Is there Love in R&B?

Gladys Knight singing as a little girl. Now that's love.

John Blake recently published an article in CNN where he examined the decline of love existing in contemporary R&B called “Where is the Love in R&B?.” He expressed his anguish of how Black music used to be more about hope, romance and a love for oneself and for God. The article stated how African American music used to have more harmony felt through the vulnerable lyrics and classic melodies of the good old days. Singers today seem to be more narcissistic only caring more about themselves than anyone else. The songs they make seem to possess a certain aura of “let’s get it on now,” instead of  “let’s get to know each other first then perhaps maybe if we’re both feeling the same way about each other, then we can get to that step” that used to exist in the classics of 70s and 80s music.

Sometimes it frustrates me how oversexualized our music has become. Blake greatly analyzes how contemporary R&B music lacks the soul that was once exuberant in it from artists like Teddy Pendergrass, Al Green, Nina Simone and Bill Withers. Where is the love? It’s still here in some way. Yet, it doesn’t exist the way you would think. I think many artists are more in love with the seduction of the fast life rather than the maturity of a strong relationship in their music.

A lot of what we have today are computerized, synthesized music that was generated in a studio. Singers with barely any depth to their voice sing over a beat and it somehow manages to become a hit. The more intensity of beats and lack of voice, the more potential there is that this song could be a top seller. People in the media know that sex sells and try to show more and more of it in their music to sell records. They don’t care about the clarity or ingenuity of the music anymore. It’s all just a game of who’s more popular or who could make more money.

In this “high school” like society, it’s hard for real artists who strive to exemplify a certain message of love in their music to really shine. For money hungry record companies, love is boring; the real green comes in a mask of what’s  fake and phony. They don’t think we care about what’s in our hearts anymore. All they think we care about is discovering our next sexual fix.

The soul of R&B in the past had a strong sense of black pride, hope, and ambition. Like Blake stated in his article, African Americans were moving on up and becoming a greater people back in the day. Unfortunately, the cocaine era came and destroyed many black’s sense of pride and dignity. And our generation is the results of that era.

People today are angrier these days. Now, the economy is falling into a pit of failure and it doesn’t look like it’ll be able to pick itself back up anytime soon. There are black families who grew up with unwed parents, drug problems, poverty and financial trouble. Men and women sleep together without even a notion of who they’re spending their quality time with. Some music today is not happy because the people are not happy. The passion for real love is diminishing because many people today don’t know what it is. They don’t see it growing abundantly around them the same way our parent it.

The music of the past was so effortlessly beautiful because singers took more time to make it that way. Artists would create these timeless pieces of absolute grandeur. You could hear the passion pounding through the speakers in Anita Baker’s song “Sweet Love,” feel the shadow of despair in “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers and feel the angst for change swaying next to you in Sam Cooke‘s hopeful ditty “A Change Is Gonna Come.” These songs used to have a unit of persons bonding together to create an orchestra of music where each and every instrument would make such a harmonious impact on the eardrums experiencing it.

Love is still prevalent in our music, but it’s just a bit more quieter now. After society beat it down during the drug years, the Bush era and the economic crash, it’s a bit more tired and only resides in a handful of artists still fighting for the purity of what once was. The Foreign Exchange, Erykah Badu, Kem, John Legend, Cee Lo Green and Alicia Keys are an example of artists who pour love into their music and produce greatness. Music fanatics can still find their daily dose of love in many underground or even some popular artists. Even though the tenderness and care of a loving relationship isn’t so strong in mainstream music, it definitely still exists.

Love is a powerful form and it could never just die so easily especially in R&B. If future and current artists could just slow down and take time to understand the music from its true origin, then they’ll be able to find love and let it grow strong just like it used to.

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