Expectations can dictate how fans judge music. For Usher, this is a reality that proves to be challenging each time he puts out new material. The trend continues with the release of Hard II Love, his eighth studio album. Fans of Usher and R&B in general revere Confessions — the album that garnered Usher the most commercial success and critical acclaim of his career. The 2004 album is a classic and, as a result, it’s the standard by which all of Usher’s music is judged.
Fans want Usher to recapture the magic of songs like “Caught Up” and “Burn,” so there’s confusion when they hear him put out something like “No Limit.” In principle, the song isn’t much different than singles in his past such as “Yeah!” and “Love in This Club” – songs that are up-tempo and embrace elements of hip-hop. Yet, “No Limit” just doesn’t compare in terms of quality due to lyrics that sound juvenile coming from Usher; the song comes off as more of a forced effort than his past singles.
In addition to matching his past work, Usher has fans that want him to represent traditional R&B because it’s absent in pop culture. He doesn’t fulfill their wishes on most of Hard II Love, and some fans will criticize him for it. Yet, there are nuances to Usher’s choice that should be understood. In an interview with New York radio station WBLS, Usher said that he intentionally adapted sounds that are present in the hip-hop from Atlanta as of late. This embrace of hip-hop reflects a dilemma faced by black R&B singers in mainstream music.
As the music industry has become less and less lucrative, the mainstream scene of most genres has grown homogenous. Record labels have less money to invest into artists, so fewer artists are supported well, and those that are usually fit into a trend that’ll lead to hit songs and lots of streams. Although this change in the industry has made some genres become repetitive, R&B has suffered a heavier blow and largely disappeared from the mainstream. It seems that the genre is not as easy of a sell to listeners across America as the pop and rap songs that dominate airwaves.
With this in mind, big name artists often take cues from Pop or Rap when it comes to their singles. The motivation ranges from strategically adapting to experimenting for the sake of growth. Yet, stepping outside of R&B tends to bring them success and Usher’s work in recent years is a testament to this. The video for “Good Kisser” — a good song that’s distinctly R&B — has just under 40 million views on YouTube. Many artists would love to have that view count, but it pales in comparison to the 129 million views for the audio of “Don’t Mind” – a song dedicated to strippers.
Now, this isn’t an excuse for Usher’s artistic choices. However, he and many of his peers are directly responding to the industry they’re in with the music they put out. With this in mind, his collaborations with the likes of Future and Metro Boomin shouldn’t come as total surprises. The songs actually come together more smoothly than “No Limit.”
Furthermore, Usher bridges the gap between his musical pedigree and today’s trends on a few songs on Hard II Love. On “Need U,” Usher tries out some cadences over an ominous, bass-heavy beat. Yet he balances it with a bridge and background vocals reminiscent of classic R&B records. He continues this mash-up of styles on “Missin U,” on which he switches from a speaker-rattling beat on his verses to a chorus that could have fit in on Off the Wall. He even includes “Tell Me,” an 8-minute-long bedroom anthem that’s true to his roots as a singer.
Hard II Love as a whole isn’t one of his better projects, but it does offer some great songs. Desires for Usher to stick to traditional R&B are valid. His duet with Yuna titled “Crush” shows how great he is at the genre. However, an album from someone with Usher’s track record is always worth a listen. Singles are meant to sell fans an album, but they usually don’t tell fans what an album sounds like from start to finish.
Have you heard Hard II Love? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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Let's be real, Lloyd's 2007 single, "You," featuring Lil Wayne was a bop. Actually, it still is! But for all of the years, one question has been plaguing us. Does the singer say "fine too" or "5'2''" in the song? It's a debate that's gone on since the song first graced our ears. Most people think he said "fine too," and that makes the most sense, but alas, here we are.
Now, the singer is speaking out to put the battle to rest.
BREAKING NEWS: @Lloyd_YG answers if it's "5'2" or "Fine Too" pic.twitter.com/lkG55f5rBV
— All Def Digital (@AllDefDigital) September 14, 2016
People on Twitter haven't really been feeling his response
If you believe Lloyd said "she's 5'2" then you probably also used to flip your eyelids out in elementary school.
— #CamHive (@TheBwoy_) September 15, 2016
Anyone who thinks Lloyd said "five two" is banned from playing taboo with me. You are garbáge at context clues.
— Niks (@_NicoleSays) September 15, 2016
Why is it even a question whether Lloyd said "she's fine too" or "she's 5'2"... WHY WOULD HE MENTION HER BEING 5'2?
— ️️ (@heartlle) September 15, 2016
World: Is it 5'2 or fine too?
Lloyd: It's whatever you want it to be?
— Ceezus. (@CuriB_) September 15, 2016
Naw @Lloyd_YG answer the damn question. Lol https://t.co/YkGxLDG4xP
— Joshua (@JhTV3) September 15, 2016
But it seems like in a tweet from a few years ago, he actually revealed what he said in the song
He answered the question 3 years ago y'all pic.twitter.com/nXGPYSpTdp— RiRi ♓️ (@MissNasir_) September 15, 2016
This leaves us to ask...
