Frank Ocean once said, "When you're happy, you enjoy the music. But when you're sad, you understand the lyrics."
R&B was birthed from the rhythm of blues and jazz music. It's deeply rooted in the soulful notes sang and played by black musicians from as far back as we can remember.
It was finally recognized as its own genre in the late 1940s when the term was first used by Billboard magazine -- replacing the original category of Harlem Hit Parade.
Rhythm and blues, the name alone evokes a specific sound in one's mind — an often slow and steady melody infused with a beat that either makes one want to dance, or make love or both.
As a child of the '90s era, I'll always have the greatest love for hip-hop; but in the deepest corners of my core, I'm an R&B chick -- through and through. That's why it truly pains me to admit that the R&B of today has fallen a little too far from where it once began.
I know every generation has a tendency to believe that the music of their era is better than that of its successor, but in this case, it might be the truth. Common's song "I Used to Love H.E.R." spoke about the changes in hip-hop and how he used to love it and her; I feel the same way about R&B and him.
I spent a few hours going through the Billboard Top R&B hits from the past five decades and comparing some of the songs from each decade; what I found was pretty interesting.
R&B was always considered the somewhat “risqué” offspring of its predecessors, but lately it's become far more than simply risqué.
In May of 1970 the number one R&B song on the Billboard charts was "Turn Back The Hands Of Time" by Tyrone Davis. The lyrics from the first verse are:
They are sweet, simple, loving lyrics. These are the kind of words that a woman wants whispered in her ear as she falls in love with a man in the middle of a late night dinner.
Now, let's look at what's changed. In May of 2009 the number one R&B/hip-hop song (I'll address that change) was “Blame It” by Jamie Foxx. The lyrics from the first verse go something like this:
Jamie Foxx once said, “When you sing R&B songs in front of an audience, you look out and there's 85 percent women. I think R&B music is sort of designed for a man singing to a woman. I don't sing it like the sexy thing, but sort of pseudo-sexy. We rally the women together because it's about being independent and things like that.”
Well, I guess those lyrics were for the other 15 percent of women then.
OK, I know every song isn't mean to be a love ballad and sometimes artists want to make music that people can dance to.
But both of these songs are from a man's perspective on how he views the woman he's addressing, and they're so different that it speaks volumes about the change in our society.
Of course we still have the Maxwells, the John Legends, the Jill Scotts and the Anthony Hamiltons, but they seem to be outweighed by the Chris Browns, The Weeknds and the Tinashes -- particularly when it comes to radio play.
In the spirit of writing this blog post, I spent a few days listening to nothing but XM each time I got in the car. What did I hear? Let's run it down a little, shall we? In "Na Na," Trey Songz sang:
After that came Rico Love's "They Don't Know":
I mean, what couple wouldn't want to make love with this song playing in the background rather than, oh say, Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing?"
Let's face it: R&B is dying and hip-hop is killing it.
R&B/hip-hop. That's what it's become -- a musical chimera. As a lover of 90s music, it pains me to admit that this beast, the remix, was born of that era. Every song had to have a remix. Many attribute this to Puff Daddy. I can't say with certainty if this is true, but he definitely made it popular.
It started off as one or two songs on an album, usually the lead singles, that would get a remix. This was actually smart because it extended the life of the song usually just as it would begin to die down.
But by the end of the decade, there was barely a song in either hip-hop or R&B that didn't have a feature artist from the other genre.
At the time it wasn't really a bad thing, more often than not it added a little extra flavor to the song. But eventually, it reached the point where it was no longer just the remixed version; it was the original version too.
In the beginning of the new era, R&B was beginning to sound a lot more like hip-hop and a lot less like its originators.
Now, it seems as if a lot of the male R&B singers can't decide if they want to be singers or rappers, so they try to be a hybrid of both.
Because of that conflict their song lyrics often come off as harsh and far more edgy. I'm not a conservative person -- far from it -- but I can't help but think of the quote I started this with.
When someone is going through a bad time in a relationship, they aren't going to turn on Rico Love's "They Don't Know," they're going to turn on L.T.D's "Where Did We Go Wrong." When a person is falling in love, they don't want to listen to Tinashe's "2 On," they're going to listen to Anita Baker's "Sweet Love."
Unless, of course, they've never had the fortune of being introduced to such soul-stirring music as classic R&B. How sad for those who have to live such a reality.
Like the society it mirrors, music must also grow and progress. I have no issue with that. I seek out good music no matter what genre or era it comes from.
And sometimes, when I'm in my car, at the gym or getting ready to go out, all I need is some good bass, regardless of the lyrics.
But in the grand scheme of things, music is an art, and as any creative person will tell you, art is meant to have meaning. It's meant to move your soul, and snatch emotions you forgot were there or ones you didn't even know existed. That's the goal of most artists.
So, as a creative soul myself, you'll have to forgive me if I seem a little disconsolate that R&B just doesn't really move me anymore.
This post was originally published on the author's blog.