Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Rappin' Bullshit (as De La and Wu-Tang would have it)


Last week, Blimpy wrote he couldn't tell the difference between good and bad R&B (the new kind of course), so I thought I'd post a few of my favourites, even though It's not such a popular genre around these parts (I'm hoping Magic and May chip in)

I have to include Aaliyah, the woman I was going to marry (ironically, I broke up with my first girlfriend because she had gotten a bit too chummy with her brother, I then had a choice, swallow my pride and meet Aaliyah the next day, or not, I got out of that one with some dignity left), but she tragically died in a plane crash over the Caribbean. Aaliyah never overdid it, maybe because she didn't have such a powerful voice, but she definitely had her own style, her use of space perfectly matched with Timbaland's production in her 1996 album. She also wasn't ever the best dancer around, you could almost see her count the steps in videos, and she was never going to be as sexy as the other girls but she was beautiful, and to this day she remains the last singer I've had a poster of in my room. Also I'm no longer 16 years old.

I'll start with Mary J. Blige, the first star in post-80s R&B, she came up in the mid 90s, where there was a real explosion of Hip Hop/R&B collaborations, chances are, if you went to a nightclub between 1994 and 2004, you've heard one of these songs:

Real Love - Mary J. Blige
Hot Like Fire - Aaliyah
If Your Girl Only Knew - Aaliyah
Good Stuff - Kelis
Get Along With You - Kelis
Don't Mess With My Man - Lucy Pearl
We Need A Resolution - Aaliyah
Try Again - Aaliyah
Cry Me A River - Justin Timberlake
Oops (Oh My) Feat. Missy Elliott - Tweet
Trick Me - Kelis
Millionaire - Kelis
Finest Dreams - Richard X Vs Kelis
Oh Feat. Ludacris - Ciara

40 comments:

steenbeck said...

Shoot, just lost a comment. Basically it said...Good post, ejay. I realize how woefully ignorant I am about R&B. (What was it like pre-80s, for instance?) I've always found it a bit confusing to my ears. It felt like there wasn't something something substantial to hold on to amidst the wandering voice. I like some of these a lot, though. Aaliya and Kelis seem to have a lot of strength and substance. I've only made it halfway through the list. Still listening...

treefrogdemon said...

Wasn't it called Lovers' Rock before that? Or am I muddled? (....)

See, this is a thing that makes it hard for me to talk to Young People about Music. R&B means something totally different to me, and so they just laugh.

ejaydee said...

I think pre-80s the name R&B wasn't used, but my guess is that it was maybe somewhere in between the soul funk & disco of the era. Maybe in the 80s nobody wanted to use the word Disco anymore, so they brought back R&B. Actually, I wonder what you call popular Black AMerican music from the 80s, stuff like Chaka Khan, Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, Frankie Beverly & Maze, Indeep, etc.

ejaydee said...

TFD: As someone who likes both R&Bs, I understand the confusion. Tell the kids you like old school R&B, and they'll assume you're talking about Mary J. Blige or Chaka Khan at the earliest!

nilpferd said...

A kindergarden friend of Mara's is named after Aaliyah. One less A, though. She's the only person I know named after a musician or composer. Except myself and my brother.

steenbeck said...

Neil Sedaka?

ejaydee said...

Nah, I'm putting my money on Diamond. I liked the Christian Pommer I heard, in return, I put in the Detroit Experiment, not sure if you already had it, Nilpf.

nilpferd said...

Thanks Ejay, I only bought Think Twice on itunes, the rest of Detroit Exp is a closed book, so thanks for that. Glad you liked Christian Prommer.
re my name, no-one would guess it.. it was a big band arranger called Neal Hefti, who worked for Woody Herman Count Basie. Wiki informs me he also wrote the TV Theme for Batman and arranged for Sinatra. It was also partly for the playwright Neil Simon.
My bro though is called Miles, with a "y".
In any case, I apparently should have been Christopher or Phillip, but I just didn't look like either one.

Blimpy said...

i'd just like to clarify my point, i think i was kinda talking about usher/chirs brown type r&b - now that I have no clue what makes it good or not.

i've always been a fan of kelis, missy etc.

this is a top playlist, ejaydee!

whatever happened to tweet, you'd think this would be the perfect time for a comeback what with twitter and everything.