Well, there you have it. Do you say "5'2"" or "fine too?" Share this article on Twitter or Facebook with your thoughts!
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Post by Dante Marquis
Still can’t get over Kanye West’s epic “Fade” visual starring Teyana Taylor? I can’t either. I've been in the gym ever since! But why is mainstream America acting like Teyana Taylor hasn’t been famous for years? People really don’t understand how amazing she is, whether she’s dancing, slaying Lil' Kim tributes or singing her soul out.
In a world where trap music and party anthems reign supreme, Teyana Taylor delivered one of the best, true-to-definition R&B albums in recent years with 2014’s VII. Signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music and Def Jam Records, the soulful album slipped under most radars. But that doesn’t change the fact that Teyana is musically gifted.
Now that she’s the internet’s latest “discovery,” it’s time to fall (or re-fall) in love with Teyana, the R&B songstress. Here's a list of her 7 best songs. Stop sleeping and check them out!
What’s even crazier than that post-baby body? Those vocals! Those lyrics! Whew! Teyana is way too underrated. The world needs to hear this.
“Maybe” (feat. Pusha T & Yo Gotti)
“Maybe” is the jam. We need more where this came from. Def Jam needs to stop playing.
Pure '90s R&B genius right here. Teyana came through with something super sensual. This is going on that special playlist — you know what I'm talking about…you have one too. Don’t lie.
Moral of the story: Keep your private life private. Clearly, that’s been working for Teyana and Iman. *Takes notes*
“Put Your Love On”
Uptempo Teyana plays no games. Imagine the video she’d cook up for this. We’re tired already!
“Christmas In Harlem” (featuring Kanye West, CyHi The Prince)
The modern hood Christmas anthem.
“Bliss” (featuring John Legend)
Teyana Taylor and John Legend’s vocals were meant for each other. Bliss, indeed.
Which Teyana songs are your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!
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Young black writer, photographer, daydreamer + hip-hop and R&B junkie. Follow me on Twitter @DanteMarquis where I’m probably talking dope new music, debating the “Topic of the day”, or crying laughing at #BlackTwitter’s...
The blerd hashtag game is not a joke – and #RnBComics is no exception. Shoutout to the homie @Steph_I_Will who created the tag. The timeline went on a thrill ride full of R&B and the dopest moments in black comic book history. We got to see our favorite characters in a way that we never had before. Here's a list of the very best:
1. Sam Wilson & Misty Knight jam to MJ
#RnBComics 🎶I want to rock with you (all night)
Dance you into day (sunlight)
I want to rock with you... pic.twitter.com/WGgyXebWG3
— André J. Daughtry ♿♒ (@Tripping_Crutch) August 27, 2016
2. Lunella lets you know what's really good ft. Beyoncé
Who run the world? Girls
Who run this mother? Girls
— Mel (@jane_anon) August 27, 2016
3. En Vogue, if they threw the hands.
🎵No, you're never gonna get it,
never ever gonna get it, my lovin🎶#RnBComics pic.twitter.com/9vZUb93W9V
— WhatFreshHellisThis? (@LisaBolekaja) August 27, 2016
4. Rogue getting Remy out the paint.
A scrub is a guy that thinks he's fly...#RnBComics pic.twitter.com/kruAHdPOAe
— ellisRAY3 (@ellisrayIII) August 27, 2016
5. John Stewart getting his time wasted.
"We been messing with the. Same girl. Same girl. How could the love of my life and my potential wife" #RnBComics pic.twitter.com/rNpGURDvhK
— Cartoons and Cereal (@BlckBolex) August 27, 2016
6. Storm keeping it all the way G.
"I'm every woman ITS ALL IN MEEEEE..." #RnBComics pic.twitter.com/cpVZjIbbpg
— MistyKnightsTwistOut (@Steph_I_Will) August 27, 2016
7. Cyclops letting it all out to some Bill Withers.
"Ain't no sunshine when she's gone
It's not warm when she's away
Ain't no sunshine when she's gone" #RnBComics pic.twitter.com/sZ4edQbodr
— Blackagar Boltagon (@Bigchocolate426) August 27, 2016
8. Wolverine stuck in the crib reminiscing.
"If it isn't love, why do I feel this way, why does she stay on my mind" #RnBComics pic.twitter.com/BHmEeYCgCg
— Christian Jawnson (@NerdPoetics) August 27, 2016
9. It doesn't really get more literal than this.
That girl is on fire! #RnBComics pic.twitter.com/M3kbIse5zk
— afroNerd (@Samukhele) August 28, 2016
10. Both comic book universes love the brooding rich boys.
🎶Super rich kids w/nothing but loose ends,start my day upon the roof,theres nuthin like this type of view🎶#RnBComics pic.twitter.com/SThquSmZsH
— QuintessentialFlaw (@Composition31) August 28, 2016
11. Young Miles Morales finding love.
Baby take off your cool. I wanna see you. I wanna see you #RnBComics pic.twitter.com/W4zuz3ZNPU
— Artistic Assassin (@ThatDude_Works) August 27, 2016
Peruse the hashtag at your leisure for even more bangers mashed up with our fave heroes. @BlackGirlNerds couldn't have said it any more perfectly.
