Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Has Beyoncé outgrown Contemporary R&B?

Beyoncé: You know, I feel like the only way I can be around as long as I pray that I can be around is to always push the envelope. And it's really exciting that now people are allowing music to just be music... and R&B and hip-hop artists are collaborating with different types of artists. Hopefully we can just continue to grow and just step outside of hip-hop or rap or rock or whatever and it can all just be good music.

With this quote from the Queen of Pop & Soul, I begin this new entry. Also, we all know that Friday is the anniversary of a death that music and entertainment fans still feel: The King Of Pop. I was telling someone on Bwboard.net that it is still fresh in my mind and a hard thing to get over. He is truly missed in music and my prayer is that all of his family, loved ones as well as the fans(of which I am one) will continue to heal from this tragic. We miss you, MJ. Long live the King.

With that in mind, I think that if he was alive, and debuted in a similar to what Beyoncé has done in her career, people would ask him the same question. If looked at on the surface, you might say, Yes she has. One example is last year's BET Awards. Her performance of Avé Maria was the most distinctive performance of the night. In fact, Jamie Foxx and QuestLove from the Roots, after the performance spoke on how brave she was to even think to do such a performance. And of course, she got a lot of feedback from it. Some of it positive, a lot of it negative. I thought it was beautiful and sincere, and I especially enjoy her rendition of Schubert's Avé Maria.

However, as beautiful as the performance was, one of the complaints was that they wanted her perform a song that would have people shake her butt. It's a shame because it wasn't about her, it was about MJ. Still, on Bwboard.net, one of the questions was, Has she outgrown the BET Awards? That's an interesting question considering that the BET Awards is to Contemporary R&B what the Country Music Awards is to Country Music. The way she stood out performing and the way she conducted herself artistically in IA..SF era especially, would make you think on the surface that she has.

Then we have the interview of Kim Thompson, one of her drummers from her band. She said some interesting things considering Bey's growth in terms of musicianship and the overall growth that the music industry should have, especially with regards to Jazz being a big focal point for that growth. Here is the video: ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E29oE1jtQKE) Let me say that I learned in those few minutes about where Bey is progressing musically than I have in all the interviews that she has ever done. And she continues to grow musically and expand herself as she progresses in her career, it would seem that she is outgrowing the boundaries that Contemporary R&B has set for artists of that genre and would leave it altogether eventually. So we think.

But with Beyoncé, a lot of times things aren't always what it seems. Some people tend to look at surface stuff with regards to her music. As deep as try to be, they don't really think outside the box when it comes to her art. Perfect example, one of the things that critics said when reviewing IA...SF was that they wanted more of "Sasha Fierce" and less of "Beyoncé". Talk about typecasting and putting an artist inside a box. (BTW, even Sasha Fierce wasn't all uptempo "club bangers", which is probably the point of why the CD was arranged in that way). Another issue was that when critics reviewed DIL, an album that is considered one of the most influential albums from the Rock and Roll Hall Fame, they felt that there were too many ballads. Then music fans wonder why the industry is as stuck as it is. Forget quality of music, if it is not in the mindset of what the critic thinks of the artist they are reviewing, they run with that rather truly judging the music unbiasly.

Okay, I am digressing a little but it all comes back down to this: Has Beyoncé outgrown Contemporary R&B? I would say, No. To me, Contemporary R&B is to Beyoncé what milk is to a baby. Let me explain that. When a child is born, they are weaned on milk and baby food because they can't be fed anything else. They can't handle it. Then as they grow up, their culinary palate expands. Especially as adults, and obviously milk isn't the only thing that they drink but no one stop drinking milk because of this. They continue to drink as well as other things. It's the same way with Beyoncé as far as Contemporary R&B. My conviction is that Contemporary R&B IS Beyoncé and as she expands, the genre expands also and it opens the door for artists in that genre to expand their sound also and with that we get quality music and the industry as a whole gets better.

One of my favorite videos is the Halo Behind The Scenes. I think most of us have seen it, so I will get right to the point. One of the most interesting things that she said was that because of the Drums that she added to Halo that the song itself is a Hip Hop Song. Actually to quote her, a great mixture of R&B and Hip Hop. I would have never figured that song to be a hip hop but then again, if this song can be(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEUX-HYRtUA), then yes Halo can be too. The point is, as she said in the quote that I posted at the beginning, if an artist wants to grow, progress, mature and leave a legacy that will even outlive them, these are the things that an artist must be willing to do.

