Do any of you remember the song that I used as the title of this weeks’ post? It was written by Bernard Ighner but covered by various artists. I’m most familiar with George Benson’s version. The lyrics give us an understanding of life and time. Both are continuously moving, never standing still. Just read and think about these words from the opening verse:
Years ago I remember the band my dad played with performing this song as a friend and truly gifted singer made it her own. Even as a young boy I knew that my life would change greatly as I grew to adulthood. I also understood that music went through great changes before I came into existence because my father made sure I would hear and have knowledge of the music and performers of the past. This education laid the groundwork for who I am today: music historian, writer and publisher. I often think of this song when someone asks me the open-ended question about R & B music. What has happened to R & B? Where are the classic or pure R & B singers today? They normally give examples like Smokey Robinson, Sam Cook, Wilson Pickett, Betty Wright to name just a few. Yes these performers were exceptional and cream of the crop of their day and much revered in our day. Nevertheless, I will use this article to explain what has happened and why. The example I will use in this weeks’ post is singer/songwriter/music producer Miguel.
Miguel Jontel Pimentel was born and raised in San Pedro, Los Angeles, California October 23, 1985. He is one of two sons born to a Mexican father and an African American mother. Miguel’s parents divorced when he was eight years old. At a young age, Miguel was introduced to the older R&B his mother listened to, and his father’s musical tastes, including funk, hip hop, jazz, and classic rock. Miguel cites musicians Prince, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Freddie Mercury, Phil Collins, Donny Hathaway, The Notorious B.I.G. and Kanye West, as influences, in addition to expressing his admiration for Stevie Wonder, John Lennon and Diane Warren. He revealed his desire to have worked with James Brown, whom he considers the “last innovator for me when it comes to soul.”
Herein lies the answer to the question about R & B. It, like everything else, has changed. As thirty or forty years pass by, changes are apparent in all aspects of life, even music. Why? When you look at Miguel’s background, you see he was exposed to the classic R & B, but also to other artists and performers of differing genres. Our children will listen to music of their parents, but both parents most likely will have different musical tastes. The children will no doubt be influenced by the musical choices of both parents. Adding to his eclectic music orientation is his multi-ethnic upbringing. Of course we all develop out own taste in music and that has to taken into account when understanding why Miguel creatively approaches music in his own way.
Some may read all of this and think this is just one artist example. What about the others? Perhaps you have heard about PBR & B. It is a term used by music journalists to describe an emerging, stylistic alternative to contemporary R & B. PBR & B is a portmanteau of PBR (the abbreviation for Pabst Blue Ribbon, a beer most recently associated with the hipster subculture) and R & B. Brandon Neasman of The Grio observes a “changing of the guard in R & B, from the smooth, cool heartthrobs to these vulnerable, off-kilter personalities.” He went on to state, “A lot of the production is echo-laden and lofty, often using a lot of synthesizers and filtered drums—sonically giving a nod to Prince’s vintage ’80s sound. Additionally, for the most part, it doesn’t feel as if these artists are selling sex as their main entrée. Granted, they still sing about the topic, and in explicit detail, but it’s in equal proportion to drugs, spirituality and personal philosophies. You don’t get that same diversity in subject matter from the majority of modern R&B singers.” Gerrick D. Kennedy of the Los Angeles Times feels that “the new movement feels like the most significant stylistic change in R&B since neo-soul rolled around in the 1990s.”
Interestingly, Miguel is the third such artist I have featured in Weekly Music Commentary as I wrote about the music of Jhene Aiko and Janelle Monae. Frank Ocean and The Weeknd also are associated with the movement. The changes are not without growing pains. As the new artists emerge, many of us are still listening R & B in its current state. Not that there is anything wrong with the music, but it has some longing for yesterday. I really like what Salaam Remi wrote about Miguel in LA Weekly. “Right now R & B is filled with so many people singing songs that sound like other songs. But Miguel is letting his art rule his whole flow, and that’s the best place for an artist to be. To me he kind of feels like Prince, where he’s doing this eclectic blend but still coming back to focused songs.” Miguel is blazing a new trail along with several other musicians. Currently he is at work on a new album slated to be released later this year. All of you R & B purists out there please give Miguel’s music a chance. Remember, everything must change, even music.