OPINION: Forget Frank Ocean and The Weeknd, D’Angelo saved R&B.
by Marcus K. Dowling
If hype is the new currency, then once mainstream irrelevant rhythm and blues is alive, well and a genre richer than most. However, if you make more money by backing up the hype, then on Thursday, January 26th in Stockholm, Sweden, D’Angelo saved mainstream R&B.
This story is based in standards and gets corrupted by Frank Ocean and The Weeknd. Not unlike 2012, true pop music success say, 60 years ago was based in the live performance realm. Whether the fault of the internet and economic depression or sheer racism, the past and future of rhythm and blues demanded that artists be both top recorders and iconic performers of their material in order to succeed. The concept once was such a necessity that Motown Records famously hired choreographer Cholly Atkins and a team of seamstresses to ensure that the live performances of groups on the label exceeded expectations in the live realm. The concept is so forgotten in the future that both Ocean and The Weeknd, the “saviors” of R & B’s future? Tops on the iPOD, but live? Where the money is made? Okay, but by comparison, ineffective lightweights, sound and fury signifying nothing.
Enter D’Angelo. I can only imagine the infamous moneyed recluse sitting on his couch in southern Virginia. He was the last great king of tortured soul. David Ruffin meets Jodeci, he blazed a trail by baring it all, shirtless video for 2002’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” the ultimate moment, a barrel-chested legacy, realized. Prior to that point he wasn’t a slouch. Bluesy, jazzy work work over two albums contributed to a solid, appreciated live performance standard. He wasn’t the best ever, but he certainly fit the standard. Seeing two men with undeniable talent unable to connect and completely engage in the live realm? It was clearly time to spring into action and inspire soul music’s brightest futures in easily a decade.
Let’s be honest. In retrospect, the Virginian crooner’s first performance in nearly a decade was good. We deemed it as great because we’re thirsty. Sad soul is filling our ears, but hasn’t yet entirely inspired our eyes. Music is a fully sensual experience. Emotionally blunted in the information deluge of the modern era, we’ve likely forgotten that. However, D’Angelo brought it back. The Weekend steps up to the plate at Coachella. Ocean? He has an album scheduled, so he’s due to tour as well. However, D’Angelo, and a crew of experienced and still relevant crooners I expect to follow in his lead? They’re going to set the bar for the future impossibly high. Let’s hope that the touted contenders can exceed their hype. Until then? All hail D’Angelo. Thank you.