Don't get me wrong, there are artists who stay withn the framework of what their genre is and that's cool. But also, you have artists like Aretha doing Jazz and even substituting for Pavorotti at the Grammys, Diana Ross covering Billie Holiday, even Mary J. Blige doing an Jazz album. An artist will go out of their comfort zone sometimes, even away from what their fans think of them for progression and growth. Even though it is still early in Bey's career, she has 3 albums that are going to be looked in terms of the legacy of her genre. Contemporary R&B is a young genre, and the Grammys have been awarding it for only 8 years. Yet Bey is the only 3 time winning in that Grammy category.

I believe when looking back at those albums and the legacy that it has left for that genre, one of the things that historians are going to look at is how Beyoncé with those albums set the course for the genre and with it have not only influenced her peers but others after her. Contemporary R&B won't be bound by rigid structures of what the genre should be about, and that's a great thing. That's what the genre should be about. It's what MJ did, and as I said, he is one of the pioneers of this genre. Beyoncé is a product of his legacy, and one of his musical daughters. If people want to truly honor him, then we honor those who are carrying on his legacy musicially, such as she is doing.

RIP Michael Joseph Jackson
(August 29 1959-June 25, 2009)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why Beyonce is a soul singer.

It's a topic that I have wanted to speak on for a while. It's very controversial. Every time when I get into a discussion of her music, it's always, "She doesn't have a lot of depth to her music. We don't know her. She don't show her human side.". Now, it is true that she is a pop artist. No one will ever say anything else different. She's unapologetically commercial. But I think that people love to use her family background(like the fact that she hasn't lived the ghetto) and the fact that her sound, at least the perception of her sound, is all about club and party songs and nothing else.

It's the kind of statement that Sasha Frere Jones made about her(She is also a strange and brilliant musician. Young black female singers rarely get past the red rope and into the Genius Lounge—the moody, the male, and the dead crowd that room. http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/musical/2009/02/09/090209crmu_music_frerejones) that fuels the perception of her. And then finally, if a pop singer is black, then there is this venom against them from much of the black community. And seeing articles like these: http://www.beyondchron.org/articles/Beyonc_Embodies_Soulless_Starbucking_of_Music_Industry_7778.html
from bloggers who have nothing on their agenda but show how "deep" they are, I feel that it is time to post my mind on this.

First of all, Bey is influenced by many genres of music. She is as likely to have Shuggie Otis in her Ipod as she is to have Coldplay. She is as influenced by Aretha and Mary as she is by Barbra and Karen Carpenter. She is as likely to sing a club-banger as she is to sing a big band influenced musical. That's what she is and that is what makes her sincere and soulful. I say this because I hear too many times how certain artists are "real" because they put "hearts on their sleeves", and they allow us to enter in their "real lives". Reality shows are a way to get people to think like that. Look at how many celebs especially artists who have them. It makes their fans feel that they are apart of them and it makes feel their music. Or so they say.

It's all contrived. And if it isn't, do we need to know all of their personal lives and their problems? I say no. I personally feel that a musician makes music for the audience that they are trying to reach, not to "exercise their demons" on wax. Because at the end of the day, when an artist makes songs for that reason, those demons are still there. It will take more than music to do so. But not to mention, labels encourage artists to do this so that it will sell records. They know that an artist's fanbase need to find a connection to the artist in order to keep them interested.

Now what does I am saying have to do with Beyoncé being a soul-singer you ask: Everything. I am convinced people don't listen to her music catalogue. I saw a thread on Single Ladies on the net, complaining that it didn't have a melody and harmonies. And I just SMH. She's doing "Call and Respond"(that a technique that is Gospel influenced) harmonies with her voice in the beginning of the song. I ask myself when I hear some of these viewpoints are we listening to the same woman singing? It's like they listen to the beats and not to the voice or what the lyrics say.

