While listening to new R&B female artists such as Summer Walker, Alex Isley, Teyana Taylor, and H.E.R. to name a few, the question pops into my head….. “Who’s our generations R&B Queen?”
Thinking of this question also makes me think of the great R&B artists that came before my generation such as, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Janet and Mary J. Blige to name a few greats who’ve also paved the way for our generations artist. At what point does flattery become imitation and then eventually a slap in the face when what is praised about new artists today seems to be focused on samples of older artist and not necessarily “talent” or singing ability? If R&B today is focused so heavily on samples, is it safe to say our generations R&B queen could possibly be an artist of the past?
R&B is defined as, a form of popular music of African American origin that arose during the 1940s from blues, with the addition of driving rhythms taken from jazz. It was an immediate precursor of rock and roll. Immediately artist such as, Teyana Taylor, H.E.R., Jazmine Sullivan and Alex Isley come to mind for their talent to produce, write as well as compose concisely as an artist. The four women I named are known for atmospheric, raw and emotional, sometimes alternative or avant-garde R&B, but also traditional R&B aspects. For example song progression, songs mainly about relationships, and often incorporating soul and a little bit of funk.
Teyana Taylor is as traditional as she is avant-garde in her approach to making R&B music. Teyana’s approach to videography (as a producer) and even choreography is very 90’s R&B but still with hints of modern and avant-garde influence. Teyana Taylor not only writes and produces but has a way of making each song feel raw, emotional, or exciting. Teyana accomplishes this daunting task on track as well as live. She is known for her ability to dance and sing live and is also know as all around great artist.
Alex Isley, the daughter of Ernie Isley is a singer, songwriter, and producer who started classical vocal training at the age of 12 and later went on to attend the LA County High School for the Arts. Since Alex’s first self-written and produced debut EP, “The Love/Art Memoirs,” which she released in Spring 2012. Alex Isley has chill modern sometimes jazzy approach to making R&B and has consistently made EP’s, LP’s, and singles since 2012.
Jazmine Sullivan, singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her debut album, Fearless, was released in 2008 to commercial and critical success. It is certified gold in the US. The album contains her debut single “Need U Bad”, produced by Missy Elliott. Jazmine is know for her ability to flawlessly run and riff multiple octaves and effortlessly transitioning from chest voice, head voice, and falsetto. So in the discussion of R&B Queens, why is it so often we don’t consider women like Teyana, Alex, or Jazmine in the discussion of talented artist worthy to be a leader in their genre? With the amount of talent that even one of these women possess, it baffles me as to why these artist aren’t bigger or more mainstream.
Sometimes traditional R&B enthusiasts can be a bit unfair to modern R&B artist. Some traditional R&B enthusiasts will often make a mold of what an R&B artist should be and if a modern artist doesn’t fit, they aren’t accepted even though their music is widely popular with their age demographic. For example Summer Walker.
Summer Walker came into the industry with a rags to riches flare as she went from cleaning homes, to working as a dancer, to winning Top R&B Female Artist and Best New R&B Artist in 2020. Summer is a singer, songwriter, and composer. Critics are often harsh on Summer Walker for her emotionless and unenthusiastic live performances, although live Summer sounds just like the track. Not all R&B artist dance and flip around on stage, and some R&B artist like to whisper sing. Which leads me to my next artist, Jhene Aiko.
Jhene Aiko is known for her soft vocals, vulgar lyrics, and expressive sound. Jhene is often criticized for these same reasons. The whisper R&B girls is the category Jhene is often put in due to her soft but very flexible vocals. Although her vocals are soft, Jhene often displays her vibrato, runs, riffs, and falsetto on tracks as well as live. Jhene incorporates a lot of unusual instruments and alternative sounds in her music which is often seen as “not R&B” by traditional R&B enthusiast, although her music is widely praised and streamed by modern R&B enthusiast. In the discussion of what is R&B i think its important to bring up sampling.
I honestly see sampling as a form of appreciation but i do think something needs to be added if it is going to be sampled by an artist. Too often modern R&B artist take melodies, and sometimes full songs and call it their own. I look at it as a slap in the face the original artist who’s done the hard work of composing, writing, and or producing. Modern R&B artist are often compared and criticized for being too similar looking and or sounding to their predecessor. I think these are reasons why modern R&B artist have gotten a bad rap by critics and traditional R&B enthusiast, but we have to also remember… “no ones really original when you really think about it, It’s all been done before just tweaked over and over again”. – JayKhaos. Take Teyana Taylor and Jhene Aiko for instance. Teyana is heavily influenced by Janet Jackson but yet Teyana is an artist in her own right. The same is also true for Jhene, most would say she sounds like Sade but her writing style is a departure from Sade’s chill melodic style.
I’ve said all this to say, as a music lover in general I think the question of who’s the best of what genre is irrelevant when we have such diverse artists with wide ranges of talent. Some artists dance and sing, whistle riff and run flawlessly, and some artist don’t dance, or belt, or play an instrument. But all their talents and contributions to R&B should be appreciated as we don’t have many new female artist in the genre. Why does their have to be just one great artist when we have so many great artist? I think the title of our generations R&B Queen should go to all female R&B artist. The music industry is very dicey considering shady backdoor deals and tricky fine print contracts not to mention the struggles black women face in music industry, we should praise and acknowledge these women for thriving in an industry that is all but accepting, kind, or fair.
The day after I started writing this, Teyana Taylor announced she’s retiring music because she feels her music is unappreciated.
Written by -ISON-