Let me begin by saying that things truly change with time. As one grows older and experiences those occasional “Ah Ha” moments, life reveals itself to be quite humorous in its irony.
I had an enlightening conversation a couple of weeks ago with a good friend of mine discussing the never-ending developments in the music industry over the last few years. Both of us being music artists we are constantly paying attention to all the changes occurring so we’re not left behind. One topic that arose was the rise of popular new artists popping up daily who are being played on commercial radio, selling millions of albums, and winning major awards like Grammy’s. We both realized that after watching tv shows such as the American Music Awards and the Grammy’s that we had little to NO clue who most of these artists were. LOL I know that’s sad to say considering we are both artists, but it is the absolute truth. This realization led me deep into thought that inspired this blog entry.
I remember listening to a lot of popular R&B and pop music back in the 90’s. I would save my money from my jobs so I could tear up a record store buying tapes and eventually CD’s. I’d listen to the radio while driving and sing along with what was hot at the moment. I’d always want to introduce my mom to new songs/artists. I recall asking her, “Mama! Have you heard this new song from ………? Isn’t it slamming?” Her response about 90% of the time was, “Who? Who/what is that? What do they sing? No, I haven’t heard of him/her.” Then if I succeeded in having her take a listen to whatever I was listening to she’d normally respond with, “Mmmmm….he/she sounds just like…….” or “Boy please! I don’t want to hear anymore of this mess.” There were a few exceptions like the group Arrested Development, which I discovered to my utter surprise one afternoon when I returned home from school to hear her blasting “Everyday People” in the kitchen. Anyway, I typically looked completely shocked by her ignorance of the latest music. I just could NOT believe she did not know any of these supposedly groundbreaking artists, and even more incredulously, had no desire to!
Now fast forward to 2013 and my evolved 34-year old musical sensibilities. Nowadays it seems the majority of the time a friend of mine asks me if I’ve heard the latest song by newer popular artists today I have the same response. Guess what it is? “Who? Who/what is that? What do they sing? No! I haven’t heard of him/her!” Then most of the time if I take a listen I comment, “Mmmmm….he/she sounds just like…….” When the reality of my answers struck me I shook my head in disbelief. I sounded exactly like my mom. Had this day finally come? Had I turned into the male version of my mother?
After I stopped being a drama king, I came back down to earth and gained clarity. My mom grew up in a time period when timeless music was created whether slow jams from the O’Jays to the innovative sound of Rufus and Chaka Khan. In all honesty, my love and appreciation of music developed as a result of her exquisite taste. She was the one blasting Luther Vandross, Anita Baker, Incognito and Angela Winbush during my childhood on Saturday mornings as we cleaned our apartment. Every single note and chord I heard during those years added up to my firm decision to be the artist I am today. All those signature sounds filled me with such joy that it only seemed natural that I would want to share my gift of music with the world so I could hopefully inspire the same feeling in others.
Based upon this epiphany, I quickly got over my “pity party” of feeling old and out of the loop. I realized that my mother had blessed me with an unparalleled gift of a discerning ear. Granted some of the artists that I listened to in the 90’s were questionable, but many are still jamming today like Faith Evans and Eric Benet so I wasn’t too far off base then. More importantly, as I’ve grown older and as an artist, I’ve fallen back on the lessons my mom taught me on those Saturday mornings about what “real” music is. I’ve held firm to what serious talent combined with unyielding hard work sounds like. Mediocrity is NOT acceptable.
I finally came to the conclusion that it’s “OK” if I sound like my mother when friends ask me about the latest songs on the radio or new artists performing on 106 & Park. I am careful not to generalize because there are some extremely talented new artists who are being recognized by the mainstream audience, but I stand by the notion that the majority of what is highly revered in the music arena today is lackluster and “run of the mill.” I refuse to have my ears muddied with uninspired songs that threaten to frustrate me and make me question why I choose to be involved in this industry. Instead I’ll stick with artists, veteran and new, who I KNOW exercise the utmost integrity in their musical expressions and are not afraid of being original. There are still some shining stars out here. I could not be more grateful for those weekly gifts on Saturday morning. Lesson learned. Thanks mom!