What she does do, is what Michael Jackson did when he was at his best: Bring black culture to the mainstream. The woman is as likely to do a "Soul-Clap" as she is to do the Uh-oh dance(African Influenced btw). And though her vocal stylings has many influences, which is pop in nature, her timbre especially fits funk inspired songs. Look at what a blog said about Bey's greatness, concerning funk: There is a world of difference between being a good soul singer and a good funk singer. Mariah Carey, for example, is a good sweet soul singer, but if she were to suddenly start grunting into the mic and demanding snare kicks from the drummer, her people would rush the stage within seconds to drag her off to the mad house. Presumed breakdown. She hasn’t got the funk. Sadly, neither have many of today’s fine young singers, with the possible exceptions of Beth Ditto, Mary J, Beyonce and that’s about it. Even the greatest soul singer of them all, Aretha Franklin, doesn’t quite have the funk chops to be a BOLD SOUL SISTER. http://www.interestment.co.uk/2009/07/13/interestments-top-four-bold-soul-sisters/

Do you see this? And Bey is influenced by Aretha. Crazy in Love is one of her signature songs and that's funk inspired. Most of B'day brings the funk also. And Funk is a big part of Soul Music. James Brown would approve of what Bey does especially concerning that genre. You don't have to "sing the blues" to have soul. There are different interpretations and flavors of soul music. I don't need her to be "Tracy Chapman and/or Cris Williamson" to feel her passion in songs. She interprets very well with her voice and is a voice that has encouraged a LOT OF YOUNG WOMEN, especially with her music. Tell all of them she has no soul whatsoever. That's her audience and demographic. No offense to white men, but you're not her audience, and you're not going to fully grasp why people feel Bey's music.

Bey's vocal phrasing is VERY much influenced by Gospel. I told you about the "Call and Respond", she also does growls, squalls, wails, and especially her melismas. Some of it is opera influenced, but much(most of it really) of it is Gospel influence also. Because she has been exposed to different art forms of music, she phrasing vocally around the music that she does. Like for Baby Boy, because when she performs, she uses an Arabic sound, she will use melismatic phrasing that is Arabic Inspired.

So she understands "soul music" and like MJ did, brings it to them mainstream because soul music is a big part of what pop culture is all about. It is no coincidence that she recorded a song called Black Culture, sampling a Michael Jackson song. Hip Hop(black music) is as much a part of Bey's song as anything else in her music catalogue. If she has no soul, then Alicia Keys, who is just as commercial as Bey could ever be, has none either. Let's call a spade, a spade. So those who want Beyonce to be their definition of what a soul singer is, need to stop it. If you don't or won't like her music because she don't fit in your "soul-singers" box, then fine. But whether you like it or not, she's a big part of land-scape of soul music. Especially with regards to Urban Rhythmic music. In fact, I will leave you with this quote from Ann Powers who review Single Ladies when it first came out: Her new club banger, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," elaborates on "Irreplaceable's" theme of love as sport, if not war; sounding a lot like a Destiny's Child song, it has Beyoncé doing call-and-response with her backup singers over a rump-shaking beat provided by TheDream and Tricky Stewart. More than most female singers, Beyoncé understands the funky art of singing rhythmically, and this is a prime example.

All hail the Queen of Pop and Soul.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Beyoncé's Next Album Era: The Era that will set the tone for the 2010s

Instead of doing part 3, which will be sometime next week, this is my blog entry. The IA...SF era is still going strong(still on the charts though it is like it going to leave it...it's at #198 now). It's crazy when a video from a song that was already released(Why Don't You Love Me) and is almost 2 years old can still get this kind of buzz, especially from the bloggers. You have their "stans"(I put that in quotes because much of the time, they are just "rooting for the underdog" to take "replace" Bey), going mad and foaming at the mouth like they are possessed by a demon because they are afraid that the video will take shine away from the artist they are rooting for. *SMH at their tomfoolery*

All of this while the woman is on break. It confirms to me that the industry is ripe for Bey to take the industry into the next decade with the kind of music and showmanship that only she can bring. Looking at her musical catalogue, for her genre especially, she has been its standard-bearer as well as a pioneer. The freshness that Bey approaches with her music, sets herself miles apart from those who are supposedly her peers. In fact, they look up to her for inspiration and direction musicially and showmanship wise. Even if they don't want to admit it.

So what does that mean? It means that Bey will once again be the one who infuses energy and direction, just like she did with B'day at a time when Contemporary R&B especially was extremely formulaic(a couple of club-bangers to sell the album, one or two mid-tempos and the rest ballads because that's consider "real R&B") and even with Sasha Fierce with fusing different genres such as Folk Music, stripping down her vocal arrangements(On the I AM CD) into Contemporary R&B; Hip-Pop Soul as it's subgenre. A genre where vocal tracks are extremely important. That's quite a challenge and I believe she is up to it.

