RKZ schools your ass on R&B, marketing, genres and attention spans with his guest editorial “The Age of an Era…”
You’ll hear time and time again that R&B isn’t what it used to be. Nothing can emulate the sounds of the 90s, and R&B doesn’t seem to have as much emphasis on vocal performance, soul or emotion. The steadily consistent implementation of Pop formula and branding has changed music, as we once knew it.
However, has this scepticism of new age, contemporary R&B risen because of the ever-decreasing attention span of the younger market? Or is it more so an argument of generational opinion and preference? I’ve always come across elders saying music isn’t what it used to be. After arguing against this various times, I seem to be finding myself equally as sceptical about the music of younger generation. I’m a 90s baby, and the sounds of artists including Jon B, New Edition, Joe, Baby Face, early Ginuwine, Aaliyah etc., is what I class as real R&B. Today we’re seeing a lot more Pop-orientated commercialism, to the point where if the artist isn’t packaged right, isn’t pretty, doesn’t have a story/angle, they’re better off sticking to a different day job. This, more so, I’ve found is the case with British R&B musicians, as opposed to American artists.
After the various shifting of styles since the term was coined in the 1940s, rhythm and blues has seemed to implement and embrace the change in its surroundings over the decades: from early Jazz, to Blues, to Rock N’ Roll, to Soul, to Pop. This correlation makes it apparent that R&B has always incorporated a sense of commercialism – room for adaptation – if you will. And it seems post ‘90s R&B is now seemingly incorporative of Pop. [This is where we need to distinguish Pop Music as a genre, and the phrase popular music.] Popular music of this day and age, is Pop; what was considered popular music in the mid 1950s, would be Rock N’ Roll, and so on.
Coming from an era of Soul-influenced R&B, the Pop-sounding R&B immediately disheartens me. Hence why artists that still incorporate that Soul element, bring a sense of nostalgia (Frank Ocean suddenly springs to mind). Boyz II Men recently released a version of their classics rerecorded, in their new album, Twenty. Those songs brought back a lot of memories, and showed me that R&B of the ‘90s could not be emulated again, not to that level, anyway. This realisation made me come to terms with the contemporary R&B of today.
It’s what is relevant now. Whether or not we like the way R&B is sounding more and more nowadays, that is what is selling. Part and parcel of being a musician is doing something you love, and being able to make a career out of it. A fully-fledged musician needs to make money, in addition to making music. And in order to do that, their music adapts to what the target audience wants; what the charts need; and what the increasingly powerless record labels can exploit. A perfect example of this is British R&B singer, Loick Essien. After getting attention from the record Idol, the vocalist released an amazing record in Love Drunk, which didn’t do well, at all. According to a few industry insiders, if his Pop record, How We Roll didn’t chart well as the follow up, he was pretty much going to get dropped by Sony – who signed him at the age of 14.
I refused to become that older guy that judges the music youngsters listen to. R&B isn’t the same as the ‘90s; but the ‘90s wasn’t the same as the ‘80s, and it continues. We’re so accustomed to what we grew up on, and as much as we complain that R&B isn’t the same, Hip Hop isn’t the same… It really is. The only thing that has changed is the environment. Adapt to survive.