Part 1

Far to often we have waited until it was too late to give thanks to the people who moved and inspired us. We give awards and accolades long after they were deserved. Some of these artist made us feel, think and others showed us that it is okay to human and that we are not alone. If nothing else perhaps some of these artist will be rediscover by some and seen in a new way by others. We grew up watching R & B borrow from soul and jazz elements, to co-opting hip hop grooves, to mixtures of pop and now even techno musings. I have created this list not based solely on sales, or emotions, what this means is that having a hit or two wont get you on this list, while dropping a classic album might. These artist had guts, creativity, range and most importantly impact and without them R & B would not be the same. A lot of women have contributed to R & B, but here are my top 15.

1. Aretha Franklin (Queen of Soul)

She epitomized gospel-charged soul and has 18 Grammys,  20 No. 1 singles, 45 “Top 40” hits, to back that up. She also has the most million-selling singles of any female artist with 14. Between 1967 and 1982 she had 10 #1 R&B albums – more than any other female artist. The term “Diva” was coined just to describe her talents. Ms. Franklin is the epitome of a trailblazer with her vocal style and ability and is one of the few living legends who can still perform at a high level to this day. Franklin was the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Respect”,”Never Loved A Man the Way I Love You”,  “Think”, “Chain of Fools”, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Giving Him Something He Can Feel”

2. Whitney Houston (Whitney)

at 170 Million albums sold Whitney is the most awarded female singer ever. She has number 1 albums and soundtracks that have powered her film roles. Whitney is one od the few singers who could sing anything and it would be a hit. Case in point the “Star Spangled Banner” , which she performed at Superbowl XXV , was released as a single and was in the top 20. In the early 90’s Whitney skillfully rode Michael Jackson’s wake and knocked the doors opened for other female artist such as Janet Jackson and Anita Baker “Because of what Whitney did, there was an opening for me… For radio stations, black women singers aren’t taboo anymore.’ says Baker. Whitney tackled big adult contemporary ballads, effervescent, stylish dance-pop, and slick urban contemporary soul with with dexterity and grace.  She was commondly referred to as a phenomon because when she sang a song…it was sung and no one could do it better. “Greatest Love of All”,  “I’m Every Woman”, “Greatest Love of All”, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, “I Will Always Love You” and “I’m Your Baby Tonight”


3. Etta James

James has four Grammys and seventeen Blues Music Awards. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Grammy Hall of Fame in both 1999 and 2008. In the 1950s and 1960s, she had her biggest success as a blues and R&B singer. She is best known for her son “At last”.  In modern times Ms. James is often overlooked, but she can flat out sang and her music has lived on for decades. “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” “Stop the Wedding,” and “Would It Make Any Difference to You”

4. Patti Labelle

A one woman powerhouse of vocal & musical ability, Ms. Labelle is one of a kind. Blessed with power, range and passion her voice is as powerful as it is graceful.  Her unwavering appeal has spanned more than five decades. She has hits such as “On My Own,” “Somebody Loves You Baby” and “New Attitude.” There is no one quite like entertainment legend Patti LaBelle. “On My Own“, “If Only You Knew“, “Have a Little Faith in Me”, “If You Asked Me To“, “Stir It Up” and “New Attitude“.

5. Chaka Khan

in the 1970s she was the frontwoman of the band Rufus, however, her solo body of work stands on its own. As a singer she is the most diverse with her range and vocal skill. When it wasn’t fashionable for singers to record their own background vocals, Khan made her own fashion statement and arranged her own. Chaka Khan is clearly in a class by herself. Her vocal style, identifiable in a flash, is a major force of nature in music, a sound like no other.  “I’m Every Woman”, “This Is My Night”, “Got To Be There”, “What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me”, and “I Feel For You”

Billie Holiday, Dionne Warwick, Minne Ripperton, Gladys Knight, Natalie Cole and many others.

Part 2 

M

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?

Far to often we have waited until it was too late to give the people who moved and inspired us recognition. These artist have made us feel, think and move. Many have shown us that it is okay to be human and that we are not alone. If nothing else perhaps these artist will be rediscovered by some or seen in a new way by others.  We have grown up with R & B, we have watched it blend soul and jazz elements, we have seen it nod heads with hip hop grooves and dance with pop beats. I have created this list not based solely on sales, emotions, but more so on impact. Having one hit may not help, while dropping a classic album does. These women, these artist had guts, creativity and range. They did not allow music to power the song while they fell back, they were the songs and without them Rhythm & Blues would not be the same. A lot of women have contributed to R & B, here is part 2 of my All-Time list.

