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Published:January 24th, 2008 11:27 EST
The Return of Rhythm and Blues

The Return of Rhythm and Blues

By LaShelle Turner

Hip-hop`s reign on popular African American music seems to becoming to a slow end. With all the controversy surrounding its content and its somewhat juvenile outlook on love and relationships, many urban music listeners are changing their musical taste. According to Nielsen Soundscan and other music industry sources, the sale of rap has decreased more than 30% since 2006.

Many of today`s most popular songs have a mature flavor to them. Rhythm and Blues or R&B music is making a comeback.

Mary J. Blige`s newest CD, Growing Pains, sold more than 600,000 copies its first week without the standard breakout number one mainstream hit. Her first singles "Just Fine` and "Work That`, may not have reached the top of the charts, but it became a personal favorite to Black adults, especially Black women. The up-tempo songs became anthems of self-esteem because of their overlying positive messages of being the person you want to be.

Alicia Keys new number one charting CD, As I Am, is riding strong with two hits, "No One` and "Like You Never See Me Again`, received regular play on both radio and music video channels. Both singles made it to number one on the R&B charts. And like Mary J. Blige, her album is firmly planted on the Billboard Top Ten.

Keisha Cole`s, Just Like Me, is also a favorite on urban and R&B radio. Like Mary, she uses a mix of soul and hip-hop to appeal to music lovers of all ages. Sultry singles by Trey Songz, "Can`t Help But Wait` and J. Holliday`s "Suffocate` also reflect the growing strength of soul music on the airways.

So, why the sudden turn in taste?

All these artists reflect a mature sound that has been missing in urban music for years. Their strength lies in their ability to s[u]ccessfully build on universal themes of love, devotion and inner strength.

Songs of love and monogamy are being embraced after years of hip- hop music proudly boasting of casual and non-committal s[e]xual relationships. After ten years of almost comical raps about using money, cars and clothes to entice women, African American music lovers are turning their ears to the sweet sounds of love. R&B male balladeers are actually serenading the object of their affection rather than shouting at them with lewd vulgar words.

The return of R&B also brings the strong Black female voice to music, which has been almost ignored in hip-hop and pop music. True R&B female artists like Jill Scott and Angie Stone had found themselves overshadowed on urban charts by more commercial and gimmicky female singing acts, like Fergie and the Pussycat Dolls. Now, soulful singers like Chrisette Michelle are receiving both critical and media attention for their classy vocals and lyrics. The music is becoming the focus, rather the artist.

Though R&B is enjoying a revival with Black music lovers, radio programmers still prefer sure-fire hit songs. This is why hip-hop has s[u]ch great commercial appeal; it is a proven moneymaking genre. R&B has never been thought of as a great revenue-producing music sector. Many R&B acts still look for crossover s[u]ccess to the pop charts.

In the 90`s, R&B happily adopted rap into its world. The soul and rap artists learned they could reach the top of the charts and make money together. Most R&B songs had a hip-hop verse or two nestled between the bridge and the chorus. Then hip-hop became a commercial s[u]ccess, while R&B music sales have lagged and declined over the years.

The tide seems to be turning. Today, almost every rap song has a popular R&B singer belting out a catchy hook. This week, R&B albums hold several of the top spots on the Billboard top album charts. Artists are singing for their supper again and royalty checks. Hip hop artists like Snoop Dogg and T-Pain are getting into the act by reminding us of the smooth R&B songs of acts like Roger Troutman in the 80`s by imitating his computerized mellow singing voice. Urban radio listeners and music buyers are returning to their soulful roots.

Yet, much of R&B is still virtually ignored on Top 40 pop stations around the country. Like in the 90s, it is still a major hindrance to its lack of crossover s[u]ccess. Case in point, Justin Timberlake`s "End of Time` single. The song was a hit on R&B/Urban Radio, rising to the top of urban charts. To this day, the song received virtually no airplay on Top 40 Pop radio stations, which chose to play "Summer Love` instead. Even the remix with Beyonce could not provide it with cross-over appeal. Nevertheless, "End of Time` still remains a favorite of Black radio listeners.

The record industry should take note. The "get a hit quick` formula, which has been in operation over the past decade, is no longer working the music buying public. Hip-hop, like other forms of popular music, started to sound like it was churned out from a factory rather than from a musician`s soul. Artists became carbon copies of what was ever popular at the moment. Unlike in the late 80s and much of 90s, rap has begun to lose its identity and sense of diversity.

With their purchasing power, music lovers are proving they want and need quality music artists. A singer should have more than a pretty face or a catchy hook. They should have substance and above all, musical talent.