Nelson George’s 1987 book, The Death of Rhythm and Blues is a must read for anyone that might, even, begin to construct an opinion on the state of today’s black music. In the book, Mr. George cites the failure of the black culture to preserve ANYTHING, from family heirlooms to family or cultural traditions or customs and thus separating ourselves from our past as one of the main reasons that true Rhythm & Blues no longer exist. Subsequently, we leave all of our cultural treasures to be embraced and preserved by others as we search for that new thing (btw, what the hell is neo (which means new) soul?). Case in point, take the blues for example, let’s say B.B. King for example, go to one of his shows and who do you see in the audience. Ask anyone in Texas and they’ll tell you that Stevie Ray Vaughn is the King of the blues. Hell, I ain’t gone lie, I love hearing Eric Clapton when he hits his blues gear.
Call it what you will, but R&B is just R&B. So when people attach the British R&B label to Amy Winehouse, I call bullshit. Amy Winehouse is JUST R&B. Amy Winehouse is more R&B than most so-called R&B singers in America today, and for anyone not to have acknowledged that just because her outer casing ain’t what you think it should be, well I simply revoke you’re right to an opinion. We’ve abandoned that Classic R&B for a diluted hybrid version known as R&B Hip Hop. Rhythm and Blues is a style; it is well crafted lyrics that does a careful dance with the accompanyment, and is never over cooked. Hip hop has opened a door and ushered in watered down lyrics and subjects as complex as a 2nd grader can understand with the vulgarity of a Compton Crip. Search any list of best R&B songs for 2007 (the year of Winehouse’s Back to Black album) and see if you can find a mere mention of “Some Unholy War”, you won’t. I’ll assure you, though, that you’ll find Monica’s “Sideline Ho” pretty high up on the list. SIDEBAR: I’m a huge fan of the t shirt line “Smart is the new gangsta”. As you can tell, i give no passes for the follies of youth. Translation: being young is no excuse for stupid. Did Hip Hop also usher in “stupid shit” is vogue? I’m just saying. Consider that Winehouse pinned every song on Back to Black before she was 22 years old, especially when listening to “Love is a Losing Game”. Takes me back to the Burt Bacharach pinned Dionne Warwick songs of the 60’s and 70’s and other than Lauren Hill and a handful of other acts, I hadn’t heard much that good since then. Perhaps I could grant a pass or two for the church singers out there disguising themselves as R&B singers, if they’ll promise that they’ll at least work on not overcooking every damn thing. Remember, both Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye were preachers kids, and what they did in there day was straight up Rhythm & Blues, they never oversang the lyric. Like I said, R&B is a style. It was derived from gospel… but it AIN’T gospel. I love some good gospel just like the next person but when I want to hear R&B, I ain’t necessarily trying to hear Marvin Sapp or Kim Burrell sing it.
Where am I going with this rant? I’m merely suggesting that Nelson George add an addendum to his 1987 book. Perhaps I am suggesting that R&b may have not been totally dead, but had been living on a respirator over the last few years by the name of Amy Winehouse. R&B is a a treasured institution and like the pyramids of egypt, it should be protected so that it remains undefiled. Amy Winehouse has been an I.V. to R&B like Jonny Lang as been to Blues. She has been respectful of this treasure and careful to protect it. Tragically she, herself, was left unprotected. Amy Winehouse simply got it. She was the total package. It is as if Amy had channeled into a supernatural and picked up the spirits of R&B’s past. Unfortunately, not only did she tap into the qualities that made all of the performers of yesteryear so iconic, she tapped into the demons that destroyed several of them, as well. Perhaps I am suggesting that this time, Rhythm and Blues might really be dead.