It’s been said of Yuna, the Malaysian singer-songwriter transplant to America, “she sounds just like her songs.” In this day and age, that’s the ultimate compliment for any artist, even though it should “go without saying”. Such was the pedigree that Jarell Perry, new R&B artist on the scene, opened for at a recent show in Brooklyn, NY. And from his performance, he fits right in with that sentiment. Given that many have already declared R&B dead, this would be especially complementary. The wounds that have brought R&B to near death can be ascribed to many things, and one of them is fans leaving concerts disappointed that their favorite artist did not “sound just like their songs”.
The decline of R&B began right around 2007. Until then R&B had been enjoying a hot run, dominating the charts and radio. R&B and hip-hop artists had topped the Billboard Hot 100 for the past seven years, like Mario’s “Let Me Love You”, and Cassie’s “Me and U”. The name Mario and Cassie like many other R&B artists of that period, have faded away, because their live performances where not even close to their recordings.
When Cassie appeared on 106 and Park to perform her hit single “Me and U” it was a disaster. Colloquially speaking, she could not sing to save her life, though she had P Diddy’s Bad Boy Entertainment and Tony Mottola’s management company behind her. The world would later learn that Cassie was an invention of her Harvard educated producer-boyfriend, Ryan Leslie. A hard working wunderkind, Ryan Leslie figured out early on the pivotal role technology would play in the music industry. He combined it all with the street smarts he learned while working as a producer for P Diddy, and successfully coned his former boss. He cracked the code in what was required to create a hit single and artist. In so doing, he revealed the fatal flaws in the industry. His recent tell-all speech at a tech conference in Europe is adequately revealing. His talk and Cassie’s performance are embedded in the Video Glossary.
The real travesty behind artists like Cassie taking R&B for a ride, is that the industry made it such that “the look” had become more important than “the music”. The industry had boxed itself in by constantly promoting artists with “the look”, while making up for their shortcomings as singers in the studio. Unable to consistently provide “the look” along with “the music”, fans feeling defrauded moved on.
If R&B is indeed dead, it was Auto-Tune that put the last nail in the coffin. T-pain’s ability to create a great R&B recording is undeniable. His success in using Auto-Tune in selling albums was so remarkable, artists of all genres immediately jumped onboard the bandwagon. The pervasiveness of Auto-Tone was so complete, Jay-z had to compose a track calling for its death.
Unfortunately for the industry, Auto-Tune tracks make for great radio play and not much else. They can’t be replicated live. When a fan is seduced by a song, and falls in love with the artist, their only recompense is to stare that singer live, in the eye and be seduced anew. An artists unable to convey the same emotion their recording holds, will quickly find themself singing to no one.