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.


  • Ask_Me

    Tank is right. These white guys are going hard these days. They sound good. They look good. Their R&B isn’t filled with sex. It is fun and full of love. I can listen to it and not feel disgusted. Their personal lives aren’t jacked up. They don’t portray themselves as thugs. Their image isn’t jacked up (i.e., a never ending string of babymamas and out of wedlock children). They come across as more likeable overall. It’s safe to say white guys owned MAINSTREAM (key word) R&B in 2013.

  • Laura Charles

    The real issue here is that Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake are getting the opportunity to write, sing and perform R&B and artists like Usher and Trey Songs are singing club songs about the same thing over and over again. What ever happened to singing about love?

    Maybe when this fascination with strip club culture dies down, we will get better music from singers and rappers. Hopefully.

    Anyway, I have been wondering why JT and RT get to sit at pianos and sing R&B music and get praised for it while black mainstream singers only sell when they sing about nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, Eric Benet, Dwele, Raheem Devaughn, Tank and others are out there making music still and performing. However, the mainstream singers on the same popularity level as JT and RT just aren’t getting the same kind of material. The writing, production, and music is not on the same level.

    I agree with Tank, I’m tired of hearing songs about sex, the club and the strip club.

  • Usagi

    R&B music has always sucked, anyway. White people can have it. Let’s bring back the Rock n Roll(:

  • SMH

    For some reason the young black artists who actually sing are only putting out albums where they sing about love and sex in a vacuum, and that vacuum is always the strip club or cheap groupie love. Take Jamie Foxx for example, beautiful voice and everyone was hoping he’d make an album after his sitcom ended b/c on his show when he sang it was R&B, and then he made two or three albums and was relegated to singing that teeny booper in the club, getting drunk, stripper autotune urban pop music.

    So who is making the decision that the Justins and Robins can sing the “soulful” sensual, fun, deeper than the strip club type R&B and the black guys have to stay singing that gutter R&B where the lyrics are more akin to having cold, unfeeling, mechanical relations with a prostitute instead of the happy feels good to be in love type R&B that many of us crave to hear again? Maybe they aren’t singing about it anymore b/c they don’t believe in it anymore and their music tells the story or maybe we aren’t buying their music when they do sing what some consider “soft” R&B. Why are black producers clamouring to write and produce for white artists only to give them an R&B sound b/c like rap (looking at you Macklemore), for mainstream it’s only good or palatable if it’s wrapped in a white package.

    Tank, Tyrese, Ginuwine, Jamie, Reuben, and a host of other black male artists have beautiful voices and they either haven’t had success with strictly R&B albums unless they go the route of producing albums that have a pop/urban sound to them.

    Luther Vandross was a success not b/c he was mainstream but because we loved and supported and bought his music. The same could be said for the Isleys, O’Jays, and others. We were their base and they made music that we wanted to hear but nowadays that’s not enough for these artists they are all seeking mainstream appeal and in typical fashion mainstream likes the sound but they don’t like the look of that sound unless it’s a mirror image of them.

  • noirluv45

    None of them, Black or White sound good to me. That’s why I ONLY listen to old school music.

    JT and RT are NOTHING like Gino Vanelli, Teena Marie, Boz Scaggs, and countless other “blue-eyed soul” singers who truly mastered the art.

    I’m sorry, but JT and RT only get the attention because Whites love seeing White folks doing anything Black…actually, so do some Black folks.

  • Anonin

    If JT and RT are doing it ‘better’ than black artist its because they’re backed with the most prominent black producers in the industry Pharell and Timberland :l

    So no, its still black people dong it best we’re just giving the most to white people for money.

  • nOva

    The mainstream will only serve your interests to the extent that your interests remain profitable. Tank should know better. I don’t understand Black folks’ insistence upon declaring R&B or Hip-Hop “dead,” or saying “there’s no good music being made anymore,” or “there’s no good R&B/Soul being made by Black artists,” when they are the very ones relying on terrestrial radio and BET/MTV to consume it. You don’t get to whine about the state of Black music when your entire exposure to it is filtered through mainstream, corporate, typically white-owned channels. You don’t get to “demand” more from Black artists when there are plenty of Black artists under your nose making music you refuse to expose yourself to, because you’re too concerned about what’s “current” and who’s “relevant” and whatever excuses you make which usually means “co-signed by white people.”. You don’t get to whine about the current state of music when you are the FIRST one to go to a club packed wall-to-wall with a bunch of millennials dancing to Rihanna and Drake, when you had the option to hit a spot with a skilled, fearless DJ who doesn’t perform from within a mainstream bubble. There is TOO much music being made and too many ways to access it for people to be this lazy. And on top of that, these white singers usually have Black people writing, producing, signing backup, dancing for them, etc. just to make their white behinds look cooler. Stop making excuses. If you love Black people making Black music then consume it and stop giving life to this myth that Black artists aren’t doing it when they are.

