Who’s the king of R&B music right now?  It’s no longer R.Kelly. Though he seemed to have the midas touch back in the 90s and early 00s, his career hit the skids after those child-sex allegations.  It’s not D’Angelo. After two classic albums, like those boys from Jodeci he seemed to self-destruct.   It’s not Usher or Ne-Yo. Those guys are off making funny European house/pop music with David Guetta.  No in 2013 the king of R&B is …………..Justin Timberlake.

J.T. - the new king of R&B?

J.T. – the new king of R&B?

Jay Z gave him the stamp of approval by appearing on ‘Suit and Tie’, the first single from his new album, and you know that J only hitches his cart to winners (previously collab-ing with R.Kelly, Pharrell and most recently Kanye West). Sales of JT’s new album The 20/20 Experience  broke one million sales after just a few days in circulation.

And who is the R&B Queen to join Justin on the throne?  Its not Beyonce or Rhianna. The music they are making these days could not be described as R&B.  Its not Brandy or Monica. It’s a long time since they argued over who’s boy it was.  Mary J Blige used to be called the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, but she seems more interested in acting and commercials than singing these days. (Maybe that’s why Obama jumped over her and went straight from Aretha to Beyonce to sing at his inauguration?) Maybe its Adele. Her vocals could certainly be described as soulful, and she’s sold more units than any other female artists in 2012 (her Grammy-winning “21” topping the U.S. album sales for two years running, selling 4.41 million units in the States alone). And there are plenty other soulful white girls
que-ing up behind her like Duffy, Joss Stone (and not forgetting the dearly departed Amy Winehouse).

Adele - the new Queen of Soul?

Adele – the new Queen of Soul?

There have always been white R&B singers ‘given a pass’ by the Black audience.  Going back to artists like Dusty Springfield and Teena Marie (the first white artist signed to Motown) in the 60s and 70s, to Hall and Oates and Lisa Stansfield in the 80s, to Jamiroquai, Jon B, and Robin Thicke in the 90s and 00s. They even had their own sub-genre called ‘Blue-Eyed Soul’.  But the difference now is that the white artists producing soul out-number the Black ones!  When I listen to shows on the radio purporting to be playing new R&B I’m left confused.  I hear hip-hop, I hear dance music, but I don’t hear much R&B. Those formally prominent R&B artists who I mentioned in the intro seemed to have either disappeared from the scene or have moved onto a new style of music in order to try and stay relevant, leaving it to the white artists to continue flying the R&B flag. There are cultural critics who argue that the mainstream audience might have an audible preference for Black music, they have a visual preference for white faces.  That would explain the long standing tradition where white artists have greater success covering songs by Black artists than the originals enjoyed.  But that is not the thrust of this blog post.  I am asking why Black audiences and artists seem to be abandoning the music?

As usual, this is not a new phenomenon.  They say that Black artists innovate, whilst white artists imitate.  Going back as far as the Blues that was pioneered by Black artists like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, and then speeded up by artists like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Little Richard who evolved it into Rhythm and Blues, but it was only when taken up by white artists like Bill Haley and Elvis Presley that it morphed into Rock and Roll and became a worldwide youth culture.

Elvis helped to turn Rhythm & Blues into Rock & Roll

Elvis helped to turn Rhythm & Blues into Rock & Roll.

Then by the 60s Motown, Stax and Atlantic records had come along and turned R&B into ‘Soul’ music. In the era of Civil Rights, America’s ‘Coloured’ people wanted to ‘move on up’ and integrate, and this feel good Soul music was the perfect soundtrack.  The Blues reminded them of poverty and segregation of the South and was abandoned by the America’s Blacks.  The architects of the Blues were struggling to get an audience until the white artists of the ‘British Invasion’ like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones cited these Blues legends as their inspirations and heroes.  Artists like BB King and John Lee Hooker have gone on record as saying that they owe the longevity of their careers to the patronage of people like Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger.  It was a similar process in Jazz with the African-American genius’ of the genre being neglected in their own country and having to move to Europe to get the respect and recognition they deserved.

BB King and John Lee Hooker - Blues icons

BB King and John Lee Hooker – Blues icons

So back to present day R&B.  What should fans of soul music do?  Should we accept that this music is now of the past and part of our glorious tradition like the Blues, or should we fight to wrestle it away from these johnny-come-lately white artists who in decades to come will be looked upon as the standard-barers of the music?  Well one thing we could do is support those artists who in the face of public indifference and mediocre sales are still trying to make soul music. Artists like Anthony Hamilton, Robert Glasper, Eric Roberson, Jill Scott, John Legend, Raphael Saadiq, Gregory Porter, Musiq, Bilal, Maxwell, Dwele, and Raheem Devaughn to name but a few. And perhaps we should actually thank these white artists for keeping the music alive when Black music radio and audiences seemed to have abandoned it.

Anthony Hamilton - one of the last few soul men left

Anthony Hamilton – one of the last few soul men left.

  1. realrozay says:

    Reblogged this on Real RoZay and commented:
    Interesting Blog

  2. Devon DC says:

    First I must declare an interest in this topic, namely I have a show called A Touch of Soul on BBC radio every Sat night. When I pick the songs to play, being old school, my choices are made blind- ie on the feel, sound,voice of the artist, not the video or skin colour. Having said that, it’s been apparent to me for the six yrs I have been privileged to do the show that the number of black acts releasing new soul or rnb seems to have reduced and the number of white acts seems to have gone up. I put this down to two things, black acts seeking financial payback seem to have decided that being a soul artist does not enable them to pay the bills so they have gravitated towards music they think will- result usher et al making guetta trks. Could this same financial reason be what is drawing white acts, with more backing financially outside the music biz, to thus follow a purer musical art direction? Also must add female names to the list of current soulful practitioners – take a bow, Ledisi, Avery Sunshine, Deborah Bond, Tracy Cruz, Sy Smith as well as Uk talents like Ola, Omar, Daley, Alice Russell …if u wanna hear these and more..iplayer my show! Or check out likes of soulandjazz.com avail online

    • leepinkerton says:

      thanks for the follow, southeastwilson. if u enjoy reading about racial politics in music then u might also enjoy ‘Why is there no good music on the radio’ from April 2012, ‘Bring The Pain’ from feb 2012, and ‘The Demise of Conscious Rap’ from June.

  3. Marko says:

    I am genuinely glad to read this web site posts which contains lots of useful facts, thanks for providing these kinds of data.

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