***Long Winded alert...LOL***
We always hear Hip Hop connoisseurs speak about how Hip-Hop is on its last leg and what caused it to go into such a tailspin. What we never hear enough of are the significant changes that took place in R&B over the past 20 years. Now, two things inspired me to write this blog: one being this article brutha #1 put me up on a week ago called Did Rap Kill The Male Singer?” and secondly just noticing a pattern shift in R&B after the birth of hip-hop soul. The latter is what I believe had the biggest impact on how artists presented themselves as singers and their production choices from 92 and on. Although we do see attempts to bring a true identity back to the genre, you can’t help but notice a little too much Hip Hop influence. Just look at some of the top selling R&B albums of this decade, more than a handful had Hip-Hop elements sprinkled in somewhere. Many of the artists who tried to keep it strictly R&B seemed to get pushed way in the background, and the ones who received exposure were always the same artists (Jill Scott, India Arie, Alicia Keys, etc.). Maybe a lot has to with Hip-Hop culture being perceived as cooler to young kids who buy most of the music anyway. R&B by itself in a lot of ways became looked at as old folks music. I personally think the root began when hip-hop soul took off in 92.
During the late eighties we experienced an Uptown MCA explosion, which brought the New Jack Swing sound to the forefront and set the stage for hip-hop soul. Here we had acts like Guy, Heavy D, and Father MC merging the two worlds together and making it work. The sound made die-hard hip hop heads get into Aaron Hall and devoted R&B heads rap along to "We Got our Own Thang". The trend continued into the 90’s with 1992 being a standout year where Jodeci and Mary J Blige become the first faces of hip-hop soul. As a child I remember watching Video Music Box (local show)over summer vacation and seeing “Real Love” and “Come and Talk To Me (remix)” being on heavy rotation. What made these two particular songs different than run of the mill R&B was that these were soulful vocals over popular rap beats. "Real Love" used Audio Two’s "Top Billin'" and "Come and Talk To Me" sampled "Impeach The President" by the Honeydrippers, a sample used so much in the history of rap. Both of them were the FIRST singers to use these samples like an emcee and set precedence for years to come. In the next two years we see traces of the new sound on the music of three artists you would never expect, Janet Jackson, Patti Labelle, and Mariah Carey."That's the Way Love Goes" and "The Right Kinda Lover", both use the sample Jodeci first used for their hit. Then there’s Mariah who used "Genius Of Love" , a sample respected in the hip hop circle and collaborated with Ol Dirty Bastard for "Fantasy" …what a shock at the time. Later we see a plethora of fly by night R&B singers who kept the sound going for a few more years.
By 1997 no one used the term “hip hop soul” to describe the music, it was just the new R&B without a title. The only difference was that the sound was repulsive compared to its beginning. Hip Hop samples ran rampant and the focus on good voices began to take a back seat. There were singers (I shouldn’t even call them that) who had three minute hooks(not much of a song) featuring the hottest rapper at the time, a sample, and mediocre vocals. We had too many undeserving hits from people using this formula. As the 2000’s rolled around the samples somewhat declined, but who could forget when Ashanti dropped "Foolish" in 2002. She used what some people like to call the "One More Chance beat" and had one of the biggest tracks of that year. Considering Ashanti lacked in the vocal department, I believe the song's success came from reminding people of hip hop soul’s past, Biggie, and a connection to that era. Come to think of it, this was probably the last song of this decade to use a sample in that manner. The years that followed consisted mostly of hip hop/r&b collaborations, with Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love” and Usher’s “Yeah” being big tunes for both of them in 2003 and 2004. Much of this success goes to groundbreaking collabs like Mary and Grand Pupa on "What's The 411" and Jodeci's “Freekin You remix” with the Raekwon and Ghostface.
Now we have a new image of R&B that no longer consist of a mixed bag of singers all having room to shine. The variety is gone! During the Hip-Hop Soul era, there was still a generous amount of exposure given to acts like En Vogue, Boyz II Men, Brandy, Silk, and Mint Condition. I believe the successful marriage of R&B and Hip-Hop during this era along with the continued dominance of Rap, made it less marketable to be a straight up R&B singer. The most visible ones act like rappers, try to freestyle on shows like 106 & Park, and some even get into it with the law just like rappers…lol. I say all this to say, music needs to have its distinctions. A lot of the R&B identity is gone. It makes no sense there aren’t more Jazmine Sullivan type artists on the radio (they are out there) next to Bobby V and Lil Wayne “Beep Beep Beep” or “Blame it on the Alcohol”. I see little signs here and there showing a potential resurgence of pure R&B music with songs like "Here I Stand" by Usher and even “Since You Been Gone” by Day 26, but there's more work to be done.