#RnBComics hashtag is brilliant!! Kudos to the creator @Steph_I_Will!
— Black Girl Nerds (@BlackGirlNerds) August 27, 2016
Let me know what you think in the comments, because I read and reply to all of them. Hit the share button and tag a friend who needs to see this.
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Tigallerro is a joint album from two great artists, Phonte and Eric Roberson. The title combines their respective nicknames – Tigallo and Erro. It also reflects the creation of something different than what fans have heard from them individually.
Phonte is well-respected in the hip-hop world thanks to his work as a solo artist and as a member of Little Brother. He’s also made a name for himself in R&B through his group, the Foreign Exchange.
Eric has succeeded as a writer for artists such as Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild and Carl Thomas. Yet, he has released great music of his own with albums such as Left and The Box.
Phonte and Eric have done songs together before including “Who Loves You More” and “We Are On the Move.” However, their work as a duo has reached new heights on this project.
The two men first discussed the idea of a joint album in 2013. Fans of theirs have waited for the project since then, but it was well worth it. Tigallerro is an album filled with rich production, impressive vocals and honest lyrics. In the conversation below, Phonte details different parts of the album, what it’s like to be an independent artist and what he thinks of exchanges between rap and R&B.
Blavity: I want to start off with the first song I heard from the album — "It's So Easy." It definitely has a feel-good vibe to it. It sounds like the type of song you’d hear at a cookout. Are there any songs you love that inspired that track, or did you and Eric just go that route once you heard the beat?
Phonte: Well, it was mainly the track. When I heard the track, it put me in a summer, West Coast feel. It had a BattleCat feel, a DJ Quik feel to it. I wanted to write something that fit the music. For me, music is what informs the lyrics. I don’t just have a book full of lyrics and then match them to beats I hear. I take cues from the beat when I write.
B: That makes sense. Speaking of production, that’s an element of the album that stands out most to me each time I listen to it. In your talk with Okayplayer, you gave a nod to one of the producers — DJ Harrison — for providing you guys with instrument play that had a vintage sound.
That sound seemed to be there for most of the project. Could you explain what about it was important for you guys to have?
P: In terms of sound, I’m a fan of doing things that are classic. There are some things in music that will always be relevant. A good song, a good melody – those things are universal if you ask me and Erro. I can usually tell if a song’s great if I can play it on a piano or a guitar by itself and it sounds good.
The producers we worked with on the album really delivered that for us. S1, E.Jones, Zo!, Nicolay – those guys embody classic sound. My goal was to make music that’ll sound just as good in 2026 as it does in 2016.
B: For sure, I think that comes across well when you hear the album. I want to shift gears for a moment and focus on something other than the music itself. I know that you guys released the album through the Foreign Exchange Music imprint. How did going the independent route affect the album process?
P: Eric and I, we’ve been in entertainment for years. We’ve worked with both major labels and independent ones. Being an independent artist forces you to work in practical terms. If you’re signed to a major label, you can make a weirdo album and they may not get behind it all the way, but you make it on their dime. That luxury isn’t there when you’re independent.
Independent artists can make the music they want to make, but they have to ask themselves, “Who am I making this for, and how do I get it to them?” You have the ability to take risks creatively, but you have to be practical about tours, videos and other things like that. You use the artist side of your brain while you make the music, but once it’s done you have to use a business mindset.
B: For sure. I’m seeing that a lot more nowadays with artists I keep up with, so I hope that effort continues to go well for you guys. To get back to the music, I want to discuss your dual position as an artist. I've been interested in how you're this great MC, but you brought singing into your music more and more over the years. Since you started doing that, we've seen guys like Kanye and Drake do it in their own ways and now it's a surprise if a rapper doesn't use melody or if a singer doesn't use rap cadences.
What are your thoughts on how R&B and rap borrow from each other nowadays? And did it affect your vision for Tigallerro as you and Eric made it?
P: Well, rap and R&B have always informed each other. If you think back to the ‘80s, you had rap acts like UTFO, Full Force, the Force MDs, even Whodini that had R&B elements in their music. Back then, rap was a new music. Those guys I mentioned were informed by the music they grew up on – the Soul and Funk music that their parents were playing. Now, I was born in 1978 and I think my generation is the last one to remember a world without rap.
