by SSly Shalom :
Recently, I watched a DVD of the ever-radiant Stevie Wonder performing live in NYC on Soul WNET, Channel 13 in 1972. I was absolutely blown to smithereens by the electricity of his concert. Mind you, I was born in '71, so the only possible way I could've enjoyed this classic moment in history was my desire to know about the richness of my people's powerful music history. Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, The Isley Brothers, The Temptations, The Jackson 5, The Supremes, Gladys Knight and the Pips, etc., were all before my time. Nevertheless, you best believe I know who they are and why they are so vital to music history.
What I am saying goes for any lovers of any genre of music -if you sincerely love the music, especially as an artist- know your music history! Not to say you must know everything, because there are far too many contributions to actually keep it all on the mental files. But know something! Know where the artists you love today got their influences from and why those artists where so influential. Know who the pioneers are. Learn why so many masses of people love particular artists and why their music is still popular now after being around for 20, 30, and even 40 or more years! Learn about who went all the way to the left, while every other artist was going to the right. Trust, it's all history, especially considering what was going on in the world at the time their music was created.
This is one of the various reasons music sounds like it does today, with the poorness of quality; lack of historical knowledge of our musical pioneers. Music obviously evolves, but seriously, has it been evolving lately? Specifying what I've been listening to from the past to the present, which is HipHop and Rhythm and Blues, these two genres have not evolved in at least 10 years!
How is it, that artists such as those earlier mentioned in this article can still sell millions of CD's (old and new) and they've been recording for over 30 years? Where as most artists of today are here today and gone tomorrow? Why is Alicia Keys the success story she is? Her obvious talent notwithstanding, she knows and acknowledges the pioneers! And you feel it; you feel the soul and devotion and her passion for singing when she sings! Lauryn Hill is another example (being a third of the group who has the greatest selling rap album ever, speaks volumes and she's shown and proven her skills even more so by going solo) and so is Mary J. Blige. In fact, to show ultimate appreciation of their forefathers and foremothers, songstresses like Erykah Badu have collaborated with Roy Ayers; Mary J. Blige with Aretha Franklin and in the 80's Zulu Nations' own Afrika Bambaataa did a classic with God Father of Soul, James Brown. You also have the unforgettable, "I feel for you", which was the first official R&B/Hip Hop collaboration with none other than Grandmaster Melle Mel and Chaka Khan. All of Guru (from Gangstarr's) Jazzmatazz albums intertwined this scholar of an emcee with so many legendary musicians its ridiculous. I am most humbled by the bridging of generational gaps by that of family ties---Lyrical Epitome, Nas, and his father, Olu Dara Jones, jazz extraordinaire.
What happened people? What happened to singers seriously holding a note? What happened to the bass vocalist that stood out in groups such as Boys II Men? What happened to our singers who're also instrumentalists like India Arie and Alicia Keys, playing as well as they sang? Whatever happened to the all so beautiful slow jams? I mean, the Barry White/Anita Baker/Marvin Gaye kind that many many babies where conceived to? Whatever happened to artists with vocal versatility who kept switching their pitch 3 or more times throughout their albums? And how about those who weren't ashamed of challenging themselves by experimenting with other genres like jazz, reggae, funk and blues, etc.? Too many singers have allowed themselves to become lazy as artists by having studio engineers clean-up their vocals, instead of taking voice lessons. Oh well; we, the fans, discover who's true, so to speak, when it comes time for the live stage performance.
It is sad that the 90's have barely produced true legends in Rhythm and Blues or HipHop. In fact, only a select few come into mind when I notice the heaviest potential for future legendary acknowledgement these days. For one, I would say, Jill Scott. This gorgeous beam of sunlight has been shining delightfully on us with her artistry since day one (Who is Jill Scott); and she always give us quality vocals and music. Jill allows her voice to travel throughout different genres. I can definitely vision Jill Scott creating soul music, jazz music, etc; just true-to-the-heart music for plenty of years to come. If time allowed us to venture years back, I could easily see her recording music in any decade and hanging out with or holding her own with the best of 'um. That's the definition of timeless......and I unquestionably picture her standing the test of time.