One of the things that I believe she will do is bring her fabulous band---Suga Mama---into the studio. Even Bibi, who is her band director, talked about how Bey in IA...SF used more guitars than on her two previous recordings: Totally! Her new album has more guitar on it but the previous album, that we did for the Experience tour, the B’Day album .. there is no guitar on that album. It’s all key-guitar, which was really cool for me because I got to come into the situation, write my own guitar parts and do what I wanted to do. She has never said she didn’t like it, so that was really cool. http://iwontstfu.com/index.php/bibi-mcgill-beyonces-musical-director-interview/

To me, that this is part of the natural progression of Bey's music that has been going on since she was in Destiny's Child. One of the first articles on her by Sasha Frere Jones said that from her own lips, she was listening(studying) Miles Davis(Horn) and Fela Kuti(Sax). DIL and B'day was horn heavy in sound, especially. But not as much as with IA..SF. So I can see her using SM, to fuse both the guitar sound that Bibi and Divinity bring so well and bringing back those horns along with the saxs and pretty giving even more of a big band sound to Hip Pop Soul.

Instrumentation has always been a big part of what Beyoncé is about and this is the genre that is ripe for what Bey brings to the table. More importantly, SM is ready and this little step will be the most bold step for Hip Pop Soul, especially. Now maybe she won't do that. Maybe she will take another baby step toward that. I don't know. But I can see the progression and I am very confident that whether it is the next era, or the era after that one, she will take that step. The industry is ripe for it, and she has a great understanding for what the industry needs at the time also. Just like with B'day and just like IA...SF. All by being herself as an artist.

Also, I see an appreciation from the indie label artists, the kind that would frown on any other artist who does the music that Bey does. For example, Kevin Barnes from Of Montreal, already said that he has a song for her even if she don't want it. *LOL* This opens the door for her to use new blood and gives her an opportunity to fuse even more things into the sound that she has already established. Bey has an electic and varied taste in music, so this is something that she would embrace. I could see her tackling Grunge Music(for example) and fusing into her Urban Rhythmic Sound.

Not only does she have the musicianship to do it, but she also has the respect of the industry to make it work sincerely, without losing the foundation of who she is musically. That's the definition of progression and growth. It's not about completely changing your image, your sound to look as if you're re-inventing yourself, copying the Madonna playbook to show that you are growing artistically.

One of the problems with today's Contemporary R&B, especially Hip Pop, is that you have too many producers feeling themselves. Look at the Dream crying because people aren't appreciating his CDs like he thinks they should and he says he is no longer recording. *Waves GoodBye happily* Look how egotistical Timbaland is. He had the nerve to say that he was going to do Bey's whole album (the album that we now know as Sasha Fierce). Forget that Beyoncé always work with various producers so that you don't bog her down with a specific producer who has their signature sound where she can put her stamp on her songs. LOL. So definitely didn't sound like something that Bey would do(having a producer do her whole album). Especially with something as stale and trendy as his sound.

And I am not going to get into Ryan Tedder's antics with the whole Halo/Already Gone mess. *SMH* These "hit-makers" love themselves too much to realize that when you write/compose/produce a song for an artist, it's about the artist, not you. I am not saying that she shouldn't work with producers. Absolutely not. Bey works well with producers and with demos add the missing ingredient that the songs need. In fact, there are producers like Rodney Jerkins who said that he has song specifically for her. I approve because his ego is not big like theirs. I also have no problem with Amanda Ghost, either for example. They work well together. But I see her, especially with the love that she is getting from producers who aren't mainstream, fusing their sound with theirs and with them combined with Suga Mama in the studio creating something that will shock the ears of everyone who hears the CD.

Not that I need her to do those things. LOL!!!! But as the trend setter that she is, I believe this is the direction she is going. I had a feeling that when she did Irreplaceable, that she would kind of go in the direction that she did with what is eventually IA...SF, though I didn't expect Folk. That was a shock and something that my ears had to get used to with regards to Bey doing it. IMO, this is something that every Beyoncé fan should look forward to.

Yes, this has been one hell of an decade for her. Billboard Female Artist of the Decade. All of the Grammys and accolades that she has recieve. But she's coming into her prime as a vocalist, a performer and more importantly, as a musician. With this in mind, there is another gear that Bey will reach and as a fan, I am ready. I believe just as with last decade, Bey will do another project that in time, will define the decade. Are you ready?