How R&B Has Lost Its Soul//
Autotune became a means to give those without actual talent for singing and a minimum knowledge of music production the opportunity to bask in their 15 minutes of fame. The likes of T-Pain [MV] and Kanye West [MV] would throw their one-note voices on a beat and call it an R&B track — though, in all fairness, Kanye was and still is a top-notch producer and managed to give autotune the smallest bit of depth with 2008’s 808s and Heartbreak.
In all actuality, it was a way to get bodies shaking on the dance floor while disregarding the vocal ability and musicianship of old. Even one of my favorite artists from the maturing era of 90s R&B, Goapele, became enchanted by the mainstream pull of autotune [MV] (though lyrically and vocally she still sets herself apart).
It’s understandable that all singers want success, even idiotic to argue that they shouldn’t. However, let’s not forget that Black music, and by extension R&B, has always found its way onto mainstream radio. The earliest days of Motown were full of music that was neither Black music nor White music. It wasn’t R&B, per se. It was all pop.
Jackie Wilson , The Temptations , Stevie Wonder , The Supremes , Smokey Robinson and the Miracles , these were all artists who were concerned with the precision of their music, the elegance of the musicianship and vocal range. It was also a form of music to reach the masses and bring the youth of America together.
At this stage in music’s history, it’s all about making money — fair enough. But what’s not acceptable is passing off this new trend of computerized beats and pixelated vocals as anything more than what it is: bubblegum. Though it all falls under the umbrella of “Pop” (short for “popular”), there is a distinction between that and what most are claiming to be R&B, outside of the States, at least.
It’s become clear that, for the most part, the Brits have managed to maintain their understanding between one and the other. They still have their sticky sweet pop and they name it as such. But between 1999 and 2005, our paths split drastically. While we were basking in the glow of international pop divas such as Beyoncé [MV] and Rihanna [MV] — entertainers with possible competent vocal ability, but lacking in substance — the Brits had Amy Winehouse [MV], Adele, Beverley Knight [MV], and Sam Sparro [MV] churning out music that was more akin to the R&B of the 80s and 90s, with vocals that were earthy, music that was intricate, and lyrics that were full of maturity.