Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I Miss Seeing Natural Women in R&B

Today on the way in to work, I was listening to an old mix CD I made from about 14 years ago exclusively featuring female R&B singers. They were great years, musically. I was living in Windsor, attending arguably THE best party/social school for reggae/soca/hip hop/R&B heads, and I was an active participant in campus clubs like the Black Youth Taking Action (BYTA), and the Black Student Union (BSU) who would regularly host events, and discussions…the occasional comedy show, and our favourite: the AFROdisiac Poetry Vibe.

When I think back to that era of music and culture, it is framed with the voices of Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and India Arie. It was fabulous to attend school so close to Detroit-- a historical hub of Black music and history--and I think the energy rubbed off on [some of] us in the most positive way.

Everything about that era in R&B/hip hop culture was natural, relatively speaking. The top female performers were natural. The male performers were passionate and loving with their lyrics, and I think [some of us]/we reflected this in our energy, our efforts, and our goals.

I almost forgot about how incredibly inspiring Ms. Jill Scott was, and Ms. India Arie was. Ms. Alicia Keys...I loved her originality! And good old Mary J Blige was still there, singing and dancing her heart out, and we continued to feel EVERY word she said, good or bad.

India Arie made me proud, without arrogance or superficiality…she played that guitar, and was so confident in her naturalness that you couldn’t help but want to celebrate everything she represented.
Deborah Cox and Tamia made us proud to be Canadians, and these sweet and pleasant yet beautiful sisters could SANG, and had a clean reputation to accompany their hits. Erykah Badu was THE epitome of coolness, and I played her album Baduizm religiously…for years.

From around 1999-2001 the Billboard R&B charts saw the likes of Carl Thomas, Jagged Edge, Joe, Avant, R. Kelly, Donell Jones, Joe, Usher, Case and Maxwell hit #1. It was an era of R&B greatness…and it was everywhere.
Don’t get me wrong: I will proudly listen to a Beyonce or Rihanna right now and enjoy every beat of their songs…without question. But the good thing about the late 90s and early 2000s is that you didn’t have to justify your musical tastes, or question the artists and their integrity.  You didn’t see them flossing, or trying to outshine one another with their antics. At that particular moment in time, authenticity rang true. Love rang true. SOUL rang true.

I miss it. I miss Jill Scott’s face on BET, and hearing Erykah Badu's voice. I miss Donell Jones and male R&B groups like Jagged Edge. I miss it…but I’m glad I was there to experience and feel all that it had to offer, musically and culturally.
Today I listened to Angie Stone sing “…my sunshine has come…and I’m all cried out...and there’s no more rain in this cloud” and I longed for musical authenticity!

With all due respect to Beyonce and Rihanna being Drunk In/On Love and sexy as they wanna be…it’s just not the same. And believe me...I have their albums, and I enjoy their music. It’s funky, and catchy, and they can perform their asses off…but it’s not the SAME.

All music aficionados have the same wishes: that music will come full circle, and go back to that “good old” feeling. We want hip hop to go back to when it was about self-empowerment and solidarity…not about the money and liquor endorsements.
We want female R&B artists to go back to SINGING and not flaunting their post-baby bodies and being praised for their workout regimens instead of their songwriting skills. We want music to have that SOUL to it, and a bass line we can grooooooove to, and lyrics we can sing out loud (without embarrassing ourselves).
It is the nature of art to evolve, and so I recognize that the days of Jill Scott may never be “cool” again. That tight bodies and wild wardrobes and out-of-his-planet performances are the new standard. That high-profile relationships, TMZ, and Instagram-ing have taken over our interest…instead of record release dates, and music video premieres.

The female artists today are definitely talented...but they rarely reflect or encourage anything more than vanity or extravagance with their personas. And I know there are many R&B singers out there, that aren't on the Billboard charts or Grammy stage but still doing their thing...but the sad part is they used to get some shine...and now the music industry is nowhere near embracing of that image.
If we never go back to the mood of 90s Lauryn Hill, and we never again go back to the vibe of Badu, I am glad that I was a part of the irreplaceable environment that at least made us FEEL like natural women...without pretence or ego.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.



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