OPINION: The Debate Rages On. Traditional R&B v. New R&B


This is the second in a series of critical reviews from our newest NYC-based writer Christopher Minaya.

What does R. Kelly utilizing auto-tune in his 2009 mixtape The ‘Demo’ Tape and trendy Trey Songz singing Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” on MTV Unplugged have in common? Other than being odious to the core, both epitomize how not even the traditional version of rock ‘n’ roll’s forerunner is exempt to father time.

For those who do not know or forgot, rhythm and blues came before rock ‘n’  roll. Originating from jazz’s driving rhythms and the blues, the form of music reveled in being untraditional, but, since it popularized across the country decades ago, traditional R&B was fashioned. Even so, alternative R&B, which does not defer to traditional R&B guidelines, has been discovered since and has found a way to the vanguard of rhythm and blues.

Alternative R&B’s unanticipated betterment has left traditional rhythm and blues artists scattering, hoping to preserve top ranking that obscures their finite inventiveness. R&B icon R. Kelly typifies that.

The legend released Love Letter last winter. The album’s songs were, by all accounts, inspirited by 60’s R&B. Is that a fact? The music may have been, but the album was inspired by alternative R&B.

With the genre’s rise, the clever Kelly gave the impression that he noticed he would not succeed in it. As he learned from his lamentable, auto-tune failure, he was now too old to succeed with the young movement. Even the new R. Kelly, Songz, criticized the legend’s sorry attempt to jump on the auto-tune bandwagon, which was motionless by then.

Thanks to Kelly’s newfound realization came the production of Love Letter, which has been received well since its release, even though live instruments were not used.

Now, who, in truth, feels that Kelly was encouraged by 60’s R&B? Very few, if any. Ain’t age nothing but a number? To Kelly, yes. What he prefers? As documented, young and new. Still, he once appeared so lost with his inability to adapt that his previous album was titled Untitled. Into the bargain, 60’s R&B does not express what all of Kelly’s previous work is submerged with, oppressive tales of sex.

Last, the idea was not even original; just ask Raphael Saadiq, who did it first and better, since his voice is more fitting of the form.

For all that, Kelly is not the sole traditional R&B artist disorientated by alternative R&B’s success, and it is not difficult to find those culpable for the disorientation.

In spite of the lack of an incontrovertible pioneer, alternative R&B has headmen. The subjects of my previous post, OFWGKTA’s Frank Ocean and The Weeknd who is endorsed by Drake, are the premiers of the genre. Both are under 25 and look to be leading for a prolonged spell, seeing that no other artists in the variety seem as adroit. To boot, no traditional R&B singer comes across as real competition or concerned with alternative R&B since the stars of the genre are big fishes in a small pond.

At the outset, there are few, preeminent, traditional R&B artists. The few are: Alicia Keys, John Legend, Songz and Usher. That is about it. Tank has his moments, but not an ample supply. Miguel’s talents are precocious, yet the type of R&B he correlates to is unclear.

The rest of the artists are unpolished or are elder veterans like Kelly who are subjected to wishing they “could turn back the hands of time.”