Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008

R&B Continues to Shine

By Evan Rytlewski
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2008 is shaping up to be the worst year yet for the struggling music industry—this week, for instance, music sales were down a whooping 9% from just a year ago, and the top-selling album, Alicia Keyes’ As I Am, was the second lowest-selling #1 album in the history of the SoundScan charts.

But while hip-hop and rock sales have taken considerable hits, there is one genre that continues to shine in the charts: R&B. Of the eight non-soundtrack inclusions in the top 10 chart this week, five were R&B artists: Keys at #1. Mary J. Blige at #3, Raheem DeVaughn at #5, John Legend’s Target-only live record at #7, and Chris Brown at #9.

R&B’s popularity isn’t too surprising, considering the genre’s recent artistic renaissance, and also that the genre lends itself to full-length records (a stark-contrast to popular rap, which subsists on singles and ringtones.) While pop stars, young rock bands and rappers still get most of the media attention, R&B artists are quietly in the background, racking up huge sales.

Although they probably won’t clock Chris Brown and Mary J. Blige-level sales, two upcoming 2008 R&B albums have whet my appetite: Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah and Al Green’s untitled Blue Note Records album. Both discs pair the singers with some unexpected producers. Badu’s secured two of underground cult heroes, Madlib and 9th Wonder, and the leaked tracks from the album are brilliant (a 9th Wonder track is previewed on her Myspace page, while a trippy Madlib track called “The Healer” hit YouTube today, although the video has since been removed).

Green, meanwhile, is directed by longtime admirer ?uestlove, The Roots drummer who sought to make his new record as lo-fi as possible. The first song to leak from the disc, “Thought It Out,” is almost too good to be true: The swooping organ is in the front of the mix, but ?uestlove’s drums and Green’s un-aged voice are ever-so-slightly buried by fuzz. Like Green’s classic’70s LPs, this one arrives worn-in.

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