Today, a lot of R&B is being made by people who listened to nothing but rap as kids. That’s a big reason why their songs have lyrics that people wouldn’t be caught dead singing before. Now, you can have Jhené Aiko singing, “You gotta eat the booty like groceries,” and it’s cool. But 20-25 years ago, not so much.
Erro and I didn’t think about that too much while recording. I can’t speak for him, but I was just trying to make the best music I can make. If a song had a good place for a rhyme, I put a rhyme there. It’s never an arbitrary choice, I don’t go into a song feeling like I need to add a rap to it.
B: That makes sense. On another note, I’ve noticed that a lot of your albums have included moments of comedy. One that I enjoy is when you describe poetry night at a coffee house on The Listening. For Tigallerro, “Hold Tight” seems to be that moment of comedy. Could you confirm that for me and let me know what it was like recording that song?
P: Yeah, that track was done by DJ Harrison, and as I listened to it I just felt like it could really be a trap joint. It could be a Future/Young Thug style song, so that’s how I approached it. It was fun, it was funny, but then we sat listening to it and said, “This sh*t is kinda jammin’!” To me, the song shows that you can take a genre or style that’s popular on the radio right now and make it soulful.
B: No doubt, thanks for shedding light on that. Could you explain what the writing process was for the songs on the album? I know you and Eric have both succeeded as writers on your own, so I’m interested in knowing how it was.
P: We really just approached it how we always do. Eric and I complement each other. We can hear the same track and come up with two completely different ways to approach it. Sometimes he’ll lay a verse first and we’ll build from that, or I’ll start us off, but we’ll collab on the bridge.
My main thing was that I didn’t want the album to sound like a bunch of features. I didn’t want the songs to sound like Eric Roberson featuring Phonte or Phonte featuring Eric Roberson. We wanted to make something different, so we gave each other trust and let each other breathe on each song.
B: Sounds good, man. Last couple of questions for you: Which of the songs on Tigallerro resonates with you the most?
P: Ah man, there’s a few that I can mention. The one I’d have to point out is “Something.” That song speaks to feelings inside of all of us – wanting to be better and questioning faith. When we recorded it, I thought, “Yeah, this is a cool song.” But when we finished it and I sat with it, it really hit me.
B: I definitely agree with that, it’s one of my favorite songs on the album. To wrap up, I’d like to know what you hope fans take away from the album when they hear it.
P: I hope that the album just makes people feel good. I hope it brings some happiness to you. Eric and I make sure our music is honest and reflective of who we are, so hopefully fans can hear some of themselves in our music.
Make sure you listen to Tigallerro and look out for when they perform in a venue near you!
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Another week, another Soul Session, where we bring you the best curated list of new sounds on Soundcloud. With the landscape of music being what it is, sometimes it's difficult to find coherent songs that resonate with your mood. But no worries, we've got some songs to get you through this week. Check them out below and let us know your favorites in the comments!
Tish Hyman - "4 Letter Word"
When your relationship goes bust, sometimes it can feel as though you got caught up in a mess called love. This is one of those songs to keep you on the positive energy tip, because there's so much more love out there than just the one you've lost.
Phabo - "Coloured"
This is a great song documenting the struggle of our people in regards to the violence perpetrated against us on a systemic, economic and emotional level. Phabo does a great job with illustrating the humanity of black folks over enlivening production. Definitely worth a listen (or five).
Leiah - "Floral Steps"
Super vibey sounds explore looking within one's self to find beauty. I enjoy the harmonies and the mixing that gives one of the vocal tracks a distant sound.
ZILO - "Only Us"
Looking for that sweet spot with the object of your affection? This track explores doing just that through the reminder that when it comes down to it, no one is a part of your relationship but the two of you.
Darius Scott - "Die 4 U (Prince cover)"
We still can't believe he's gone. The tributes have been abundant, but I like this cover because Darius takes some of the Prince juju and makes the song his own without trying to be a carbon copy of an icon who will never be duplicated. Even though the tempo feels slower, you still get the power of instrumentation. And the bridge is fire!
Marie Dahlstrom - "One More Reason"
Marie Dahlstrom, a blue-eyed soul from London, comes through with the sounds to make you wax nostalgic on '90s R&B. This is the song you sing when your crush needs a reason to ask you out. "See? I can sing, too! It's a date."
What songs are on heavy rotation for you this week? Let us know in the comments below!
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Welcome back to Soul Sessions, your one-stop shop for a weekly playlist like no other. This week, like each week, we've found some fantastic music for you on Soundcloud from the best and the brightest in independent music. Tell us which listens you're feeling the most in the comments below!
Calvin Lockett - "CHBYG (response)"
Go back a few editions of Soul Sessions and you might remember the banger by Ré Lxuise that we posted. This response takes on the male point of view in a failed relationship, and does so with the most pristinely placed harmonies. We love when great music inspires more great music, and this is definitely one of those listens that you should pair with the original tune in your playlist.
