Much of contemporary R&B, and specifically, what we hear on the radio, makes me want to bang my head on my desk and take refuge in old works from Mary J. Blige and D’Angelo. How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.
There’s love often being depicted with the kind of disdain typically reserved for a cold sore. When it comes to sex, it continues to be treated like a commodity you have to barter for by way of organic jumbo shrimp and expensive stiletto heels (which might lead to the aforementioned perpetual blemish). Likewise, it might have seemed like such a great idea at the time two decades ago, we don’t always need a rapper mouthing off a bunch of totally unrelated bars on a song.
And why are we always in a club? I am all about the pop, lock, and drop, but damn, I know these singers have seem at least one or seven troubling news headlines in their Twitter feed. How much escapism does one generation need? Back in January, offered Ice-T similar point-of-view about the trends in music at Sundance.
He said: “We’ve created a generation of jaded youth. Music as a whole is delusional. If you listen to pop records right now, you’ll believe everybody’s rollin’, poppin’ bottles, life is perfect. Life is [bleeped] up right now! But everyone’s in a bubble that it’s all good. We’re all floating around like, ‘I’m broke, but…hey, pop a bottle, buy some Guuu-cci.’ That’s what’s going on in music right now.”
The same can be said of R&B and surprisingly one of its brightest stars seems to acknowledge his own role in that.
Speaking on his forthcoming album, Chapter V, Trey Songz suggested to GQ that he might be ready to move in a more mature direction – eventually. “I could make a hundred ‘Bottoms Up’s,’” he explained, “but they won’t change nobody’s life. Marvin Gaye sang love songs to a certain point, and then it was like, ‘F*ck this, I’m not clean-cut no more. I’m putting this skully on, letting this beard grow out, and I’m doing whatever the f*ck I wanna do.’” When asked if he was ready to get “radical,” Trey quipped in response, “I might. Give me a couple of years, though.”
Though not as eloquent in articulating this as Gaye was, the legendary Motown crooner did say something similar when speaking on the creation of his classic, What’s Going On: “In 1969 or 1970, I began to re-evaluate my whole concept of what I wanted my music to say. I was very much affected by letters my brother was sending me from Vietnam, as well as the social situation here at home. I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people. I wanted them to take a look at what was happening in the world.”
There’s plenty of things for today’s singers to grab on now if they’d merely reach.
I salute Trey for the candor he gave about his craft, but while we await his potential future there are some notes he could take from Marvin Gaye for the here and now. Even when Gaye talked about sex there was a maturation in terms of sound and lyrical content not exhibited by Fisher Price saluting tracks like his own “LOL =)” (yes, you read that right) or even worse offenses, ala Chris Brown’s “Wet The Bed.” Grown men have got to stop crooning about sex as if they’re adolescents who only recently discovered an erection.
Trey may not be ready to get “radical” until a few years or so, but here’s to hoping he can at least try to lead the charge on changing the way the conventional is being done in the meantime.