No Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke Aren’t Making Better R&B than Blacks

Just because something sounds right doesn’t mean that it is. Likewise, repetition doesn’t bolster credibility. So as much as I appreciate Tank trying to tackle the current state of R&B, all I can do is shake my head at what’s recently come out of his talented mouth.

Speaking with Black Hollywood Live Network, Tank addressed a number of issues he feels face contemporary R&B in an ever-changing music industry. Now, he wasn’t totally wrong when he noted how some artists – say, Rihanna – are often wrongly categorized as R&B despite their music having little rhythm or blues encompassed in its composition simply because the complexion is enough to make a connection. He’s also correct when he says this about Alicia Keys’ Girl On Fire Grammy winning Best R&B album despite it collecting dust at various Starbucks locations across the country: “Alicia Keys is very popular in the back room. It probably wasn’t even a matter of what the record sounded like or who influenced it.”

However, there are two points argued in that interview that both do the Nae Nae over my last two nerves. The first is, “We have to get back to making R&B for everybody. Not just for one place in time. Not just for the bedroom. Not just for the bathroom.”

Then came this: “We have to get back to that. Making that kind of music. ‘Happy.’ So we can sing on the Oscars, along with Pharrell, who’s… him, Robin Thicke, Justin Timberlake who are leading the charge in R&B music. We can’t hate! We can’t hate on what it is! The truth is what it is. And Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake are doing R&B music better than us. We need to catch up.”

Actually, I pretty much reserve the right to hate everything you just said, Tank, and all of the nonsense that has fueled their rise and given you a false sense of security in your assessment of your Black peers.

I’m not convinced that songs about sex and partying are the problem with why R&B has floundered overall in recent years. If you flip to any pop station, you’ll find plenty of sexual innuendo and ditties about tipping to a party. Sure, you could argue that there could be a bit more balance, but even the quickest scan of any of the R&B charts on Billboard will show there’s a wide array of representation of voices in terms of both topics and tonsils.

Or better yet, maybe you shouldn’t be basing your opinion solely on what’s terrestrial radio at all. Either way, there is plenty of good R&B music to find if you so desire.

You have newcomers like Mack Wilds, Sevyn Streeter, Jheno Aiko, August Alsnia, or any of the acts featured on last year’s Saint Heron compilation. None of those acts sound like the other – particular if you look past the singles and listen to their works in full. More established – Kelly Rowland, Ciara, Fantasia, John Legend, Janelle Monáe – all released solid efforts last year. As much as people bemoan reality TV, it has allowed artists like K. Michelle and Tamar Braxton second chances at stardom. Ditto for 1990s veterans such as Toni Braxton and SWV.

And then there’s Beyoncé and her last album.

Meanwhile, Robin Thicke released a so-so album led by a hugely popular single that borrows heavily lifting from Marvin Gaye while Justin Timberlake released two albums that were met with larger sales than Black acts, but reviews ranging from mix to widely panned. These may have enjoyable music, but they’re not leading the genre nor are they pushing it forward. The latter honors should go to more deserving artists like Miguel and Frank Ocean.

Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake are lauded for their ability to be white and convincingly duplicate our culture – to the praise of Black and white audiences alike. White people aren’t extended that courtesy to their Black counterparts.

As for sales and chart positions, focus less on creativity and more so on the overall declining sales climate and the decimation of Black radio. You can also add the role of single sales, which was never really a big thing for Black consumers, to the list. With all that in mind, you can see why that despite R&B being just as good and diverse as it has been in years, commercially it’s still not able to compete.

Tank, I enjoy your music and find you to be the reason God created arms i.e. so people could throw their draws at you. Nevertheless, when it comes to Justin and Robin, the white man’s ice ain’t cooler, it’s just more commercial. And that isn’t our fault.

P.S. Uh, okay.

Michael Arceneaux is from the land of Beyoncé, but now lives in the city of Master Splinters. Follow him at @youngsinick.

 

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  • Lizzie

    There are so many great R&B artists out that aren’t getting the recognition they deserve. RT and JT are straddling the fence. They’re R&B when it benefits them and pop when it pays off so I don’t really consider them genuine R&B artists. There are artists out like Sebastian Mikael, Adrian Marcel, Jhene Aiko, Melanie Fiona, Elle Varner and Emeli Sande who are often overlooked. More well known artists like John Legend, Raheem DeVaugn, Ledisi, Anthony Hamilton and Maxwell don’t get the recognition they deserve in my opinion

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  • Brad Cowan

    I’d just like to say, as a white dude, when I read the headline I immediately agreed. Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke making better R&B than those who invented it? Get real. R&B to me are the songs of love, loss, and a little bit of soul that us honkies can’t even touch. Alicia Keys and John Legend bring so much more substance to the table than any pop artist could hope for.

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