December 12, 2018

With all this talk, what does being the king of r&b mean anyway?


While it’s nice to see Jacquees making headlines for things other than remixing popular songs, it’s unclear whether this recent controversy will help to repair his image. In a video the 24-year-old shared online, he dubs himself the king of R&B for this generation. His exact words were “I just wanna let everybody know that I’m the king of R&b for this generation. I understand who done came and who done did that and that and that, but now it’s my turn — Jacquees — the king of R&B.”

A bold claim for the young singer, and naturally social media erupted with fans supporting his claim or dismissing it as foolish. He even got some actual artists to chime in, like John Legend who tried to provide some context to the claim and mentions The Weeknd and Bruno Mars before saying they don’t “neatly fit into the genre.”

Well said, John. If the claim is based on commercial success, we aren’t sure what numbers the 4275 artist has been looking at. Anything else isn’t quantifiable, and we know numbers don’t tell the full story. However, this mess surely has presented us with an interesting conversation topic. Who, of this R&B generation, is worthy of the title of king? Where did the last generation end and this one begin? Artists like Ne-YoThe Dream and Trey Songz have delivered in both of the last two decades, so where do they fit in?

Chris Brown‘s name was thrown around a lot, and while he has certainly contributed many quality R&B cuts over the course of his career he’s not what some would consider “traditional R&B.” His huge platform as an artist and crossover success pushes him to the dark corner of music many refer to as “pop.” This is typically done in an effort to dismiss what an artist has produced within the Hip-Hop/R&B genres. CB’s success simply cannot be argued against, but given the fact he debuted back in the early 2000s, does he really qualify for this generation?

If the early 2000s doesn’t count, then we definitely can’t include Usher, R. Kelly or Bobby Brown as many participants in this intense debate attempted. These three men have absolutely left their marks on the genre, inspired many of today’s acts, and still deliver music to this day. But can you be the king of a generation you aren’t considered actively a part of?

If we’re talking leaving your mark on the genre, T-Pain immediately comes to mind. His use of autotune when he debuted back in 2005 has arguably birthed all of these newer singers and rappers. He has continually linked up with big names in music, and given us multiple hits. However, the autotune use isn’t characteristic of conventional R&B and his eligibility to count as part of this generation is a bit murky given he broke out in the middle of the 2000s.

There are far too many nuances in this conversation to really dig deep into it. That, and the world likely would never agree on one person. John Legend has blessed our ears for over a decade now, on his own and in collaboration with Kanye West, CommonRick Ross, and others. He’s never been one to talk about what he can do, but he’s shown us gracefully. With no real misses in his career, it’s hard to argue against him. Aside from the fact he also debuted in the early 2000s.

Miguel was another name thrown around, but this one might have a shot. He had been building his career since the early 2000s but didn’t have a formal debut until 2010. Since then, he’s arguably been the face of eclectic R&B, fusing Pop, Rock, Hip-Hop, Electronic, and Funk into his sound.

He’s got the number-one singles, the critically-acclaimed albums, and the culture recognizes his range of talent musically. Given his career has only formally gone on for eight years and artists are often characterized by their ability to continue delivering good music deep into their music tenure, we can’t comfortably give him this title yet.

Frank Ocean is consistently regarded as one of the best to ever do it, but we can’t help but wonder if it’s not solely just the music. Frank has been mysterious ever since popping up in 2010 as a member of Odd Future. Every mixtape and album of his has been packed with cult classics, and he’s kept fans on the edge of their seats due to false promo dates, cryptic videos, and just his overall being.

He has found a way to maintain a solid and consistent, albeit angry, fanbase and there is always someone who is going to defend his name when R&B comes up. For many, he doesn’t need to release anything else as Channel Orange and Blonde are already immortal. If and when the next album comes, these beliefs will only grow.

Speaking of mystery and uncertainty about albums, good old Abel out of Toronto’s name came up quite a bit. The Weeknd drew fans in back around 2010 with his dark, druggy content. We’ve seen him evolve into a full-blown star and take his sound from the depths of despair to upbeat and vibrant. Regardless of whether Weeknd loyalists approve of the pop sound, he’s adapted, commercially he’s dominated.

He also isn’t shy about talking his shit about the genre, saying “All these R&B niggas be so lame” in 2016’s “Reminder.” Perhaps it’s how he truly feels, or it’s an attempt to clarify the belief that he more so resides in the lane of Alternative R&B. Either way, we applaud those who made sure not to forget Tesfaye when discussing who runs the game today.

There are so many names we can throw out here and analyze, but we feel it really is important to set parameters. It doesn’t make sense to compare Jacquees to Usher or Bobby Brown when they weren’t in their primes simultaneously. Being an impactful R&B artist in the ’90s, 2000s, and nowadays can be defined differently depending on the decade or “generation” you look at. Accruing sales, the actual sound, and the reception of these artists have continued to change over time.

People think the breaking out of newer talents like Ella Mai, H.E.R and Daniel Caesar signals a return to the R&B our older relatives know and love. Their raw vocal prowess and the overall vibes are reminiscent of older, beloved artists whose content commands airwaves to this very day. The belief that they are reviving what is dead could be true, but it also feels limiting.

Artists like dvsn, 6LACK, and Bryson Tiller have taken the genre in a different direction, infusing more Hip-Hop and trap elements but hitting people right in their feels all the same. And we certainly have made notice of the fact this conversation is solely about the males in R&B. Where are our queens?!

As fun as this debate has been, we need clarity on things. We need to first define generations, assemble a list of eligible artists, and then decide on a universally understood measure of what makes one the king, only then will this conversation actually have merit. Given the fact that likely won’t happen, y’all just keep Tweeting. We love it.