Before passing judgment over the modern R&B enthusiast and their disintegrating values, consider this: the archetype of a faithful love singer went out of style the moment we as a People started envisioning non-platonic relationships a little differently.
There may never be a better love than a little dialogue, and some nice amenities before things get physical. The modern R&B singer is far more concerned with illustrating the perfect one night experience, to cope with our transient lifestyles. Jeremih may have put it best when he bragged about the immediate return on a charter plane investment, big talk coming from a lower key falsetto.
“We was faded, faded, you got one thing on your mind
You wanna love me, love me, ooh, only for tonight
Maybe, maybe.” – Jeremih on Chinx’s “Thug Love”
Chinx – “Thug Love” ft. Jeremih
In light of this generation’s fixation on creating Instagram-worthy parables at every passing moment, there’s nothing unromantic about Jeremih’s promise of a “one night experience,” save for the fact that he cheekily casts a little doubt by cooing “maybe” in the refrain. In reality, the way in which Jeremih teases the “Derek Jeter Gift Basket” is music to the ears of the common matchmaker – who on some level would much prefer the image of elusiveness, than dip below the Instagram standard. You can thank “R&B Thugs” like Jeremih and his contemporaries for raising the bar to uncontrollably high levels of submissiveness.
The “R&B Thug” typified by modern R&B singers like Jeremih and Ty Dolla $ign is quite possibly the convergence of ideas that only work in imaginary space. But don’t be so quick to pass judgment: the “R&B Thug” variant wasn’t born yesterday. Singers like Ginuwine took sexual innuendo to places absurd. R. Kelly made the hotel lobby a mere stepping stone to the after party, and so on so forth.
In the dusk of the new male-dominated R&B frontier, only Ne-Yo, himself a bit of an afterthought in 2019, remains a bastion for monogamous love. He who freely-admitted that he didn’t have it in him to play the bad boy role, even at the risk of going out of style. “I’m the love song guy,” he joked in an interview with star2 in July 2018.
“That had me a little worried initially just because the industry’s changed,” he added. “The sound has changed, the look has changed. It’s a new day and a new time and I was honestly really concerned about where do I fit in this thing now?”
And that’s just it, R&B’s sound has undergone a subtle evolution from its checkpoint in the 90s – altogether smooth, melodic, and consummated with feelings of nostalgia. An artist like Ty Dolla $ign is the very embodiment of a bad boy whose real-life dimensions threaten his marked approach. “I just seen your baby mamma, made her dance” he sings on “Surrounded” before demonstrating the crude manner unbecoming of an old school stalwart like Ne-Yo. “I just want that pussy right now.”
MihTy, Jeremih & Ty Dolla $ign – “Surrounded” ft. Chris Brown
The “R&B Thug” archetype isn’t exclusive to men in the field. Just last year, we saw Melii debut as a brazen seductress opposite A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, who for his part always seems to find himself on the wrong side of the Venus-Mars conundrum. And let’s not forget TLC’s resistance to male figureheads, which saw them get what they needed when they saw fit, and on their own terms. How can we forget the “bossitude” they displayed when they issued a successful booty call whilst on their menstrual cycle. “Red Light Special” is a reminder to us all, that power lies within those who rush to grab it.
TLC – “Red Light Special”
So in theory, the modern aesthetic I’ve come to describe as the “R&B Thug” is not any less accessible to the average person than it once was. R&B’s predominantly hypermasculine mask is henceforth responsible for plenty of “Alternative” movements within the genre, seen as a response to a gender norm. And yet, there are artists like Jacquees who seldom fraternize with other singers, but not in a disapproving manner.
The evolution of hip-hop has seen its pastures exposed to a more arpeggiated sound, of which the focus on fine-tuned falsetto and melodies persists to this day. So apart from the voluntary changing of the guard we all noticed but neglected to investigate, the modern R&B singer has made its most pronounced alteration in one department: the author’s viewpoint. The modern “R&B Thug” is far more interested in nursing the love hangover than in reaching the long haul climax. Usher got burned so future generations would be relieved of the burdensome love song.