Rippy Austin - "I Am Art"
If you mixed jazz, hip-hop and electronic music, would it be good? My first inclination would be to say I don't really think so, but Rippy Austin creates something special here, mixing all three genres effortlessly. When shortly into the song he sings, "All I do is design," you get the feeling that he's not just talking about designing sounds or artwork, he's talking about designing his life and even himself. This is one of those songs to completely vibe out to alone in your room while reflecting on your own life's design.
Billzegypt featuring Iman Omari - "Bring It Back"
For all of my jazz and neo-soul appreciators out there, this one's for you. Tackling the topic of struggling relationships, this song questions the ability to return to a love affair's former glory. The instrumentation is intricate, yet still leaves room for powerful vocal layers. It's one of those songs fit for your Sunday afternoon glass of wine with friends.
Brittany B. - "Oceans"
That whole phrase about it not being about the size of the ship, but the motion in the ocean? Well, Brittany B. turns it into an awesome groove on her song "Oceans." From her Hello Summer EP, this is definitely the standout song, and the one to listen to before you're headed out on a weeknight date with your boo. You'll be amped up to show some real affection.
Snoh Aalegra - "Under The Influence"
Do you miss Amy Winehouse? No one will ever compare to her brilliance, but you can get similar vibes here. Snoh Aalegra gives one of those bluesy tunes that will have you feeling like you should be walking down a deserted road with dust blowing up behind you. The production and background layers do a lot of work to uplift the lead vocals.
SELVSSE featuring IDEH - "Sunrise"
In this case, the producer is SELVSSE and the vocalist is IDEH. The production here is simple, and almost seems like a four or eight bar loop, but it does eventually switch up toward the bridge. The piano is very vibey, while the drums are strong. This song doesn't follow a normal verse, hook, verse, hook format, which is why it's so engaging. You never know when the vocalist is going to return to the (very catchy) refrain.
VB x SueLily - "Nothing More"
This song is about reciprocity. Have you ever been in a friendship or a relationship that seems so one-sided? This vocalist sings about how her love is the only one she can count on, but as we journey through the music, she finds that even his give and take falters until it's just the latter. Giving without expectation is a great trait to have, but when reciprocity is absent from our relationships, it can be draining. This song delivers a trap sound with a lovely reminder to build reciprocal relationships.
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When an artist drops a hit song, there's always a possibility it could be their last, but of course we always hope it isn't. Unfortunately for these artists, they weren't able to stay on the charts as long as they might have liked, but they still made quite an impact on music during their brief stint in the spotlight.
This young band of men from Atlanta hit our ears with the deep and meaningful, "Blackberry Molasses." This song still resonates with many of the struggles we're facing today, and although the group worked on a second album, it was never released. The lead singer, who we know now as Bobby Valentino, went on to find some success as a solo artist. We haven't heard much from the rest of the group.
The song "Addictive" was a breakout hit for Truth Hurts and somewhat of a comeback for the iconic emcee Rakim. But from Dr. Dre's label to Raphael Saadiq's, it seems like the singer just couldn't find the right consistency in her music career. Her latest song was released in 2015. Titled "Fight 4 Love," it's presumably dedicated to equal marriage rights for all, as the singer tweeted the song with a rainbow heart and the hashtag #LoveWins. Keep up with her on Twitter.
The Product G&B
Am I the only one who knew that this duo was a thing outside of "Maria, Maria," their smash hit collaboration with Carlos Santana? They also collaborated with 50 cent (after his musical career had plateaued), but their music outside of that didn't do much, and only one album was released under that name. They are now simply known as Ghetto and Blues, and released a song featuring Maino this past April called "On The Block."
Listen. I'm still here for "Return of the Mack" even though I (like most of us) would need to Google the lyrics to the verses. His official website is still promoting his 2014 release, "I Am What I Am," a single and the title of his EP, but his Twitter account alludes to the release of a new single this coming August with Tory Lanez and Rick Ross. Do I smell a comeback?
"Heard It All Before" was a hit and is still the anthem for every woman tired of dealing with a no-good guy. Unfortunately, that's pretty much the only commercial success Sunshine Anderson saw in music. Another song, "Lie to Kick It" was released under The Verve Music Group in 2010. She's found success in radio, however, and is now an on-air personality for a Charlotte radio station.
Koffee Brown is the musical equivalent of that delicious pound cake that your mom brings home from one of her co-workers who then proceeds to quit the next week (but whose pound cake you can never forget nor duplicate). "After Party" is still the jam at any cookout or kickback. There's literally not much information out there on these two, no official social media, and even their Wikipedia page is pretty bare. Dear Koffee Brown, where are you?!
A 2013 interview with BET seemed to mark a comeback for Glenn Lewis. And though his single "Can't Say Love" harkened back to traditional R&B, it wasn't a breakout song. He seemingly hasn't been able to find another hit since "Don't You Forget It." He can now be found posting very sparingly on social media.