  • shantafabulous

    If Tank thinks being on award shows and selling records makes JT and Robin Thicke better then what’s to argue? They’re on award shows and selling records. They’re also attached to everyday things like Target. If he wants that type of thing for himself or his contemporaries then something does have to change because they’re not there. Now is singing about sex /or the club a problem? Maybe.

    It seems to me that Tank thinks the genre is stagnant and it might be. Save for Beyoncé and Janelle Monae I didn’t buy any R&B last year. Kelly Rowland had a decent album but the last half of the album is where she shined but Kisses Down Low ended up being the single.

    The big label Black R&B artists are chasing a success that seems to require a club hit but that unfortunately lends itself to being throwaway music. So when Robin or Justin come in with something more memorable they seem better. Now better is subjective but facts are facts, JT and RT are on TV and have endorsements. If they want that then they’re going to have to try something else because what they’re doing now isn’t getting it.

  • Really?

    Really? Lol. Really??

    Their music isn’t filled with sex and raunchiness? I have to laugh because you clearly don’t know what you’re talking about. They don’t act up? I guess you missed all the recent press on Robin Thicke and Justin Beiber.

    By your logic, Black R&B artists don’t look good, don’t sound good, and are involved in all kinds of deviance. That’s right. Maxwell, D’Angelo and Prince.. all those reprobate men straight up suck. Lol. But I see clear a pattern for staning for white dudes while bashing Black men from you, so this is no surprise.

    Like someone else acutely pointed out: It’s over, let it go.

  • Really?

    I like your comment, but the bottomline is that it’s a white country, and whites are more marketable.

    Robin Thicke, JT, Bieber, Macklemore, and even Daft Punk killed it in the past year. What’s the common denominator in all of those? Black men. Black men make their music.

  • Lola

    As a black woman why should a give a eff about hip-hop? What has hip-hop done for black women besides calling them hoes, b**ches, and objectify them as something that only exist for the males enjoyment.

    I am not showing any support or solidarity towards men – who think I am a piece of azz, make jokes about rape and in their lyrics call me b**ch, n-word and what-not – just because they are black. So I couldn’t care less about the “plight” of rappers and hip-hop singers whose thunder is stolen by white men. I have made the decision to give up on hip-hop
    - If you call women b**ches, H**s … I am boycotting you.
    - If you use the n-word I am boycotting you.
    - If you are homophobic, I am boycotting you.
    - If you glamorize drugs or violence – I am boycotting you
    - If you disrespect black history, slavery or black icons, I am boycotting you.
    - If you make comments or jokes about rape, date rape, domestic violence,I am boycotting you.
    - If you perform in you panties, hot pants or leotard, I am boycotting you.
    - If you slag off women for being too dark, or nappy head in need of a perm,I am boycotting you.
    -if you make a duet with some sex pest, predator who grooms teenage girls, I am boycotting you too.

    Now I know that there are probably responsible, talented hip-hop singers but I can’t be bored to listen to all the trash in order to find one gem. Maybe it’s time that responsible hip-hop artists, who are conscious about the impact of their lyrics and image took their distance from trashy, pornlike hip-hop.

  • Nikkoli

    I hope the same goes for R&B, Pop, Rock, Reggae, Heavy Metal, etc…all of those same elements exist in that music too.

  • Harlem81

    So agree.
    I can’t feel bad for mainstream r&b or hip hop lack of originality. I am so over it.

    Sales are dropping. Good.

  • ImABlackPoem

    Tank has a point – Black artists have to sing about more than sex and drinking in the club, if they expect to “reclaim” and produce good R&B music.

    Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke are bad examples of the good R&B that’s being produced.

    There are lots of white artists are making extremely good, well-constructed, positive R&B music like Daley, Quadron, Mayer Hawthorne, Jessie Ware, and James Blake, but they’re all independent artists and a lot of people have no idea who they are. The Black artists who are making the same type of music (like Jesse Boykins III, Szjerdene, Eric Roberson, Aloe Blacc, Queen Emily, BJ the Chicago Kid, and Rashad) are independent as well and no one really knows who they are either.

    We have avoid this mainstream junk by boycotting it, explore a little more, and dig deep to find the really good music from Black and white artists.

    Everyone has Pandora but no one uses it to find good, underground music. It seems like no one really likes music anymore, they like the feeling they get from nonsense.

  • ImABlackPoem

    I agree with you Lola.

    What’s so interesting about Tank’s comment to me, is that his most recent CD with Ginuwine and Tyrese includes calling women bitches (they have a song that says “it ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none” – what?!) and they have songs that don’t describe the power of Black relationships.

    Tank is the last person that should be commenting on this issue, since he hasn’t made many positive, Black R&B songs. Take a look at his catalogue. It rivals some rap CDs.

  • 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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