I recently had a chance to sit down and watch the 2016 Soul Train Music Awards on the DVR, and was quite entertained. The best part of the show was Teddy Riley’s outstanding performance as he took the crowd down memory lane with all of his monumental New Jack Swing hits. Then after the awards went off, a world premiere video of the upcoming New Edition Story with the characters of the legendary group performing You’re Not My Kind Of Girl. Watching and grooving to Riley’s self-tribute and NE’s preview made me realize something…..what happened to R&B these days??? What happened to male and female R&B groups??? What happened to the coordination of steps and moves on the stage??? Live instrumentation???
In my opinion, the “Golden Age” of R&B was between 1987-1995, where the likes of New Edition, Guy, Al B. Sure, Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat, Tony! Toni! Tone!, En Vogue, SWV, Boyz II Men and Jodeci dominated the air waves. This time period had a dynamic range of sanging (not singing & yes there’s a difference), dancing, slow jams and a certain kind of coolness. It was a time when a guy could use a ballad to get a girl’s attention, or an audience gathered around on the dance floor to see someone show off their latest moves. Each act had their own significant brand of appeal from bad boy to suave/debonair to clean cut. And most importantly, each act gave you your money’s worth when seeing them LIVE. For some reason, the art of the live performance seems to be lost nowadays.
One reason that R&B may be lacking today is because of the non-existence of black music divisions at today’s record labels. I was listening to BBD on The Combat Jack Show on Sirius XM radio not too long ago, and that very topic was discussed. Michael Bivins commented on how record labels today don’t have any black music executives, and the ones that were relevant are no longer utilized. I remember when I had aspirations to make it in the music game, I read about Louil Silas and Steve Stout. I read Berry Gordy’s book about how he started Motown, and how he took all of his past work and life experiences to build the Motown Sound. The brain drain of knowledge is quite disturbing.
Now there are a few R&B acts today that keeping the genre relevant. Usher, Trey Songz and Chris Brown, despite his antics at times, are names that come to mind. But with rappers posing as singers and vice versa, you don’t know what’s what. Sometime I just wanna hear someone only rap and someone only sing. At least back in the day you had that, alongside with a lot of great Hip Hop/R&B crossover songs that still stand the test of musical time. Maybe one day R&B will return to “golden age” status. For now it’s yet to be determined….