 

6. Mary J. Blige

What’s the 411 defined  what a debut albums should be, garnering nine Grammy Awards and four American Music Awards. Blige has recorded eight multi-platinum albums. She has received the World Music Legends Award. Her debut album “What’s the 411”  combined her tough girl personal, street wise lyrics, soulful voice with jagged hip hop beats, it was underappreciated at the time, but remains Soul’s first exploration into Hip Hop. Not many certified soul singers have been able to keep up with pop-culture, Mary J. has and inspired thousands of copycat vocalist in the process.

7. Anita Baker

She has eight Grammy Awards. Anita can not only connect with an audience like no other, but she can out sing just about everyone on this list.  She helped define urban contemporary music “Quite Storm”, with sophisticated, tradition-oriented soul and R & B. Her music has always been filled with thought, jazz and sadness. Anita Baker’s songs “Sweet Love”, “You bring me joy”, “Giving you the best that I got” and “Good Love” are songs that will live forever.

8. Beyonce (“B”, Sasha Fierce)

 

The hardest working singer on the list and it shows in her music and her videos. Beyonce’s debut solo album “Dangerously in Love” in 2003, spawned the number one hits “Baby Boy and “Crazy in Love” and became one of the most successful albums of that year, earning her five Grammy Awards.  She is one of the most honored artists by the Grammys with a total of 16 Grammy Awards Beyonce’s music is always anthem filled to perfection. She is one of the most downloaded and imitated R & B artist today. With each albums she offers something new whether she is mixing pop and funk, singing ballads or introducing us to alternative personalities, Beyonce has done it all.

9. Mariah Carey (Butterfly, Mimi, MC)

She is often thought to be too pop, but Mariah has sold more than 200 million albums. Mariah has always offered diversely soul ballads and collaborations with R&B and rap heavyweights. She is a mix between Whitney Houston and Celien Dion and thus she bridges the gap from soulful ballad to hip-hop to pop.  However, unlike Celine and Houston, Mariah writes and produces her own songs.  With a uncomparable 5 octave vocal range and a willingness to often tackle social theme Carey displays guts to go along with her talent. Her songs often display a playful mastery of high range vocal ability, which often puts Mariah is in a category few can achieve

10. Alicia Keys

 

Her music has been uncompromising, as she is distinctively respected. Her debut album, “Songs in A Minor” sold over 12 million copies. She was the best-selling new artist of 2001 He debut album earned her five Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year and Best New Artist of 2002. He second album, “The Diary of Alicia Keys”, sold eight million copies, and gained her four more Grammy Awards. The accomplished pianist incorporates classical piano into almost every track. Her songs of female empowerment, triumph, heartbreak and love are felt worldwide. Passionate, raw and strong her voice and talent are not to be denied.

R & B Singers of note: Tina Marie, Janet Jackson, Ashanti, Jill Scott, Faith Evans, Sade, Chrisette Michelle

http://twitter.com/#!/mghasspoken

https://www.facebook.com/mg.hardie

Part 1

Far to often we have waited until it was too late to give the people who moved and inspired us recognition. We often give awards and accolades long after they were deserved. These artist have made us feel, think and move. Many have shown us that it is okay to be human and that we are not alone. If nothing else perhaps these artist will be rediscovered by some or seen in a new way by others.  We have grown up with R & B, we have watched it blend soul and jazz elements, we have seen it nod heads with hip hop grooves and dance with pop beats. I have created this list not based solely on sales, emotions, but more so on impact. Having one hit may not help, while dropping a classic album does. These artist, these women had guts, creativity and range. They did not allow music to power the song while they fell back, they were the songs and without them Rhythm & Blues would not be the same. A lot of women have contributed to R & B, here is part 1 of my All-Time list.

 

11. Lauryn Hill

 

Lauryn is on this list for one reason and that is The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. Her 1998 album is what debut albums should be. This album contained musical styles that ranged from R&B, Soul and Reggae, to Hip Hop and Gospel. The album was strikingly beautifully as it blended melodies in ways never done before. Her album is the perfect example of what happens when  talent meets purpose.  The album dealt with many serious life issues, but it was never bogged down. She became the 1st women to win 5 Grammys on one night and the music world is much better off because of it.  

12. Erykah Badu

Baduizm is Badu’s highly acclaimed debut album, it was released in 1997 and debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts. The album was filled with introspective lyrics, jazz and a bass-heavy sound. Baduizm was hailed as one of the leading lights of the burgeoning “Neo Soul” genre. because of Erykah’s phrasing and tempo she drew comparisons to Billie Holiday. Her lyrics challenge listeners with their highly personal, philosophical, and political content. Her albums say everything that we want to,but never do.  Through her album she was able to weave different musical influences together to create a richer sound.

13. Toni Braxton

Toni topped the Billboard 200 with her 1993 self-titled debut album her second album “Secrets”, spawned the number-one hits “You’re Makin’ Me High”, “I Love Me Some Him” and “Un-Break My Heart” songs that live forever. Braxton’s debut album won several awards, including three Grammy Awards (for Best New Artist and two consecutive awards for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance). Braxton’s broad appeal comes from her low vocal register and her range which includes R&B, adult contemporary, saucy dance tracks and sultry ballads.

