Contemporary R&B music has explicit physical pleasure covered, but what about genuine emotion and relationships?
An up and coming voice in R&B by the name of August Alsina released his full-length debut album entitled Testimony. Testimony is street-savvy, sporting titles including “Porn Star”, “Fml”, “Ghetto”, and “I Luv This Sh*t”. Rightfully, Alsina, a rough-and-tumble artist with a difficult background, delivers an album based on his life experience. That said, perhaps using examples other than Testimony, R&B in general seems to be trending more towards the ‘dark side’. If you ignore the stylization and write the genre out, you get rhythm and blues. The blues are naturally dark and historically, are fretful. Even if R&B has become more ‘extreme’ by conservative purist’s standards, then given the aforementioned definition focused on the ‘blues’, R&B is not that far out on its limb right? Well – sort of.
First let me say that I love R&B. Being the old-soul that I am in spite of my age, I grew up listening to a lot of classic soul – R&B in its heyday. Even as eclectic a music listener as I have developed into today, I personally have a special place in my heart for R&B. That said, even as much as I respect the genre even today, I also am skeptical. The artists can still sing and many times have more powerful voices compared to other artists in different genres, but the material has become questionable. Anyone who denies that they enjoy a dash of risqué in their R&B probably has looked past the overtness that late acclaimed artists such as Marvin Gaye and Teddy Pendergrass incorporated into their music (“Let’s Get It On” and “Turn Off The Lights” being prime examples). That said, a dash of risqué has turned into music that as of late has grew incredibly oversexed. What’s even more shocking is it’s not just the dudes and their love for pleasure – but also the gals too.
Taking a gander at the iTunes R&B section, many of the new offerings – single or album – have the once infamous parental advisory label gracing them. Personally, being in my twenties and still possessing the liberal swagger of my past college years, some stronger content within a song or album’s going to do little to faze me. That said, for the better good of the genre and perhaps the future generation (I sound like my parents), perhaps R&B artists have carried things too far. Strike that… R&B artists are relying too much on physicality and brash language to fuel the fire. Yeah, f-bombs have become commonplace whether they should or shouldn’t, but does that mean that this ‘say exactly what’s on my mind’ mentality is necessarily the answer to relevancy? While I’ll ignore the profanity in itself, I will further examine the predominance of a three-letter word.
Going back to August Alsina, many of us expect him to ‘push the envelope’ and those very familiar understand. But now it seems as if everyone is going there. Sure, British R&B/hip-hop artist Estelle was always a bit ‘rough around the edges’ (“Just A Touch” being a perfect example), but her latest single “Make Her Say (Beat It Up)” just lays it all out there – “make her p***y say…” SMH! Sure, it’s an interesting joint and Estelle has seductiveness vocally, but I’m not sure that it’s naturally sexy. Much of Jason Derülo’s new album (Talk Dirty) ups the ante sexually, with the singer trying to add an extra edge to his image. Sure, “That’s My Shhh” was the first hint of this (Future History) while “Talk Dirty” confirmed it, but other joints like “Wiggling” and “Bubblegum” are nothing short of sinful, leaving little to the imagination. Similarly, SoMo, a newbie by way of YouTube throws sex throughout his official self-titled debut. That isn’t to say that there aren’t some naturally sexy moments, but the emotional component of the genre is being sold way short.
Ultimately, I question if R&B artists are overdoing it… no pun intended. I mean, when Teddy Pendergrass wooed with “Turn Off The Lights”, his idea of risqué was “Let’s take a shower, shower together…rub me down in some hot oils baby.” Marvin Gaye did make a bold statement with as he sang “let’s get it on, sugar”, but today “get it on” has been supplanted with let’s… you catch the drift. These are different times and innocence has been stripped from every angle, but with the value of the emotional aspects of love and specifically the dying of the dedicated relationship in the songs, how far can empty songs about meaningless hook-ups really go? Yes ‘booty’ is very much part of the genre – most genres for that matter – but does the subtler approach ultimately pay more dividends? Definitely, this should be food for thought for R&B artists and fans alike.