Pop Culture

Dear R&B: It’s Not Me, It’s You

There comes a time when the proverbial writing is on the wall, and you have to just step up and address it. It appears that this relationship we’ve shared for almost my entire life has slowly dwindled away. We’ve become ships passing in the night. Not even sleeping in the same bed anymore. Rhythm & Blues, where exactly did we go wrong?

When I think back, I don’t remember a time when you weren’t in my life. Through you I was introduced to so many great things and people. Ray Charles sung about a place that was so near to his heart, that no matter where he went, the road always led back there. Luther Vandross clearly defined for me at a young age what a real “home” was and wasn’t. Where Hathaway painted the picture of the ghetto and Frankie described with vivid clarity for us all what the golden time of day looked like.

You were the reason I saw my mother cry for the first time. Imagine my surprise as a kid when I’m running in and out of the house, but then stopping to notice my mother sitting by the radio completely destroyed at the news of Marvin being taken away from us. Stevie Wonder gave me “All In Love Is Fair”; a song that I’d later sing at my own mother’s funeral. So, yes we’ve had our rough times, but what relationship hasn’t, right? I believed in what we’ve built and always thought that through it all we’d always find our way back to each other. I no longer have that faith or belief in this, or us. At some point, I have to take your blatant disrespect as a sign that you no longer are interested in all that we’ve created together.

I try to think back at where it all started to go wrong. I thought about that time you had that fling with disco. I saw it as kind of harmless…I mean, I did get a lot of great EW&F songs from it. Bee Gees, Donna Summer, and a few other great artists made lemons into lemonade, so although I wasn’t in total agreement with that decision, I still stuck by you. Loyal to a fault, I guess. We’ve endured a lot, but I think your relationship with Teddy Riley hurt me the most. It was the first time in our relationship when I noticed that almost everything sounded the same. Whether Teddy was busy or the other producers were just too lazy to be original and copied, it proved to be a terrible era for you as it relates to creativity. Nothing seemed unique and fresh when it was all covered in that New Jack shit. No one bit of push back or objection from you. But I digress.

Now that I’m able to speak on this and get it all off my chest, I have to ask…what was this Mary J Blige shit all about? Were you at the point where you absolutely had no fucks to give? Did you have any idea at that time what kind of mess you were making for years to come? You just sent a signal out for the world to hear that actual singing, in a genre that was built and bred in the church, was no longer a prerequisite. That only opened the door for the likes of Akon, Alicia Keys, and Kem. With your standards lowered and the bar that the pioneers set so high all but destroyed, you didn’t bat an eye.

Now look at you. You’re a shell of your former self resembling a soul on their third stint in rehab just trying to make it to the next day. I think when Luther died, the last piece of you…the last semblance of what you were…what made you great, died with him. I tried. I really did, but I can’t bring you around my friends anymore at the fear that you’ll only recite a K Michelle or T-Pain lyric about a stripper. You’ve become an embarrassment. What’s worse is that you’ve made true descendants of the genre outcasts. Displaced. Musiq, India Arie, Frank McCombs, and the Eric Benets of the world have been re-labeled “adult contemporary,” while you’ve forced the likes of Kelly Price, Dave Hollister, Faith Evans and other vocal dynamos to gospel. True singing has abandoned the very place that used to be its sanctuary decades ago.

Rather than obsess with the worst of it all, I’ll find comfort in the memories of the past. The best of you and the best of us. You gave me everything from What’s Goin’ On? to Extensions Of A Man. From Songs In The Key Of Life to The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. From That’s The Way Of The World to Brown Sugar. It was great to experience all this with you, but I guess true love like everything else is fleeting. Goodbye R&B. This is where I leave you.

 

“…and when my life is over, remember when we were together,

When we were alone and I was singing this song to you.”

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