In the latest issue of Jet magazine, R&B superstar and his own number one stan, Usher, discussed his thoughts on the current state of R&B.
Question: What do you think about the current state of R&B in the music industry? Through your eyes, are you seeing constant progression?
Michael Jackson 2.0/Bobby Brown The Sequel: When I came out with ‘Confessions’, everyone was shocked by the quality of the record. I got comments like, “Wow, this is actually good!” What was it supposed to be? I’m not like those other throwaway R&B singers that come and go with novelty hits. I make real music, and I try to hold it down for the genre, the best I can. But I do feel like other brothers are slacking in the musical department. Who do we have now, to carry the torches Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke left behind? I’ll take it, but why can’t anyone else step up? Females aren’t doing it either. No disrespect to those who are trying to shine, but it’s all so cheap now. People are spitting on this thing called soul. Bring back Janet. Bring back Whitney. There’s no authenticity anymore.”
Yes, the man channeling Michael Jackson and Bobby Brown with every little step he takes personifies authenticity. In all honesty, I think Usher has a point. I’m tired of every male singer coming out with the standard first single: some trite fusion of R&B and hip hop that relies heavily on whatever rapper that can be secured with the hopes that said rapper’s popularity will trickle over to the song and the artist being introduced. But then he loses me likening himself to the likes of Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye. As I sit here listening to the latter’s I Want You album, I’m wondering if the torch Usher supposedly carries now is loaded with some narcotic substance.
I always take issue with the term “real music.” To me, it sounds elitist, and what’s real is subjective. But, let’s entertain Usher for a minute. Usher’s biggest hit to date is “Yeah!” Production by Lil Jon just screams origins of rhythm and blues, doesn’t it? Or maybe he meant real as far as his latest studio offering being a reflection of his personal life. Y’know, digging deep down within one self and pouring out your soul on the record. Singing passionately with great earnest. No wait, that was a clever marketing scheme thrown out there to boost album sells, wasn’t it?
If you want to throw out phrases like “real music,” you should start by being real with yourself. I consider Usher to be an entertainer, not an artist. There is a difference. Usher doesn’t produce his own music nor does he write a considerable portion of it. If not for Jermaine Dupri (and Brian Michael Cox, Donnell Jones, Pharrell Williams, among others) where would he be? Probably like many of the contemporaries he takes shots at in the media.
Not to completely trash him, because Usher is talented and outside of the awful first single, “Pop Ya Collar,” from the album that never was (It’s All About U), Usher has been pretty consistent. However, when you criticize your peers, I think one ought to be mindful of your own actions. The popularity of the genre-bending “Crunk n B” is owed to the success of “Yeah.” “Crunk n B” has since morphed to “Snap n B.” Interestingly enough, the man who calls on others in his respected genre to carry on the tradition of R&B is the same man promoting a group with a first offering that’s doing everything but.
It would behoove Usher to follow the adage that humility goes a long way. It would make even more sense if mini-Bobby practiced what he preaches. Yeah!