14. Rihanna

Discovered as a teenager. Rihanna has a unique and powerful carribean voice, so much so that her collaborations consist of a rapper dropping 12 bars while she sings the rest. That’s a good thing because Ri-Ri’s voice has outshined every single counterpart she has been on track with. Albums Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded and Rated R provide her a showcase; complete with R & B, soul, dance hall, pop, a rebellious attitude and risque sexual lyrics. Her Caribbean-inflected R & B has managed to escape the package the industry tried to put her in.

15.Keyshia Cole

Cole’s 2005 debut album Way It Is  landed at number six on the Billboard 200. The song “I should have cheated” from that album told the world what was to come. What came was her second album Just Like You, which is one of the best R & B albums ever released. Keyshia’s lyrics powered by her vocals connected men and women with her pain. She has spawned a thousand wannabee, but there is only one.

 

Through their music these singers can tell you more about themselves I anyone ever could, so click the links. Other impactful R & B singers: Pink, Monica, Aalyah, Brandy, Mya, Fantasia

 Part 2

Yes this is an unusual take off on Rihanna’s song Rude Boy. Why you might ask. Well her song, which is very good, posed an interesting question “Rude Boy is you big enough?”  Ri-Ri’s Rude Boy is not just another dance hall, reggae, R&B  bass  pounding pop song about just sex. Rihanna belts out some very assertive lines of healthy consensual sex, yet and still some have been critical of the song as being too raunchy. I guess when Rihanna sings lyrics like  “Touch me there… Pull my hair… Kiss it there… Move it there…” perhaps her critics should have first asked “Too Raunchy for who?”

Rude Boy” clearly does show the confusion that presently exist in our society between Making Love, Having Sex and the need to be Loved “Take it, Take it, Love me, Love me“. Yes, several men have pointed me to the part of the video where she is just really workin’ it, but that’s what I mean by confusion.  My new book It Ain’t Just The Size main story arc is a love story that follows Lance and Princess as they find their way to love, this sounds simple enough until friends, family members and a gun complicate matters. “It Ain’t Just The Size” and “Rude Boy” are both calls for honest communication between men and women. “It Ain’t Just The Size” was conceived to give the reader more… More Hip-Hop, More Pop-Culture, More Music, More Social Commentary, More Poetry,  More Humor, More Love, More Solutions, More Inspiration, More for your dollar and who doesn’t want more?

It Ain’t Just The Size was compiled from hundreds of honest conversations with hundred of people, which were molded into a compelling story. You will undoubtedly hear and see phrases applied to this book that have never accompanied a book before and like Rihanna I too have my critics. There have been those that say “it’s too real”, “it’s too funny” or “it doesn’t fit in any category”. It Ain’t Just The Size has been called “One of the most Powerful book I’ve ever read“, “Amazing”, “Entertaining”, “Controversial” and “A Great Book” as it is  filled with  thought and drama.  The real question is, are you big enough to join the conversations?

While Rihanna does what American Entertainment demands of it’s young artist, which is to brand and market themselves, a dutch magazine saw fit to refer to her as “De Niggabitch”. Rihanna’s response “I hope you can read english, because your magazine is a poor representation of the evolution of human rights! I find you disrespectful, and rather desperate!! You ran out of legit, civilized information to print! There are 1000’s of Dutch girls who would love to be recognized for their contributions to your country, you could have given them that article. Instead, you paid to print one degrading an entire race! That’s your contribution to this world! To encourage segregation, to mislead the future leaders to act in the past! You put two words together, with the intent of abasement, that made no sense…”NIGGA BITCH”?!….Well with all due respect, on behalf of my race, I have put two words together for you…FUCK YOU!!!”

Blacks and particularly Black Women have endured more than their share of coded negatively in the name of popular culture and entertainment. They have primarily been viewed as mammies, oversexed, violent, whores, acid-tongue, loud-mouths, and lazy welfare mothers in disproportionately higher numbers than other races, although coded. The complaints have been many but those in the military-industrial media are profiting by presenting Black women as disregarded hyper-sexual female stereotypes, so much so that media outlets can called black women, NiggaBitches without so much as a second thought.

The resulting social media pressure for Jackie magazine caused this response from the editor. “Because of the enormous pressure from social media, I can promise improvement in terms of language used in future issues of Jackie. Previously, I offered rectification. As I now come to the conclusion that rectification is not the right solution, I am departing. The term ‘nigga bitch” come over from America and we have only this to describe this particular style of clothes that we can try to interpret. After eight years, with my heart and soul, I have worked for Jackie. I realize that these errors – although no malicious intent – is a reason to leave.”

And with that closed quote the controversy is over, until the next time.

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.