Through the Looking Glass of a Bigger Culture of R&B and Pop
R&B was absurdly massive in the late 90’s, and especially female-fronted R&B. Sure, Maxwell had a bit of a thing there for a minute and R. Kelly was yet to evolve into an outrageous caricature of sex excess and latin pop. But the real might and artistic credibility, as well as the crossover appeal, came from the likes of TLC, Destiny’s Child, Lauryn Hill, and the many other masters of the craft that reigned for that brief period prior to the new millennium.
So what stopped it all? The proliferation of awful and contrived pop rap really flattened some of the momentum, and when indie became anything but, R&B was relegated to the sidelines. So when Missy Elliot was ushering all her boys to the yard, the rest of the word sort of forgot that R&B didn’t have to be so one dimensional. It could be sexy, smart, and a lot more substantial than either of those two elements on their own.
Ke’ Shay Love seems to embody a lot of that free-spirited aesthetic that was so effective in the 90’s. The late 90’s marks R&B’s cultural prime, and in the years following other genres took over the reigns. But in the last few years, artists like Drake, the Weeknd, and Frank Ocean are bridging gaps and closing that gulf between hip-hop and R&B. And these two have always been close friends. Hip-hop artists always had a fling with guest spotting an R&B singer for their pop ballad. R&B artists had no shame in nabbing a hot rapper for their ‘almost’ banger. It was just par for the course. We live in a world where Beyonce and Jay Z are happily married and ruling the entertainment industry. Fox News spent fifteen hours on that Jay Z elevator assault from Beyonce’s sister. Cultural permeation, indeed.
This is perhaps how Ke’ Shay Love has taken that concoction of gorgeous and sensual 90’s R&B with hip-hop styled production. “Boyz All Pause” is a spiritual successor to Missy Elliot’s classic jam, with a rap pause and some classic lyrics about sexy girls and window shopping.
On the other hand, you have classic R&B production in the ballad, “Breathless.” It even has that strong breathless singing style and lyrics about enticing sexual synergy. It is so cliché, and though it hits every trope in the lexicon of R&B, it REALLY WORKS and it WORKS WELL!
So when Ke ‘Shay Love begs to be loved, swears to take a relationship to another level, or embraces her female individuality in a trap-styled headbanger, you get the impression that she is honoring the R&B culture she grew up on. There is nothing really new here, R&B and music in general really, is rarely innovative, propelled by the many artists that have found the formula of what works and do it in a way that is sexy, fun, and all about the thrill of real emotional love making. Nothing wrong with that, Nothing at all.