hop growing up, I just couldn’t deny the pull of R&B classics like “Beauty” from Dru Hill, “I’ll Make Love To You” by Boyz II Men or “Wish I Never Met Her” by Carl Thomas. I still bump Eric Benet’s “Georgie Porgie” from time to time. It’s just that R&B back then inspired so much emotions in me. Not to say that there is none today that does the same thing, there’s just very little out there now to me that inspire those same feelings. I miss those songs that had me up at night thinking, “I think I’m in love with her”. The artists didn’t have to over-sex the track in order for it to be heartfelt. The need to do so now seems like desperation to me. All this to get a buck?
    Overall, this was a great article. I agree 100%!

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