Let’s face it: black people love Robin Thicke. Not that I’m in the business of granting people unofficial “hood passes”, but if I were, he’d definitely be getting one.
On the release of his fifth studio album, Love After War, a compilation of songs completely written and produced by Thicke, it’s hard not to be excited. What is it about Robin Thicke that gives him such crossover appeal in the black community?
Son of actor Alan Thicke (perhaps better known as the dad from Growing Pains), Robin Thicke was born into music — most people know dad Alan wrote the theme song to Growing Pains, but beyond that he had a pretty prolific TV theme song writing career, also lending his talents to Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life.
Naturally dad must have been spinning some old soul and R&B for Robin, because by the time the young singer took at stab at a professional career in the late 1990’s, there was no question of his genre — Robin Thicke was a self-declared R&B artist.
But it was 2007’s “Lost Without You” that crowned him as the most-loved white man in R&B: the song topped Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip Hop chart, making him the first white artist to do so since George Michael. A hard feat to accomplish, but aided by Thicke’s tireless touring with artists like India Arie, John Legend, and Alicia Keys.
And while any artist can court a black fan base, perhaps what endears Thicke most to black audiences is that he doesn’t pander. Whereas some white artists may overcompensate their admiration for black culture to a straight-up caricature, saggy pants included, Thicke doesn’t try to be anything he’s not. He knows he’s a white man, who perhaps feels very comfortable within black culture.
Like how says his last album Sex Therapy was done in dedication to his love of hip-hop. He grew up on Run DMC, Jay-Z, and Rakim — so much so, that he even sung Rakim’s rap lyrics on the album’s opening track, “Mrs. Sexy” — pretty impressive for a white guy from California.
Though Sex Therapy found him collaborating with such big name hip hop acts as Snoop Dogg, Nicki Minaj, and Jay-Z, Robin Thicke apparently doesn’t feel pressured to continue to court black audiences via other black artists. On Love After War he decides to go it alone, choosing to feature no other artists on his album, except for one — Lil’ Wayne.
Wayne and Thicke have a long history of collaborating, Wayne having appeared on three of Thicke’s five albums. That Thicke decided to work exclusively with arguably the hottest rapper in the game, and that Wayne continues to collaborate with him says something about their mutual respect and trust in each other’s musical talent. Not to mention having Wayne’s stamp of approval gives a whole lot of hood credibility.
Further cementing Thicke’s status in black audiences? He’s chosen to spend the rest of his life with a black woman. Not that choosing Paula Patton as a wife is a hard decision, but that they’re high school sweathearts and seem desperately in love (check out his, ahem, enthusiastic description of their sex life), reinforces that their relationship is the real deal.
Robin Thicke hates to be described as a “blue-eyed” soul singer, and I’d have to say that black audiences agree. More than seeing a white man who sings R&B, Robin Thicke is an artist in the soul tradition, continuing to improvise on the sounds that came before him to create music that is deeply personal and unique. And that’s something all fans of R&B, black, white or otherwise, can enjoy.