All eyes were glued to the television to see the live comeback of Justin Timberlake on the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards a couple of weeks back. For the past month or so, we have been in awe of his first single in over five years, the Timbaland-produced track that’s already dubbed a club banger, “Suit & Tie. You’re probably already hearing it atleast 10 times a day on your local radio stations of all genres.
Timberlake hit the stage, complete with seamless falsettos, an orchestra and tuxedos in sepia lighting, and for the duration of not one, but two full songs, we fell in love. I, too, danced around my living room and rooted for my hometown guy. It was all good…until I read a retweet of rapper, Peter Gunz. It read:
Black R&B artist, please look at what Robin and Justin are doing and do the same…Soul!!!
Hol’up. Wait. Say what now, Pete?
Nevermind that an old rapper is giving R&B artists advice on how to make a hit. Let’s zoom in on what he’s suggesting. He’s saying that these two men, who happen to be white, are doing something that other Black R&B artists aren’t doing.
First, Mr. Gunz, and anyone else who agrees with you, there are tons of artists who are doing soul, and they’ve been at it long before those two were hitting high notes. Have you heard of Bilal, Jill Scott, John Legend and the other countless indie artists like Teedra Moses, who fly so far below the radar? There’s great music out there, but it’s not readily available on your regular urban radio station. You have to search for it.
Do you know why? Because mainstream society doesn’t embrace soul music like we used to.
We’re too busy body rolling to “Whose Booty Is It?” which is in the top 10 on Billboard R&B Charts, by the way or making rain to “Pour It Up” (that is my song though). Don’t misunderstand me. I love a nice little ratchet track just as much as the next, but I have an extreme appreciation for music that does something to your soul.
So, what is it that we really want? We say we want soul music, but when we hear it, it doesn’t make us “turn up” enough, so we don’t support it. Then a Justin Timberlake or Robin Thicke makes the same music, and it’s the best thing ever. It’s baffling.
Chris Brown, Beyonce and the R&B artists who dominate the clubs and the airwaves have their own lane. Don’t try to fit a square into a circle. Look around and see what you’ve missed and welcome new artists that rock out intimate shows and music festivals, instead of saturating the radio. They’re doing “what Robin and Justin are doing,” probably better. They don’t have a big budget to pay for production by Timbaland and features from millionaire mogul-rappers like Shawwn Carter.
Soul music is there. It’s always been there, but we haven’t. Turn on whatever your “old school/old folks” station is in your city. That’s where the good music is. Check out Singersroom.com, Soulbounce.com or flip your television to VH1 Soul or Centric TV. In this era of hypersexuality and twerkdom, maybe we’ve forgotten about feel good music–so much that seeing it on a large platform like the GRAMMY Awards flips the switch for us. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist anymore. Let’s not ask for something we’ve always had.