I like to say that I was born in the decade of the best soul music. That would be the 1970s of course. Countless classics came out of that era and you just might have been conceived to some of that baby-making music that was put out by the likes of Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass and others.
That was an amazing era in soul music that might never be duplicated in terms of the sheer number of superior quality songs that stand the test of time. It sounds trite, but it’s true that today’s R & B pales in comparison to what was playing during those all night rent parties where platform shoes scuffed the floors and Afros were artfully picked and sprayed.
Seriously, how many R & B songs with heavy rotation on the radio right now will you still jam to 25-30 years from now? Probably not many. But all is not lost. There are men and women out there making good soul-stirring music today.
In a recent CNN article called “Where is the love in R & B music?”, writer John Blake laments upon what he feels is the lack of romance and real love in today’s R & B music. Blake offers up fond memories of classics like “After the Love is Gone” by Earth Wind and Fire and “Come Go With Me” by Teddy Pendergrass as examples of what true love songs sound like.
In Blake’s eyes, Miguel’s “Quickie” and Chris Brown’s “No Bullsh*t” epitomize today’s lackluster R & B songs that are too crass and explicit to explore romance in any meaningful way. He cites a study that found courtship to be the least popular theme in 2009’s biggest R & B hits.
Blake is right about those two particular songs lacking in the romance department and yes, many of the songs (R & B and otherwise) that get heavy radio play aren’t exactly dripping with love. But there are real R & B out there and you don’t have to trudge through obscure websites or spend time in matchbox-sized venues to find them.
This is hardly an exhaustive list, but here are seven black R & B artists whose ruminations on love will be as relevant and soulful decades from now as they are today. These artists might not have a #1 album every year, but they are Grammy nominated, critically acclaimed and get big co-signs from well-known tastemakers in music. Each artist has put out an R & B album/EP in 2010 and/or 2011.
First off, Jill Scott was robbed this year. Robbed I tell you. Not one Grammy nomination? That’s pure insanity. Jilly from Philly is known for her riveting lyrics. She was/is a spoken word artist and you can cleary hear the poetry and depth of her words. Her fourth studio album “Light of the Sun” takes listeners all over the emotional journey of love for a woman. She explores everything from that sex-only “situation” (So Gone) to the joyful declarations of love in “So in Love.”
In 2010’s New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), Erykah Badu gives us more of that very particular Badu brand that seems to evolve and get better with each album. She samples classics on this album from the likes of Eddie Kendricks and Sylvia Striplin, but she uses the samples very effectively to create something new and evocative. One of my favorites from the album is “Out My Mind, Just in Time,” another one of those 10 minute jewels from Ms. Badu.
Mateo has been on the grind for a couple years now, but it’s really just now that he’s getting more shine due in large part to a hearty co-sign from Kerry “Krucial” Brothers, the man who shaped the sound and career of Alicia Keys. Mateo is definitely an R & B artist, but not strictly so, you can hear the influences of pop, rock and hip hop in his music. “It’s not always just about the beat or what makes you nod your head back and forth. It’s about what the artist is talking about and connecting on an emotional level,” said Mateo in his Live Undefined special for Music Choice On Demand. The singer/songwriter has an EP out now called Love and Stadiums II that is a mix of fan favorites from his previous mixtapes and some new joints. His album is expected in the first quarter of 2012.
Ledisi has the kind of voice and performance style that makes people say “Oh, she went to church on that one!” Her voice is amazing and her lyrics are just as engaging. For whatever reason, Ledisi has never exactly been a chart topper, but her music speaks for itself and she’s in contention for a Grammy this year, so someone else agrees with me.
The CNN writer called out Miguel as an example of the not so awesome R & B of today, but Miguel’s debut album All I Want Is You is a fantastic thing. “Quickie” may be all about sex, but it’s a banger and done well and other tracks on the album like “Sure Thing” do talk about the joys of monogamy and relationships.
Surprised? Besides having a powerhouse voice that is very reminiscent of that 70s soul music (I can really hear him doing that “Turn ‘em off!” from Teddy P in “Turn off the Lights”), he has been making grown man music for years. The lyrics, the melodies and the mood that Tank sets with is music are noteworthy. In addition to the 2010 release of his album Now or Never, Tank also released a mixtape called Diary of a Mad Man in 2011. The album is better than the mixtape, but Tank has put out too much good music to let that downgrade his reputation at all. His acoustic cover of Bonnie Rait’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” on his last album is perfection.
She was the “songstress” in the soul duo Floetry, but now that she is going the solo route, she has continued to put out high quality music. Late Nights, Early Mornings showcases the great team that Marsha has behind her. The production is exceptional and well-suited to Marsha’s delicate and far reaching vocals and the song writing is impeccable. Close your eyes, pick a track, you’ll love it.
So, where is the love in R & B? Right here. Like I said, this list is not exhaustive. Who would you add to this list