Letoya Luckett should never have been a one-hit wonder, and if you count her time as one of the original members of Destiny's Child, she isn't. We didn't hear from Luckett for a long time after she left the group until she released a self-titled debut album. It charted on the Billboard 200 and was even certified platinum, but there were no breakout singles. Then, in 2009, she burst back onto the scene with the banger, "Regret" featuring Ludacris, and an album called Lady Love. This was a moment when I thought she would become a big star, but the buzz died down after a while. The latest music we've heard from Letoya is a song called "Together," a collaboration with the Calibur Foundation, whose mission is to end gun violence in America. She also starred in a show on TV One called Here We Go Again. It's unclear whether or not the show will return for another season. Her website says she has new music coming soon.
What 'one-hit wonders' are you waiting to hear from? Let us know in the comments below!
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Like most other '80s and early-'90s babies we know, my roommate and I love reminiscing on the best music era ever the music of the '90s so much that it’s become a weekly custom. Typically, we grab some wine and food, get comfortable and will literally spend hours going through artist after artist while alternating between singing (read: wailing) lyrics and suddenly yelling, “OMG remember when ____!” I know our neighbors hate us.
But also like many other kids of this generation, this kind of habitual reminiscing only occurs because we fully appreciate how special a time it was musically and miss the abundance of great artists we had to choose from, especially among R&B groups. Of course we had other imperative black artists who rose to musical prominence during this era, such as Janet Jackson, Aaliyah, Usher, Brandy, Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton, 2pac, Biggie, P. Diddy and all-Bad-Boy-errthang--It would be utterly remiss of me not to recognize that side of '90s music, but can we take a minute to talk about the R&B groups? There were so many and they were pretty much all really good. And these weren’t fluff acts, these people could sang. We had Boyz II Men, TLC, Jade, Soul For Real, 112, Brownstone, En Vogue, Guy, Xscape, SWV, Zhane, Groove Theory, Bell Biv DeVoe, Silk, Mint Condition, H-Town, Blackstreet, Total, Tony! Toni! Tone!, K-Ci & JoJo, Shai, LSG, Jodeci, etc...
There’s a reason going through this music can take us hours.
When looking at the musical landscape of 2016, I struggle to think of one commercially successful R&B group.
And a quick Google search of “R&B groups 2016” only furthers my suspicions that this niche might truly be one of the past. Nothing came up. Nothing. An alternative search of “R&B artists 2016” made me wish I’d just stopped with the first one. The following artists were included in many of the “top-20” lists: Ty Dolla $ign, Drake, Tyga, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, Kanye West, The Game, and this picture of "Lil' Wayne" (???):
(Yes, I know why, but why Google?)
And this is no shade to the Drakes or Chris Browns coming up in this game (although they actually, arguably straddle the lines of being hip-hop and/or pop artists than R&B), but I for damn sure don't want the likes of Tyga singing me to sleep at night. And considering the copious amounts of beautiful music that was poured out of our beloved R&B groups for a full decade, I can’t help but wonder where, how or why the ball was dropped on carrying this genre forward. Yes, we then had the emergence of millennial R&B-esque groups such as B2K, a more grown-up Destiny’s Child, and 112 still had a few good years left on the charts. But it seems like once we stopped partying like it was 1999, the clock struck 12 and we got smacked in the face with Dem Franchize Boyz.
I now completely understand why my parents and elders constantly (read: annoyingly) reminded my generation about their music being “so much better” than ours growing up.
Upon cranking up her “oldies but goodies” themed stations every day, my mother would constantly remind me “we had the best music” to which my father, aunts and uncles would usually chime in, agreeing, while I wondered why the hate was so real. What was so bad about trying to learn the dance moves to “Creep” or rehearsing “Weak” with your girlfriends in the your bedroom?
I remember thinking my older cousin was the coolest person ever for having all of Xscape’s albums and knowing all the words. I remember all the Word Up! Magazine posters and having Boyz II Men on repeat. I remember watching music videos and clearly seeing and believing black love was very real and very normal because of this music. But now I’m realizing that perhaps my elders were right. Maybe they were noticing a decline in music in general that my generation is just now seeing come to fruition.
At least my generation can remember what it once was and pull from that. We can sonically go back in time and recall music that was about love and romance, and even had diss songs that weren’t imploding with violence or over-sexualized lyrics. I cringe at some of the music being released now and can’t even imagine attempting to explain to them the pivotal role R&B once played in black music. If our future generations are doomed to one day reminisce on the likes of “Trap Queen” and “F*ck Up Some Commas,” telling them about the work of Dru Hill might sadly very well be akin to speaking a foreign language.
What happened to the days of music being romantic, sensual and tender even when describing clearly explicit encounters? What happened to sweet (and often melodramatic) dialogue in the middle of a song? What happened to being CrazySexyCool? Or there only being a few songs you had to turn down when your parents were around? What happened to choosing your favorite group member and either saying he/she was “yours” (Nokio is still my husband, by the way) or channeling a group member and actually being him/her? What happened to albums that had us in our feelings from beginning to end, to singing love songs into our brushes, showers, mirrors or wherever our imaginary, impromptu performances happened?