ShariVari said...

A few favourites:

En Vogue - Don't Let Go
Utada Hikaru - Exodus '04
Ciara - Goodies
Cassie - Me And You
TLC - Silly Ho
702- Where My Girls At?
Blackstreet - No Diggity
Park Ji Woon / Willa Ford - Nastified

ejaydee said...

Fair enough, Blimpy, so is it the fellas you don't like? Come to think of it, I like some Justin Timberlake songs because I find the production stupendous, and he seems like a good enough guy, and Usher's OK, I guess, but I much much prefer the ladies.

Blimpy said...

one of my all time faves, and a loft classic to boot:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98dUhydvarw

method man feat mary j blige.

ejaydee said...

Ooh yes SV, DOn't Let Go is great, and I completely forgot about 702. I bought that TLC album on the strength of that single. Timbaland wasn't happy somebody nicked his style.

ejaydee said...

CLAAAASSSSIIIIIIIC!!!

Blimpy said...

@ed - i think it is the fellas that i'm not keen on, yep!

the timberlake stuff was excellent, i heard those neptunes songs were rejected by jacko. imagine the comeback he coulda had with them!

Blimpy said...

@ed - do u like the new dirty projectors shizzle that's meant to be indebted to this kinda r&b?

ejaydee said...

I think I head one track on the GU Music podcast, but I haven't followed up on it, I'd like to hear more. There's also Discovery and The xx who seem to be influenced by R&B, especially Discovery.

ejaydee said...

SV, I was checking out Utada Hikaru, do you know the song at the beginning of this video?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6K5SPzLGxE

I'd love to know what it is.

Blimpy said...

i have blogged Dirty Projectors, hit refresh!!

ejaydee said...

But I meant to add, Blimpy, stuff like Discovery, makes me wish that some dude like Ginuwine would cover it, because it's a bit too... "hey, R&B's cool, in, like, a non-ironic way, check me out, and I'm playing around with a synth!". Maybe I'm being unfair, I don't know.

nilpferd said...

Just listening, like them all, though the only stuff we ever heard in nightclubs was trip hop or nu jazz.
The Lucy Pearl hits my house spot- great guitars and bass- and the Aaliyah tracks especially are a revelation for their space and acoustic integrity, every sound seems to fit perfectly. "Hot like fire" seems to me easily as good as Maxinquaye.
There's a (not very good) remix of Try Again which is getting thrashed here at the moment, Trick me is also familiar from Streetwear stores, though I think it is sampled.
The Kelis songs are also nice, like the keys especially with these tracks. I second Blimpy's reservations about the guys, it's maybe the bombast of the backing- slushy orchestrals- or some of the more arrogant lyrics; Aaliyah's tracks are more stripped back and intimate, often conspiratorial, even if it's the same guys who are doing the production (?), and Missy's are also more off beat.
There are a lot of R&B artists in Germany, beside Hip Hop it is a genre which has generated a lot of home grown artists, however, when I hear tracks like these, it seems to make those local artists pale in comparison. I don't think it is the singing so much, but the production, the composition and the backing musicians (are there any?) which are so superior on the tracks you've posted, Ejay.

ShariVari said...

ejaydee, the song at the start is Nijiiro Bus

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oeG-v8BJVA

ejaydee said...

France also has a lot of R&B (pronounced aHrehnbI) artists as well Nilpferd, the Aaliyah tracks are produced by Timbaland, Tweet by Missy I think, but Missy being one of Timbo's muses, it's the same feel. Indeed, Timbaland also did Cry me A River, and a bunch of other. Everybody wants a song by him at some point in their career, even Chris Cornell.
The early Kelis tracks are produced by The Neptunes, Millionaire is by Andre of Outkast. To me, as a non-expert, the Neptunes and Timbaland made R&B worthwhile from the mid-90s to early 2000s.

Thanks SV, I liked Exodus too.

ToffeeBoy said...

Not sure if this counts or not but I just love Beyonce's Crazy In Love.

Also, No Scrubs, Waterfalls, Creep, Diggin' On You, Kick Your Game and Unpretty by TLC.

Of course, I may be way off radar here ...

ejaydee said...

You're bang on Toffee, as R&B as it gets.

