Saturday, December 3, 2011

"...When It Comes To Love, Was A Time That Only The Insights Were Penetrating..."

Oversimplification is a slippery slope.

And not being much of a climber in the first place, I'm disinclined to attempt any ascent.

That said, I found what John Blake had to say in an article written for to be both simplistic and spot on.

The premise, that contemporary black music has replaced romance with rawness, innuendo with intercourse, is, by any reasonable measure, a valid one.

And while one generation's romance is often perceived by preceding generations as rawness, I don't think there's any getting around some starkly sociological observations that Blake makes.

Some excerpts...

"...Listening to black music today is depressing. Songs on today's urban radio playlists are drained of romance, tenderness and seduction. And it's not just about the rise of hardcore hip-hop or rappers who denigrate women.

Black people gave the world Motown, Barry White and "Let's Get It On." But we don't make love songs anymore.


"...Earth Wind & Fire keyboardist and founding member Larry Dunn says a new generation of black artists is more cynical because more come from broken homes and broken communities..."

"...Crack cocaine decimated black communities in the 1980s. The blue-collar jobs that gave many black families a foothold in the middle class began to disappear. Desegregation split the black community. Those with money and education moved to the suburbs. The ones left behind became more isolated.

Today, we have a black first family, but our own families are collapsing. A 2009 study from the Institute for American Values and the National Center on African American Marriages and Parenting at Hampton University in Virginia highlights the erosion.

The study found that while 70.3% of all black adults were married in 1970, that rate dropped to 39.6% by 2008. The study also showed that while 37.6% of black births were to unmarried parents in 1970, that figure soared to 71.6% by 2008.

Our music became as grim as those statistics. Singing about love now seems outdated...."

"...Something else also happened: Black people became more narcissistic, and so did our love songs.

There's been a lot written about the narcissism of young Americans. They don't want to pay their dues. They are self-absorbed -- tweeting, texting, posting asides on Facebook -- and they are constantly immersed in their private worlds.

This self-absorption has seeped into contemporary black love songs.

One of R&B's most popular current hits is "Quickie" by Miguel, who declares, "I don't wanna be loved. I want a quickie."

There's nothing wrong with singing about sex. Few songs are as sexually charged as Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On." And few singers can evoke bedroom heat like Al Green. But black men don't even bother to romance women in love songs anymore, says Kimberly Hines, editor-in-chief of SoulBounce, an online progressive urban music site.

Consider a recent Valentine's Day song by popular  artist Chris Brown called "No Bull S**t," in which he sings about inviting a woman over to his place at 3 in the morning because "you know I'm horny."

Then he sings to her to take off her clothes because "you already know what time it is" and orders her to "reach up in that dresser where them condoms is...."

"...A recent study of Billboard hits confirms the notion that wooing a woman is disappearing from modern R&B.

Psychology professor Gordon Gallup Jr. and student Dawn Hobbs studied the subject matter of the 174 songs that made the Billboard Top 10 in 2009. They analyzed three musical genres among the top-selling songs: R&B, country and pop.

The researchers at the University at Albany in New York found that R&B contained the most references to sex per song (an average of 16 sex-related phrases per song). The top three sexual themes in R&B songs were the singer's sex appeal, the singer's wealth as it relates to finding a partner, and descriptions of sex acts. A total of 19 song themes were examined.

The least-popular theme in R&B music was "courtship," while country music offered more songs about courtship than any other genre, the study said.

Music critic Ollison says men and women have objectified each other in modern R&B and whine "about not getting what they felt they deserved."

"It's a shame, because our desires don't change and we still want to be loved and open to someone, but the music we're sharing doesn't evoke it," Ollison says. "It's not about sharing. It's very narcissistic, sort of look at me...."

"...That narcissism hasn't just seeped into the songwriting. It's infected the process of recording R&B love songs, as well.

During the classic soul era of the '60s, '70s and '80s, making records was a communal experience. It was a time of great bands. Think of the album covers from that era -- they were crowded with musicians.

The ability to play well -- and with others -- was expected. But how many contemporary R&B artists can actually sing, write or play instruments?

Dunn, of Earth Wind & Fire, says he was playing professional engagements every day of the week by the time he was 15. There was only one prerequisite for being in a band.

"You had to play your butt off," he says.

"I got into music for one reason, and all the guys I knew did for the same reason. We wanted to be the best we could be. We didn't know you got paid. We were too young to be tripping on women. We didn't know what the bling-bling was."

What made the classic R&B love songs great wasn't just the singing or the lyrics. It was the music. The wicked groove the drummer and bassist unleash on Barry White's "Never Gonna' Give You Up," Dunn's jazzy keyboard riffs on "Reasons," the bittersweet saxophone accompaniment on Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones" -- it all still sounds good.

That musical depth is missing from contemporary R&B love songs. Funding for music programs has been cut from many schools, so kids often don't grow up learning how to play instruments.

Any wannabe singer with a mediocre voice can now sit home in his or her underwear and eat Doritos while cutting a song on a computer and post it on the Internet the next day.

"A lot of producers just do everything by computer and knock that song out. Musicians have gotten checked out of the equation...."

"...Toby Walker, creator of the soul music site Soulwalking, says many contemporary R&B artists can produce great love songs by changing the way they make music.

"These performers would hugely benefit by leaving the stilettos, makeup, mobile phones and management behind them, putting on a T-shirt and jeans, and retiring for a couple of months someplace with some real musicians, real instruments, and a recording studio," Walker says.

Some people may say it's not important if we stop singing about love, but I'm not so sure.

Black music isn't just for black folks; it's America's music. It's been that way for years. Black musicians who played the blues inspired rockers like Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones; contemporary hip-hop artists have as many white fans as black listeners.

What happens when millions of young listeners -- regardless of color -- learn about intimacy from songs that reduce love to reaching "up in that dresser where them condoms is"?

And what happens to black people if we can't sing about love?

Whenever I see a black couple doting on their children in public, I want to throw a ticker-tape parade. I know so few blacks who are married. How do we build families and raise children if we can't even stay together?

Music was never just about entertainment in the black community. It was about hope. From the spirituals that slaves sang to survive brutal racism to civil rights anthems like "We Shall Overcome," love of God, self and one another was the message in much of our music.

I wonder where a new generation will go to hear those songs that talk about striving and love.

I wonder if they will even know enough about their past to ask.

Where is the love?..."

Some months ago, I wrote a piece regarding the Enrique Iglesias club hit, "Tonight, I'm Lovin' You", a song which came in two versions, the second, less air played but, inevitably more club played, of the two being "Tonight, I'm F***in' You".

That piece can be found here...

My two cents, at the time, was that, regardless of any accusations of old fart fogey-ism, the blase' acceptance, not to mention enthusiastic endorsement, of the vaginal version was, at best, a sad commentary on the willingness, even desire, of young women in the culture to let themselves be reduced to little more than receptacles for the nearest erection.

And while I stand by my own original assertion, that oversimplifying something is risky business when coming to legitimate terms with that something, there remains a fine, yet visible, line between oversimplification and simple truth.

If popular music continues to be a reflection of the times in which it is created then any lawyer worth their salt could easily convince twelve reasonable people of a simple truth.

The heart of black music has been relocated to its crotch.

And, regardless of how hip, happening and/or hot it might be, that's more than just a little sad.

It's just that simple.

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