Sunday, April 27, 2008

Dumb it down!!

Mary J Blige

Go sit down til you learn how to appreciate this here…

In the R&B aisle of my most frequented spot to pick up music (as in ‘yes, i actually like having a physical CD and reading liner notes from a booklet’), I ran into a melanin-deficient fellow who asked me what was new. His question being general as f*ck, I asked him what style he was into. He responded that he wanted some ‘real singers’. Instantly, a list popped into my head. As I prepared to see how far into the ‘real singers’ he got so i could make a suggestion he interrupted. You know how they say, ‘Better to be thought a fool and remain silent…’ … yeah. He sees the Jill Scott CD in front of him and says “Yeah, but, not Jill Scott though. I want somebody with some pipes; like Mary J.” Wow, really? He then proceeded to attempt to let me in on ‘the real thing’. Supposedly he saw Jill in concert and felt she was too wrapped up in being Jill Scott; kept doing all these ‘vocal things’. ::sigh:: I asked him ‘what makes you feel that way?’ He couldn’t say, only that ’she just gave that vibe’. Ri-i-i-ight. Sounds like some personal insecurities to me, homey.

Now, I don’t know when i learned to be able to hear pitch as well as I do now. Maybe it was from gospel choir or just singing everyday, but i refuse to accept that Mary J is off-key stylistically - as this guy was seriously trying to convince me. Don’t front, as much as we love Mary (actually love is a strong word, like ‘hateration’), she isn’t really that nice. But she’s not supposed to be. You’re supposed to like Mary J cus she’s like the homegirl you used to hang with... and apparently never treated right, even though you knew she wanted to share her world with you; she's not gon’ cry though (sound about right?). As an artist anyway, you’re supposed to like Mary cus she is raw, not always on point, not really that impressive vocally, but instead makes you feel the song. At least that’s how it used to be. In all honesty, I stopped listening to Mary when Puff and ‘nem stopped putting her over Roy Ayers (”My Life”); with the exception of “I Can Love You Better” it’s been steadily downhill since.

So since this dude asked me for a recommendation, i figured i’d still try to put him up on somebody new. Or at least new to him. The strange thing is he knew some obscure folks like Chico DeBarge, but then again only liked his second album. I can let that slide, Chico’s first was more cohesive overall (easily playable from start to finish you could say it averaged higher), but the second has some strong songs that could stand out over the first. I realized it’s hard to suggest someone in Mary’s vein of R&B. After running through a few more suggestions that were either too pop or too ‘full on themselves’ (what the rest of us call “talented”) I started to let him weed out more choices. The one thing we both mentioned is that folks aren’t really droppin’ CDs with real vocals anymore. I mean it’s somewhat ironic that Nas was making a big hype about Hip-Hop being dead when R&B is much closer. I mean I separate the Soul cats from the rest of R&B. I mean the last non-pop R&B male i remember was Carl Thomas, i guess you could give that to John Legend now, or maybe Trey Songz (based on his first album, but the second…i’d need to hear more). And beyond Alicia Keys, Beyoncé and Keyshia J Blige (i count them as the same person) who is really making moves in R&B? By the way, all the King of Pop idolizers (too many to name) and the plethora of two-hit wonders and T-Painakon were grouped as Pop (Pop & B if it makes you feel better). As he picked up CD’s i started just giving him loose information about each. For example, he picked up Amel Larrieux. I told him about her voice, brief bio, how he ‘may like her style’ (i knew he wouldn’t though- he stopped just short of saying he wanted 50 cent or Tupac as a singer). Sure enough, he passed. Later he mentioned he loved Sade and then picked up Sweetback’s album essentially saying ‘who are these chumps’; i guess they looked dorky to him. So told him how they are Sade’s backing band. He was intrigued, then i mentioned how they picked Amel to lead one of their more recent albums. Oh now he was interested …r-i-i-ight.

Did i mention that he vehemently disliked Neo-Soul, but later listed D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Maxwell among his favorites?! (Yes, i pointed out how they are ‘Neo-Soul’; he was like ‘yeah, but they don’t really give off that vibe. To which i was clarified ‘No, i mean they birthed/define the genre, Erykah and D’Angelo’s label-owner [Kedar Massenburg] coined the term.’) Sidenote: I actually don’t like the term ‘neo-soul’ and actually just say ’soul’ but for him i had to make it clear. It really got to the point where i felt like some force was f*cking with me, showing me this cat so contradictory but so opinionated. Like i can respect your opinions (let you disagree with me) all day, but when you disagree with yourself I have to call you out on it. It’s for your own good. Clearly part of you doesn’t know what the rest of you is thinking, maybe you two have never met. Allow me to reintroduce your self (…your name is ‘Hov’ - had to do it - hmph, Just Blaze is slighty underrated - i mean he’s Black-famous, but that’s about it).

I have this theory. The more talented a singer (and many a rapper) is, the less famous they will be. For instance, I would bet more people know who Ashanti is over say Tamia or Ray J rather than Amel Larrieux. It’s a two-point-five part theory. On one end, i reason that labels feel the less talented artist needs all the help they can get so they push (or market/advertise) them harder to build the hype and from there it’s up to that artist to ‘not mess up’ so that people can talk themselves into believing in that artist. However that same consumer is at fault on the other end, they don’t like good music anymore. For so long they’ve allowed the ‘tastemakers’ to tell them what they like that they actually don’t like talent anymore. They don’t want to hear someone knocking ‘em dead. But rather someone just slightly better than what they could do, or at least someone whose skills they can wrap their head around, and then hail that person as the truth. (I’m not impressed by anyone doing what i can do… why should i be though. C’mon, when is the last time a cartwheel floored you as a display of physical prowess?) Lastly (the point five), I fault the talented musicians for not trying to make better songs. Some lay out some real art that goes unnoticed (hey… it happens- someone will find it one day). Others try to show out over any organization of notes. No wonder no one listens to you. Look, just cus you nice doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. How am I supposed to promote you to someone knowing your song will bore them. It’s understandable though, you are a good singer, not a good songwriter. Shoot most of these two-hit wonders didn’t write their hit. (Which is also why they soon vanish, cus we can just get anybody to sing that hit.) What if you the good singer did it? Or does that make too much sense. You could make a crap song, legendary. Anyway, you know who you are - step your game up. There is already enough mediocrity out there, quit coasting. You can be replaced you know.

Dude had a stack of recommendations he was going to check out at the listening stations in the store. None of which were really moving to me, but at least they were new to him; baby-steps. Maybe for the first time in his life he’d be open-minded; give music a chance. Ha, we know good and well that’s not gon’ happen. On my way out, i saw his stack waiting to be re-shelved. As i figured, he didn’t want something new, but rather the same songs from somebody/anybody else. Sad thing is … it seems that’s what everybody wants now. So snap yo fingers… two-ste-e-ep, cus y’all can do that all by yourselves. No one is making anything better, and no one is discovering anything better. Thus the art of music shrivels. I figure once everything sounds similar enough, a new sound can finally sweep in and save the rest of us.

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