Forgot to say about Lucy Pearl, I almost didn't include it because it's the most "grown-up" act in there, led by Raphael Saadiq, Ali Shaheed of ATCQ, and the lead singer of En Vogue, and I wasn' sure if it fit the narrative, if I can be so pretentious, but I love that bassline, it's lethal.

Blimpy said...

tee hee, i wish i could find my tape of me and my pal covering "unpretty" in an indie rock stylee!

steenbeck said...

I heard an interview with Rafael saadiq ( sp?) interesting. What about bilal, I've liked some of his collaborative Stuff

ejaydee said...

I thought the "nu"-soul stuff with the Soulquarians, etc would be a different post. Respect my narrative people, I'm a writer, an artiste!

ejaydee said...

Ha! Nijiro Bus would have fit this week's theme.

May1366 said...

Great post, selection and discussion. Though it might be doing En Vogue and Blackstreet a disservice, I'd say that contemporary R&B began, or found its groove, with Mary J Blige. What made her different from 80s soul acts was the hip-hop flavour. It felt like it was coming from the same mentality. I love loads of 80s and early 90s soul balladry by the likes of Whitney, Boys II Men, Karen White, Toni Braxton and so on, but it's basically music for, by and about the bourgeoisie. Nothing wrong with that, but that's the context that made Mary J so radical. And the more complacent and mainstream R&B gets, the higher she rises in my estimation. In addition to what's been mentioned, I'd shout Reminisce, Love No Limit, Be Happy, Just Fine, Sweet Thing, the incredible No More Drama, 911 with Wyclef Jean, and to show her classic soul chops, her versions of I'm Goin' Down and Children Of The Ghetto.
Absolutely in tune with most of the other recommendations - and, yes, it's the ladies who stand out: En Vogue, TLC, Destiny's Child and their respective solo careers, Kelis, Solange Knowles, Ciara, Amerie, Aaliyah...
Every one of these has, at some point, made more interesting records than anything I've heard by Usher, Chris Brown, Mario, etc so I guess I'm down on the guys as well, though I think it's mainly for making formulaic and insipid fodder. I don't know how squarely John Legend fits onto the R&B roster but I've far more time for him.

I'd be equally happy to shoot the breeze about Big Joe Turner, Little Esther, Johnny Otis and Wilbur Harrison as well, mind!

Shoegazer said...

Nope, R&B blindspot is still is in full effect. Just as I'm starting to get the feel they throw in a Whitney warble that throws me off completely. Sure there's some good stuff in here, & will come back for another try, but it's a bit much at once for us novices.

Japanther said...

what happened to British R&B divas The Honeyz?? I loved their only hit "End Of The Line" and in fact downloaded it a coupla of months ago. Great tune. Donds to SV and Toffeboy's lists too.

Re: Utada Hikaru - she is one of THE biggest stars in Japan and has been for years now. Also, her mum, Fuji Keiko was one of the leaders of the new wave of enka that swept Japan in the 70's. She's cool as! I remember she (the mum, that is) got detained by the authorities a couple of years ago heading into Vegas with a shitload of money in cash, they thought she was buying drugs or whatever, but she was just doing a little weekend gambling!

ejaydee said...

Thanks May, I can always count on you to write what I wish I had. Especially what separates MJB from her predecessors. Although Teddy Riley's New jack Swing probably fits somewhere in between? Actually that's what R&B was called for a while in France in those days, so as not to confuse it with "old" Rhythm & Blues.

Shoey, no worries, I wasn't expecting such a positive response anyway. But I thought at least Aaliyah would find grace to a non-warbler such as yourself.

Japa, what's enka? Does anybody have a copy of Nijiro Bus or Exodus 04? They're neither on spotify or the itunes store?

May1366 said...

Cheers Ejay - yes, after mentioning Blackstreet, I thought there was room for a detour on Teddy Riley's influence, trying to pinpoint the distinction between New Jack Swing and "Hip-Hop Soul" (which I think I remember MJB being dubbed when she came out), and figuring out where Bobby Brown fits into it all - but it was stupid o'clock so I streamlined it. And if we wanted to make a serious attempt to trace the development of R&B in the 90s, we'd probably also have to factor in the commercialisation of hip hop - more jump around choruses, more singing, heftier use of sweet soul (as opposed to dirty funk!) samples etc. So there's no single seminal moment, but I'd still put What's The 411? down as the moment the sound was crystallised.