What happened to parties like this?
What happened to the music that reminded us of the beauty in black love and the accompanying videos that gave us empowering visuals to aspire to when we grew up?
Can we go back to the days our love was strong?
Can you tell me how a perfect love goes wrong?
I might not be down on bended knee, but I’m hurt and needy when it comes to this.
There’s a hole in my heart that this era just keeps missing the mark on filling.
I feel just like all those figurative lovers in all those sad songs, and I'm left with nothing but the roller-coaster ride that has become waiting for the next Frank Ocean album.
R&B groups and R&B music in general — please make a comeback.
We don’t care that you dissed us and left us with Tinashe and whoever Usher decided to mighty-morph into. We forgive you for Pretty Ricky. You need to know, the now 20-somethings that you helped raise remember every cheesy fake-raining music video filmed on some random street or phone booth, every synchronized dance routine and even rewinding cassette tapes over and over. But most of all, we remember the love and the idea that entire discographies can consist of music that centers on it.
We miss you. And even as adults we’re still wondering:
How could you love us and leave us and never say goodbye?
PS. Readers check out this video from comedian KevOnStage that perfectly discusses the beauty of '90s-era R&B in less than 5 minutes.
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Maybe you've been with us for a few installations of Soul Sessions or maybe this is your very first time joining me. Either way, consider yourself in a one-on-one listening session with the artists I've discovered this week and want to share with you. Let me know which gems had you really bobbing your head or smiling wide in the comments!
MC K~Swift feat. Mankind - "Killing"
James Baldwin said, "To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage." This song perfectly illustrates the rage of those adversely and disproportionately affected by killings in this time and in this place. There are no complex decorations or intricacies to this music. It's very straightforward, with no hook and a repeating guitar riff. MC K~Swift shows expert emcee skills without acquiescing to common ways of engaging the genre, and Mankind matches Swift's passion and ability.
Jairus Mozee - "EQUAL RIGHTS"
Also known as "J. Mo," Jairus Mozee has worked with everyone from Grammy-award winner Lalah Hathaway to BJ The Chicago Kid. His musical and production skills are stellar, however this gem takes his creativity even further. Chopping up commentary from black men and audio from actual violent interactions with police, it's almost as if J. Mo is scoring the soundtrack to our struggle with this one.
Kev Choice - "Blues for Blueford"
On his recently released project Love and Revolution, emcee, pianist and composer Kev Choice ends with this striking instrumental tune for Alan Blueford, another black person killed by the police. It's a beautiful tribute, evoking the sorrow, confusion and reflection that comes with each of these tragic events.
Sincerely Wilson - "Love Junkie"
And in these times, we all need a little more love. This is a beautiful tribute to the object of his affection. The alternative and soulful take on contemporary R&B makes this one of the gems you'll be happy to uncover, and one that can be listened to on repeat.
VanJess - "Adore"
Building a bridge between the girl duos and groups of the 90s that brought the soulfulness and the trap sound of present day black music, this is one of those gems that's both nostalgic and relevant at the same time. It almost goes in and out of R&B and hip-hop, making one curious if either of the group members is actually an emcee. Check out their other music to find out!
Chris Turner & the Dropouts - "Love"
One of the gems from their Love Bomb EP, Chris Turner & the Dropouts really build a layered composition that takes the listener on a journey with the protagonist in this story, who is grateful to be alive but is still searching for meaning and purpose.
Kyle Shedrick - "War"
This is one of those rare times when I don't mind the use of autotune because this is an inspirational song with a turn-up sound. Listen to this when you're going to that job you hate, interviewing for that dream gig, or any situation where you'll face opposition or challenges. Then, stand in a Superwoman/man pose for at least three minutes, and you'll be ready to conquer anything.
What songs have been stuck in your head this week? Share in the comments below!
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2009 was the last time fans received an album from Maxwell. His break between releases contributed to a trend of “Neo-Soul” artists such as D’Angelo and Lauryn Hill becoming elusive after the ‘90s. Yet, his supporters have shown little doubt that his return will live up to his reputation as an artist. Maxwell validates their confidence with his new album blackSUMMERS’night. He offers the second installment in a trilogy that has already boasted classic songs such as “Bad Habits” and “Pretty Wings.”
Maxwell opens the album with “All the Ways Love Can Feel,” an up-tempo groove reminiscent of music from the 1970s. The instrumentation powers the song as strong horns mesh with spacey sounds similar to those heard on Embrya. The following track is “The Fall,” a less jovial song on which Maxwell uses seasonal change to describe the shifts endured by couples. He sings, “Everything changes, everything moves/Nothing is as it was when you lose/the thoughts you fear, the way you feel.”
