Columns, Opinion

No Sugar, No Cream: R&B peaked in the 2000s

I don’t typically slander new genres of music. That’s due to several factors. I don’t think it’s valuable to compare new music to old music that was already dubbed “classic.” I think there’s different criteria to make acceptable, enjoyable new music than there was in the past. Life isn’t such that we have to listen to people laugh following their weak rap bars tainted by the overuse of end rhyme and pretend that it’s artistic like they had to in the ‘80s.

I also think nostalgia often makes it so we think the music of the past was way better than it actually was. My heart didn’t flip when I first heard “Dilemma,” but now, Kelly Rowland really stirs me. There are countless ways to excuse the differences in new music, but the bottom line is that music changes as time passes.

Despite my being able to tolerate the changes in pop, alternative and rap music, I can’t seem to excuse one genre: rhythm and blues. I can listen to rap lacking substantial lyrics and see the decreasing number of “hip-hop” artists as a much-needed transformation, but there is no way to feel good about what’s passing for R&B. It’s hard to grasp the idea that there’s no place for Destiny’s Child-caliber groups of women to stand, wearing unnecessarily billowy clothing and singing about how men don’t deserve them. It’s even more difficult to grasp the idea that there will no longer be extensive storylines, ridiculous choreography and thinly veiled street harassment in music videos, as male artists beg and plead for their women to return to them.  

R&B hit its peak in the “street harassment as a valid form of pursuing women” video phase of the genre. The next decade turned music videos into showcases of money, women and cars. The problem is not that being materialistic and slightly misogynistic isn’t entertaining. The problem is that there is a clear superiority in the culture of 2000s R&B music videos.

Can anyone name something better than watching Ray J dance in the rain in front of his estranged ex-girlfriend’s house? Chris Brown and friends dancing down the street together, while he sings along to music coming from no discernable music source, behind the girl he wishes to court? Omarion disappearing as the girl he’s following’s friends show up to ask if she’s OK, then reappearing as they drive off to continue bothering her? Videos made in the 2000s were remixed versions of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” video. Is there anything current that can begin to compete with those vaguely problematic video concepts?

The new singers of our time have the tendency to use less-enjoyable themes in their music. It’s tiring to hear about breakups and how men and women don’t treat each other well. I don’t often hear people really use their vocals anymore. I love Jacquees as much as the next person, but hearing him sprinkle “eeee-eeEEE” over songs leaves a lot to be desired. I love “Boo’d Up” as much as the next person, but Ella Mai giving me an entire album of spoken word and half-baked “men are trash” tunes was not it. And I couldn’t explain the dislike I have for Jorja Smith without turning it into a dissertation. Sometimes people listen to music with their eyes.

The only solution is to stop producing R&B music altogether. Society needs to recognize when it’s at the end of the rope and let it go. Let the genre die. Rap artists realized Biggie and Nas cornered ‘90s rap, and we were given more inventive things. We’ve worked our way into Atlanta’s music scene, with singing rappers, undoubtedly birthed by Lil Wayne. I see no such future of R&B. We’re being subjected to the scraps of substantial music. It’s largely devoid of vocalization and creativity. The anomalies of the genre aren’t even given their proper accolades. It’s time we finally cut our losses and lay the microphone to rest.

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