Shoey - the Whitney warbles do throw me off from time to time as well. I've banged on enough about Mary J Blige but, even though I always liked her music, it took me a while to warm to her delivery. Now, I can hear her attacking the lyrics in a similar way to Chaka Khan back in the day (dig the archness of her vocals on Tell Me Something Good). But someone like Rihanna - again, there's plenty to like and some stuff (not just Umbrella, but that too) to rave about, but I'm not always convinced I like her voice. The way she puts the song across, yes, but tonally, I'd sooner spend time with straight-ahead soul voices like Shirley Brown, Judy Clay, Maxine Brown, Betty Harris, Marlena Shaw and other half-forgottens. So I see where you're coming from, but with the best R&B, I think the whole mitigates for some of the parts.

Japanther said...

Enka is a traditional form of Japanese music which is sometimes called Japanese "folk" music 'cos it is all about hometowns and nature and stuff, but I think it's much more like the Japanese version of the blues 'cos some of it is dark as hell and there's plenty of murder and tragedy. The wibblyness of the singing is an acquired taste, and when it's bad, Enka is very very bad but when it's good it's goose-bump-inspiringly forlorn and beautiful.

Here's Fuji Keiko in her prime with her most famous (but not necessarily her best) song

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aveeU-ScG9Y

Shoey said...

On reflection [God, no, please ..Ed], the music that I like for whatever reason, culture, fate, choice, whatever, you know exactly who is making the noise, both vocals & the music. In short, who is the creator of what you are listening to. Recent R&B seems to be more about visuals & marketing, the actual singing is secondary to who looks hot & the musicians seem almost anonymous. This is probably all complete bollocks and should make no difference whatsoever if something sounds good, but there is some kind of missing (or different) connection point, possibly?

Are you a dance first & listen later or a listen first & dance later (if forced by gunpoint or have sufficient chemical support)?

ejaydee said...

I can be both Shoey, it can depend where the music is being played, who's the DJ, etc. I like to dance to songs I already know, but the places I would go to on purpose would be to hear something I haven't heard before.
Secondly, it depends ho you mean by the musician. In the most electronic instances, there might not be a full band, but the producer is the one who creates the backing track, and they became stars in their own right. So you know who it is, if I understand you correctly. Did I?

May1366 said...

Yeah, it's producer-led and that can make it formulaic. I swear (may be exaggerating) these days Timbaland makes about one backing track a year and uses that (and his Hitchcock-like, tedious vocal cameos) in about a dozen 'collaborations'.

But let's be honest - this is pop music in the 21st century. I mean, this is what, at this time in the global marketplace, popular music sounds like. And 'twas ever thus: do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight; get it on, bang a gong; rock around the clock; twist and shout; beat me, Daddy, eight to the bar - popular music has always worked on a dance first, listen later basis. Music you listened to first and maybe danced to later was never really popular music. I'm just using the longwinded "popular" to distinguish from the idea of "pop" as a sound, as ToffeeBoy's 12 Tasks expresses it.
Hip Hop, which has always had the element of discourse (in which the lyrics can't just be judged as poetry or vocal instrumentation, because they're also carrying out a conversation and commentary ranging beyond the individual track), might appeal more to the listen-first, dance later (or at least at the same time) impulse, and R&B can be seen as the populist or commercial branch of that, which has then gone on to establish itself as a genre in its own right. And that, funnily enough, is sort of what happened when jazz begat jump jive for the dancers while the beboppers took things in a 'head' direction, and jump jive in turn begat rocking blues and old-style R&B, and from that we got rock'n'roll, soul and the rest.
So, as with all chart and club fodder, there's plenty of contemporary R&B that's dull, samey and that works the lowest common denominator to a depressing degree, but when the formula works, and we have Unpretty or Crazy In Love or Umbrella, it's a thing of almighty beauty.

ejaydee said...

Yeah, what he said.

Shoey said...

Yeah, well said Maysie & Ejay.

Have sucked the tunes into the shoephone, so they can be shuffled in with some other stuff. An Aalyah showed up on the morning commute & went down fairlly easily - so there may be hope. Anyhow, great thread.