After garnering local fame in their hometown of Canton, Ohio, the legendary group released its debut album, Comin’ Through, in 1965. With nearly 60 years in the industry, the pair discussed how crafting music has changed for the 21st century.
“We used to go to Philly and stay there six months learning songs [and] accepting songs from different writing teams,” Williams said about recording their earlier tunes. “Today, it’s like a real fast production line. They shove a song in your hand, and you don’t even have to learn it. You don’t get a chance to become intimate with the song.”
“If you spend six months with a song, you’re able to express that song just the way you feel it,” Levert added.
In February, another living legend, Chaka Khan, revealed that some of today’s music is missing “talent,” “reason” and “initiative.” When asked the same question, the pair discussed how the industry allows just anyone to be a singer and compared it to participation trophies—awards given to children playing in sporting events but are not eligible for the top spots.
“That’s what we got a lot of participants, but we have no one who is pitching the ball,” Levert, 76, said. “The real world is not going to deal with you like that. If you’re not the man, you get no ribbon, you get no 30 million. You get nothing.”
Levert compared the situation to “all the new cats saying they’re the king of R&B.” The pair laughed at the idea, including in the early’90s when Bobby Brown used the title.
When it comes to the newer generation of stars keeping R&B alive, Levert and Williams named Usher, Sam Smith, Jon B and Drake among their favorites.
The O’Jays final album, The Last Word, is available on all streaming platforms.