The state of modern day R&B and soul has been an area of much criticism over the past couple of decades. This isn’t because artists have stopped making good music, but rather, the masses have stopped consuming and appreciating it.
This year’s Soul Train Awards exemplified this point as Ari Lennox, one of the more prominent R&B and Soul artists of the decade, was snubbed for Best Soul Album in favor of Lizzo’s Cuz I Miss You.
Lennox, who made her debut in 2009, has been a part of J Cole’s Dreamville Records since 2015. She has been one of the more consistent, yet underrated artists in the genre since her initial debut.
While Lizzo has had an unprecedented year commercially, marketed as one of the best musicians of the year, there’s a difference between making good music and music that is good for the soul.
With Shea Butter Baby, Ari Lennox reopened the door to a genre that hasn’t a classic in over a decade, and she gave it one. There was no question as to whether or not it fit the prerequisites of what makes soul music great, because you could feel it in the music.
Lizzo made a great album, and will have a long career as a diverse and talented artist that broke down walls in her own right for musicians who sound and look like her. At the Soul Train Awards this year however, she wasn’t the creator of the years best soul album.
Until artists who are true to their lane of music are represented and respected on mainstream platforms such as award shows, the true creators of such music shouldn’t participate in what has been shown to be predetermined popularity tests.
Outside of this instance, however, the complications for black women in the music industry don’t cease.
Freshman R&B singer Summer Walker is an interesting example. The singer’s initial following was drawn in by the melancholic Atlanta-native’s enchanting use of alternative neo-soul, which pleasingly contrasts with her tattooed and grungy exterior.
Following the success of her renown single “Girl’s Need Love” and debut album Over It, Walker became a focal point for 21st century R&B, whisking her from the comfort of her social media performances to real-life performances.
Within this career growth, however, one can also notice an artistic decline with Walker’s latest work becoming less and less reflective of her natural sound. Many fans have theorized that the artist has been pushed into following a trend of ‘trap-soul’ by her record label, LoveRenaissance, noticing her new sound and appearance mimicking that of artists such as Bryson Tiller and PARTYNEXTDOOR.
This became even more apparent with surrounding controversy regarding Walker’s ironically named ‘First and Last Tour’, particularly her lackluster stage performances and distant interaction with fans. Although she has always been vocal on her difficulties with social anxiety and public interaction, Summer Walker has recently made headlines for these issues manifesting within her quick rise to fame.
In this decade, true artists are being made to bend to the norms of an industry that doesn’t believe in longevity and the quality of good music. For artists such as Ari Lennox and Summer Walker, this shift only serves to do a disservice to creators everywhere. As long a marketability and views are valued over substance, the amount of truly good music will only continue to decline.