This list is not based only on albums sales, nor pure vocal power, this list takes into account the artist impact. Each of these artist created music that represents how we look at life, how we deal with and cultivate relationships, and some of went so far as to show how we view the world. R & B is no longer the soulful rhythm genre of music it once was. It has now been co-opted by hip hop and pop. I am sure that many people will have issue with some of the people on my list. If you’re favorite artist doesn’t have enough material for a greatest hits albums, they’re probably not on this list.

1. Stevie Wonder  is pure musical genius! Mr. Stevie Wonder is a gifted musician who has one of the smoothest, melodic, and recognizable voices to every be heard on radio, hands down. Since the age of 13 Mr. Wonder and produced hit after hit and here it is four decades, 30 top ten hits and 22 Grammys later and his music still makes us smile. He was never one to sing easy song, he sung songs with difficult choruses, abrupt stops and unpredictable changes. His accomplishments and impact on the music world is unrivaled.

2.Michael Jackson  as a 10 year-old he blew most competition young and old out the water! M.J. wasn’t just a  talent, he was a true student of music. To Michael Jackson music is art and he used his versatility to navigate musical genres effortlessly. His songs went the extra mile, with sound and vocal effects to create a deeper ambiance. Through his voice you could hear the anxiety, sadness or stress of a song, it was Jackson’s musical experimentations that led to the creation of modern-day pop-music. Michael’s voice is as distinctive, his smooth harmonic sounds are timeless. He has been often imitated (Donnell Jones, Usher, Beyonce, Ne-Yo, Chris Brown and countless others), but never duplicated!  You can also credit him with the needless explosion of choreography in videos and stage performance.

3. Prince was musically and thematically ahead of his time. Compiling ten platinum albums and thirty Top 40 singles during his career. He infused dark funk, pop, gospel soul with R & B passion. It was Prince and Michael Jackson who and sustained Music Television and music video.  He is also the uncredited father of the “text message”. Prince is an ambitious, creative, inspired musician. His off-kilter, feminine voiced songs are not duplicate. From ballads, to love songs, to dance melodies Prince did it all.

4. R. Kelly  is an incredibly gifted versatile singer. Robert Kelly can bring you from high and passionate, to a playful sing-song flow with the greatest of ease. Kells, or the Pied-Piper of R & B manages to reinvent himself with each album. He has sung songs about topics that are relevant to the everyday man from finances, to love problems, to having faith in oneself. Billboard has acknowleded R. Kelly as #1 R & B artist of the last 25 years, go figure. His collaborations are legendary and the next time you are “Stepping”, or doing the “Slide” at a club or wedding reception remember that R. Kelly made it possible.

5. Ray Charles: His records were always filled with an expressed assortment of slurs, glides, moans, shrieks, wails, shouts, and hollers that were all beautifully controlled, disciplined and inspired by his musicianship. For over 40 years Ray Charles filled us with thought and empowerment. He composed, arranged and produced his music long before there was a corporate vehicle to do so. Whether he was tackling country music, putting in Latin-esque blues motif or call and responses with the back-up singer, Ray Charles was a musical explorer who pushed boundaries and the boundaries of race, a pioneer.  He had one of the most distinctive and powerful voices the industry has ever known and it’s a shame that more people don’t know his work.

Also in order and deserving to be mentioned for the great music and contributions to the R & B genre are James Brown, Luther Vandross, Lionel Richie, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pentergrass, Al Jereau, Usher,  Ron Isley, Smokey Robinson,  Keith Sweat, Al Green,  Freddie Jackson, Baby Face,  Barry White, Jackie Wilson, Peabo Bryson, Frankie Beverly, Brian McNight, Maxwell, Howard Hewett, Jackie Wilson, Jeffrey Osbourne, James Ingram, Avant, Lou Rawls, Brian Mcknight, Musiq and Joe.

What’s  Your Top 5?

I have always been a big fan of Erykah Badu. She has in many ways shown the triumph of the uncompromising black female artist. At times she, through her music, has gotten personal, emotional, philosophical, and I love the way she is not afraid to show that she is political. Often, through her level consciousness, she has had the ability to bridge the gender and age gap and have everyone singing her catchy songs. She is unique from her organic sound to her style of dress both of which show her constant groove. Badu’s latest album ‘New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) has recently come out. I am sure that this album will be more of what we have come to expect from Erykah Badu, not over processed, personal, ambient even soulful, but the album is not what this article is about.

This article is about the video “Window Seat” Badu’s new video for her first single. If you haven’t seen it, basically Erykah Badu walks down a Texas street and strips buck naked in front of everybody and lies down near where JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963.

This is a powerful video that does with actions that her previous videos did with words and color and it stands in stark contrast to them and most videos out there. Now there will be many who won’t see the point of the video. And I won’t give you the point either, because it obviously wasn’t for you. And I appreciate the point and thusly salute Erykah for making it and I must say that Erykah has an amazing backside, but I digress.

Books that are changing everything

Is this really what entertainment has come to? Taking off all of your clothes just to make a point?

Dressing like a cartoon character to be heard?

Making yourself a pop-culture gender bender to become popular?

The answer sadly is yes. With the death of MTV entertainers have been getting more and more outrageous in this say or do anything business and all of it is about as real as a three dollar bill.

Did Erykah have a valid point to make? Could that point have been made without bearing it all in public? Is this really artist integrity? or a calculated risk over reward scenario?

Those are the same questions I asked when I saw a naked Serena Williams on the cover of last year’s ESPN Magazine, especially when I looked through the magazine and found no naked men, not that I was looking for naked men mind you.

Did either of these ladies have to go that far, probably not, but if they hadn’t we wouldn’t be talking about them right now. Let’s be real here, the “mainstream” is not checking for Badu. They are only interested in women of color when there is some kind of controversy. It does speaks volumes that a woman has to take off her clothes to be a viable artist these days and a man has to put on his to be successful. Personally I like Erykah’s counter culture attitude, but it isn’t cutting edge for her to go on television shows with her hair half-done.

How do a real artists compete with these manufactured pop-culture products? How do real musicians stand out in a time-period where the mediocre can go quadruple platinum? The answer isn’t an easy one, but it does depend on where we get our music from and whether the masses really wants to hear real music from real people, or packaged music from created products.  Two weeks ago I recently attended a small event in Long Beach of less than 50 people and the music I was given the privileged to hear there was better than all of the concerts I have been to. It was free, but I would have paid for the experience, you see where I am going with this.

Shocking videos, outrageous dress, and nakedness are not new to the industry, whether it was Elton John with his flamboyance, Prince and his innuendo, D’Angelo and Madonna with their boldness and others who were considered cutting edge with these types of statements. Not only were they out there, most of the time they were out there alone. Those artist never felt that they had to do something that wasn’t them to compete, or more shocking than what someone else did, they weren’t in the same market, but today’s markets are blended. Today we have a country star who isn’t from the country, Rappers rapping country, pop kids rapping, rappers on pop songs, R & B songs that are pop, and the blends go on and on. It is both a testament to the national oblivion and sort of  funny when you hear someone say that they don’t like rap, but the songs they listen to are actually rap.

These industries will feed us this type of empty fair until, or if we get fed up and complain loud enough and just like the media is moving the public from Health Care to Jobs, and Immigration the music industry will create something else for The Mob to follow. Did Erykah Badu have to go to such length to be heard, well we are talking about her now aren’t we? One thing is certain, it is no longer about the music and as long as the public continues to celebrate idiocy, promiscuity, those who will say whatever, do whatever, or those take off their clothes and pass it off as a form of expression I dare say that we should expect no less than the same kind of behavior from our citizenry, so Pack Light.