On “III,” Maxwell speaks of approaching a woman he sees in a club and says, “I just want a Michelle Obama lady/to hold me down when the world’s crazy.” His delivery and interaction with the band on the chorus creates the feel of a live performance. Maxwell then slows the pace down again with “Lake By the Ocean,” the smooth first single from the album that focuses on reassurance.
Later on, Maxwell moves to “Lost,” a Blues ballad that features guitars fit for a dramatic film. He matches the mood of the instrumentation by singing with the gloom of a man that’s been broken. Maxwell addresses a lost love of his and says, “In the waking hours, in the middle of the night/When the moon’s not just full, I see you in my eyes/I see you, and you haunt me/And you taunt me.” Maxwell follows the darkest moment of the album with a celebration of the one he loves on “Of All Kind.” Maintaining his signature falsetto throughout, he sings, “I love you like there’s no end in sight/You’re like a god in my mind.”
The last full song on the album is “Listen Hear,” in which Maxwell admits to the flaws that threaten his relationship. He sings, “I’m confusing at times/Sometimes I might lie/I’m scared and I’m shy/To show you just how weak I am.” Yet, he also says that his partner can be “in charge” when their bond is tested and that he’s sure the bond will remain strong. With this introspection, Maxwell finds the middle ground between the two preceding songs. He’s not on the high described in “Of All Kind,” nor is he lamenting the escape of this high the way he does on “Lost.” Maxwell comes across as someone who is grounded in the reality of a relationship and ready to handle it.
As a whole, Maxwell makes an impressive addition to his catalogue with blackSUMMERS’night. He succeeds in offering songs that fit well together without sounding repetitive in sound or message. Maxwell displays his range by alternating between his falsetto and a rougher tone, as well as his modal voice. He also has his vocal efforts matched by the skill of the musicians with whom he works. Ultimately, Maxwell lives up to the standard that he’s set for himself with this one.
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Drew Vision, New York native and rising R&B star, recently dropped his latest project, The Balance, for free on Soundcloud. Blavity's Creative Society sat down with Drew to learn more about him and his music.
Drew will be performing this year at Essence Music Festival. For those of you in NOLA, catch him on July 2, 2016!
Blavity: Tell us about how you first started singing. How did your upbringing influence your art?
Drew Vision: Since I was 5, my family had pretty much imposed it on me. We grew up in the church, and they felt like if God gave you any gifts, you were going to use it, whether you liked it or not. So, I grew up in performing in front of the congregation from such a young age. After high school when I had to decide what I wanted to pursue in life, I was at a crossroads. Everyone said I was crazy for trying to make something happen in the music industry. I actually considered getting into marine biology, cause I'm really into science. But I just knew that my purpose was music, so I took a leap and went for it.
B: How did living in Queens influence your music?
DV: I definitely will say that New York has made me so well-rounded. It's one of the only cities in the world that's a melting pot for everyone on the planet. New York has forced me to be more open-minded. You realize that there's more to the world than the music you listen to and things you like. I think New York diversified me and is definitely why I have so many different sounds.
B: Talk to us about your creative process, how do you go from idea to execution?
DV: The creative process is the only thing that keeps me in the game. Everything else can sometimes be so business related and stressful, but the creative process is where I thrive. I start with beats. There are so many talented producers out there, and when I hear the sounds and the instruments they choose, I start a vibe from that. Based off how the music makes me feel, I start writing.
B: Your recent project, The Balance, has a message of accepting oneself fully. Talk to us about the experiences in your life that fueled this project.
DV: From traveling and meeting people I've found that so many people think I'm interesting because I have a wide variety of elements to me that make me who I am. For example, when I was living in Brooklyn, I used to skateboard everywhere. I would ride my board to business meetings and would still be respected as a professional. Things like that are what break barriers in people's minds so they don't put everyone in a box. I think thats where The Balance came from. A lot of the time I would look at my flaws and be upset about them, but in actuality, everything about me, including my flaws, is what makes me who I am, and the moment we accept ourselves, we feel a new level of power. I embraced that there is no such thing as good without bad and that all I have to do is keep the balance.
B: How do you stay inspired and motivated to create music that people can relate to?
DV: I think its so important to have down time. Its easy to get caught up in your work, but you have to just take some time and know that you can't do everything in one day. Once I allowed myself to have some leisure time, I realized that thats where my inspiration comes from. I had to understand the balance between work and play. When I listen to music, be social and have a good time, I find most of my inspiration because those are the things that keep us going when life gets hard.
B: What advice do you have for creatives who struggle with believing in themselves and the quality of their work?
DV: It starts within. You can't go anywhere or do anything until you believe in the product that you're selling. For young people especially, the best way to reach their goals is believe in themselves the most and do whatever it takes to make that happen. If you need to go to church and talk to God or do some meditation, or whatever it is, take that time to build yourself.
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