Getting Old: R&B Music Edition

The oldest I feel nowadays is when I hear new music.  It's a conscious thing.  I try to pretend I like it, but I can't help but reflect on "the good old days" when "music was music".  It's basically the oldest thing you can say.  So I don't say it... but I THINK it.  Whenever Jason Derulo says "big fat butt!" I roll my eyes and wish for the good old days of R&B.

I remember when "old people" used to make fun of music that I liked.  They would reminisce and talk about when music was good.  Normally I would chime in as well.  I always prided myself on being familiar with the "Old School".

When I was a kid, I was all about R&B.  I mean, I liked hip-hop/rap, but R&B was where it was at.  I was always really really into some girl and R&B would be the music to help me understand my emotions.  Of course, two weeks later I would like a different girl (standard kid stuff) and a new song would express those newer, riper emotions.  Back then I also had a pretty good singing voice.  It left me by the time puberty hit, but until then, I would serenade the girl I liked.  For fun, my sister and I would memorize and perform duets from Tammy and Marvin to Bebe and Cece.  R&B was there for me.

My foundation was built going to parties at Grandmother's house.  The adults would be back in the den having adult fun while all of the kids would play in the back room.  We did kids stuff.  Made up games, put together talent shows, danced and joked.  In the background of it all was Grandmother's music.  I didn't know it, but I was getting an education on classic tunes!  I learned about The Ojay's (my favorite oldies group), Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Frankie Beverly and Maze, The Temptations, The Supremes, Sister Sledge, Donny Hathaway and more.  I knew the music was good.  I associated it with good times.  I expected good R&B to continue.

My parents were young when they had us.  They still had some cool left in them.  In turn, we got exposed to the next generation of good R&B.  I would sing New Edition, Troop (whatchu know about Troop?!).  I have to spend another minute talking about Troop.  If you don't know about Troop, look them up.  They sang a song called "All I Do is Think Of You".  Man, they SANG that song! That was my "I just fell in love again" song from elementary school until high school.  I swear I would spin circles with one leg bent at the knee as I sang this song with the new crush on my mind.  Around that time my dad would have us listening to Hi Five, Glenn Jones, Tony Terry, Al B Sure, Babyface (probably the best), After 7, Boyz II Men and much much more.  Our home was always saturated with the voices of young men screaming and trilling out their love for some beautifully perfect woman.

Later on I came into my own.  I started finding my groove of music.  Rap music was becoming more prominent.  Black music (let's face it, that's what it was) was becoming more street.  Rap wasn't being ignored anymore, and the R&B artists/groups had to move over so to speak.  A type of Rap/R&B fusion was born.  It is referred to as the "New Jack Swing Era". I liked New Jack Swing.  R Kelly and Jodeci were the artists that survived that time.  In this era was Guy, Keith Sweat, Color Me Badd, Zhane, Bobby Brown and Bel Biv Devoe to name a few.  Many one-hit wonders came and went and I was loving it all.  I kept the radio playing on the black stations so I could keep up with this stuff.

Unfortunately there is only so much you can do with that style of music.  The boom-bap behind silky vocals all started sounding the same.  This is where I mark the death of great R&B music.  Before New Jack Swing there were many quality acts out there.  Then the line got blurred.  Rap was hard and in your face.  Rappers were thrown onto hit songs to add punch for the radio.  I was oblivious to R&Bs demise.  I had "The Running Man" dance down to a science, so I welcomed what was happening.  I must add that I did The Running Man for about three years after nobody else was doing it anymore.  I was literally the last one to get the memo.  I found out that it was played out when music was playing and Favorite Uncle egged me on to dance.  I bursted into The Running Man so hard I almost sent my shoes flying behind me.

       - Man, nobody don't do that dance anymore.  Them some old moves.

I tucked my proverbial tail between my legs and didn't dance for about three years.  I figured it out eventually.

R&B and Hip-Hop's lines blurred more and more.  Autotune had a strong run in rap for a few years and rappers began to sing with computer assistance.  Then Autotune became unpopular thanks to Jay-Z actually killing it via song.  Now we're to the point where rappers are all trying to sing.  And it doesn't seem to matter that they're not doing a good job at it.  Hip-Hop/Rap has surpassed R&B in popularity.  Rap artists are the ones now putting R&B singers on their songs to get it to pop for radio.  Unfortunately a lot of the time the songs are about street shit.  It hurts my ears to hear a voice similar to those that I used to sing along to while spinning and thinking of my new crush be used to chant about selling drugs.  What happened?

I know.  I sound like an old man.  I don't want it to seem like I have something against Hip-Hop.  I don't.  I love Hip-Hop.  It's a beautiful music in its own right.  I listen to Hip-Hop as much as I listen to R&B and other music.  Unfortunately Hip-Hop inadvertently dealt a huge blow to R&B that I don't think it can recover from.  And this old man is bitter about it.  I'm wagging my fingers at the next generation and talking about the golden days.  But I'm right.  It did used to be better!  Artists used to be good at singing.  They didn't try to be cool.  You can't be cool when you're pouring your heart out.  Love is as ugly as it is beautiful and so is expressing it.

As for the next generation that I can actually wag my finger at, Bash will know about all of the music I love.  He'll get exposed to the soul music from Grandmother's house, through the New Jack Swing Era all the way to the good stuff that's too few and far between these days.  The silver lining of it all is there will always be good music out there.  Finding it among the crap these kids are playing these days will make it even more pleasurable.  Yeah.  I'm an R&B dude just looking for music to be in love to.  Until next time...


  1. I think it's our generation, Jon! Troop (Spread my wiiiiings),Hi-Five (Neeeever should've let you go), Portrait, Al B. Sure, Keith Washington, Karyn White,Tony Toni Tone. All that is my heart right there! (This is also why I'm convinced I'll end up marrying a black man about 10 years my senior, lol. I'm technically a little young for that, but like you, my parents had good taste in music.) I feel your frustration about the new stuff. I won't shy from a fun, catchy radio hit. (I'm not THAT big of a music snob.) But I have found a *lot* of solace in this emerging genre known as alternative R&B. Kelela "Bank Head" and Jesse Boykins "I Wish" are on repeat right now. And don't discount the blue-eyed soul movement either. (Allen Stone is the TRUTH!) R&B is morphing, but there's still good stuff out there. We've just gotta look harder for it...

    1. Thanks for the tips Cecilia! I will check out the artists you named. You're right. We do have to look hard! Thanks for reading and sharing.

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