Posted on December 5, 2011

Where Is the Love in R&B Music?

John Blake, CNN, December 3, 2011


Yet when I listen to R&B today, I ask myself the same question Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway posed in their classic 1972 duet: “Where is the Love?”

Listening to black music today is depressing. Songs on today’s urban radio playlists are drained of romance, tenderness and seduction. And it’s not just about the rise of hardcore hip-hop or rappers who denigrate women.

Black people gave the world Motown, Barry White and “Let’s Get It On.” But we don’t make love songs anymore.


I asked some of the stars who created the popular R&B classics of the late 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s. Their answer: The music changed because blacks lost something essential–something that all Americans, regardless of race, should regret.


Earth Wind & Fire keyboardist and founding member Larry Dunn says a new generation of black R&B artists is more cynical because more come from broken homes and broken communities.

“How are you going to write about love when you don’t know what it is?” asks Dunn, whose new album “N2 The Journey” contains a remake of one of Earth Wind & Fire’s most famous ballads, “Reasons.”


Love songs flowered during that era also because black people were more optimistic, music critic Rashod Ollison wrote in an essay on Barry White, the rotund singer with what Ollison described as the “low-as-the-ocean-floor bass voice” who gave us love songs such as “Never Gonna’ Give You Up.”

White was caught up in the same social pathologies that trap some black youth today. He was a teenage father and gang member who spent time in jail, but “music saved him,” Ollison wrote.


“Black pop was ripe with music that echoed the aspirations of a people realizing some of the dreams of the civil rights movement,” Ollison wrote. “Ghettos had become burnt-out shells after MLK was gunned down. Those who had the means to leave were now tucked in the ‘burbs,’ working in offices their mamas used to clean.”


It was a time when, as a friend of mine said, “Being black was the bidness!” We celebrated our kinky hair and dark skin and greeted each other as “brother” and “sister” without any sense of irony. Everybody seemed to have a copy of Jet or Ebony magazine on their coffee tables; a man would have been slapped if he called a black woman a bitch.

Then it all seemed to evaporate. Crack cocaine decimated black communities in the 1980s. The blue-collar jobs that gave many black families a foothold in the middle class began to disappear. Desegregation split the black community. Those with money and education moved to the suburbs. The ones left behind became more isolated.

Today, we have a black first family, but our own families are collapsing. A 2009 study from the Institute for American Values and the National Center on African American Marriages and Parenting at Hampton University in Virginia highlights the erosion.

The study found that while 70.3% of all black adults were married in 1970, that rate dropped to 39.6% by 2008. The study also showed that while 37.6% of black births were to unmarried parents in 1970, that figure soared to 71.6% by 2008.

Our music became as grim as those statistics. Singing about love now seems outdated.


Something else also happened: Black people became more narcissistic, and so did our love songs.


This self-absorption has seeped into contemporary black love songs.

One of R&B’s most popular current hits is “Quickie” by Miguel, who declares, “I don’t wanna be loved. I want a quickie.”


Consider a recent Valentine’s Day song by popular R&B artist Chris Brown called “No Bull S**t,” in which he sings about inviting a woman over to his place at 3 in the morning because “you know I’m horny.”

Then he sings to her to take off her clothes because “you already know what time it is” and orders her to “reach up in that dresser where them condoms is.”


“It was more about romance and seduction,” Hines says of classic R&B love songs. “It was more of, ‘Let me work my way into something with you,’ instead of ‘Let’s do it.’ Teddy [Pendergrass] had to convince a woman to ‘Come on over to my place.'”

A recent study of Billboard hits confirms the notion that wooing a woman is disappearing from modern R&B.

Psychology professor Gordon Gallup Jr. and student Dawn Hobbs studied the subject matter of the 174 songs that made the Billboard Top 10 in 2009. They analyzed three musical genres among the top-selling songs: R&B, country and pop.

The researchers at the University at Albany in New York found that R&B contained the most references to sex per song (an average of 16 sex-related phrases per song). The top three sexual themes in R&B songs were the singer’s sex appeal, the singer’s wealth as it relates to finding a partner, and descriptions of sex acts. A total of 19 song themes were examined.

The least-popular theme in R&B music was “courtship,” while country music offered more songs about courtship than any other genre, the study said.


33 responses to “Where Is the Love in R&B Music?”

  1. What_I_Believe says:

    The thing that bothers me more than rap and r&b are the Whites who listen to it while idolizing it’s “singers”……or maybe the White girls who like to sing “soulful”…. All libtards in the making.

    What a world….

  2. Question Diversity says:

    No, I don’t believe crack, deindustrialization and desegregation is the cause of this, nor do I think the black community was ever that much “better” “way back then.” If they were, it was only because they were scared of law enforcement and vigilante repercussions.

    The reason why black music today is dirtier than that of a generation or more ago is that the self-censorship that the record labels used to have and enforce were gradually jettisoned.

  3. Lance. says:

    The cause of all of blacks’ woes is obvious, the ever increasing amount of illegal drugs in our border, the intelligence decreasing welfare state and the ever sickening media. These alone were enough to send already such an unintelligent minority over the edge with a 70% illegitimacy rate and a 33% incarceration rate. It is impossible to love another person when you already have so many other things to worry about.

  4. Anonymous says:

    …Songs on today’s [black] urban radio playlists are drained of romance, tenderness and seduction…R&B contained the most references to sex per song…while [white] country music offered more songs about courtship than any other genre


    Makes perfect sense! Decades ago, black music themes parroted white music themes. But over the last two generations, white influence on black music has disappeared. Now black song-writing themes are more natural to them: sex, greed, money and mayhem.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Consider a recent Valentine’s Day song by popular R&B artist Chris Brown called “No Bull S**t,” in which he sings about inviting a woman over to his place at 3 in the morning because “you know I’m horny.”

    Meanwhile, liberals can’t figure out why blacks have high STD rates and conservatives can’t figure out why they don’t bother with marriage!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I am forced sometimes to hear ghetto rap, hip hop and those screechy rihanna type songs because of where I work. It’s all vulgarity, cussing, cursing, sex, insulting women, posturing and tough-guy bravado.

    I don’t know how any decent person can listen to that stuff. It programs its listeners to be criminals. Don’t believe me, just listen to the lyrics. Better yet – be in a room with a black guy listening to his favorite rap song and watch how he looks at you and sings along to the lyrics that are something like, “I gonna f*** you up, n***** got game, ain’t so lame, got my .45 in my pocket and yo shootie let’s rock it!”

  7. Girlish says:

    I don’t see this as a big deal. Whether it’s sex or love, what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home is nobody’s business. I don’t see sex as denigrating to women because women choose to have sex. It’s rap that’s degrading becuase the sex is accompanied by insults like bitch and ho and violence like Snoop Dogg talking about smacking a bitch across the face. Rap is disgusting. R&B is just boring and dull.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Black music in America, way back to the earliest Delta bluesmen, has ALWAYS been obsessed with sex. In fact, black music has rarely been about anything else. The only difference between then and now is that in pre-Civil Rights times, the smutty stuff had to be euphemised into double-entendres (“squeeze my lemon”; “my big 10-inch record”, and literally thousands of equally adolescent others).

    Blacks’ lyrics have forever been pitched almost exclusively at the groin level — a fact disguised by old black entertainers only as much as they needed to prevent getting busted on Obscenity charges. Nowadays, of course, nobody of any race gets busted for Obscenity — a fact which black rappers and popsters have exploited more than anyone else, by taking the once-genteel Top 40 not just into softcore porn territory, but hardcore. Today’s AM chart hits, listened to by tweens and up, are more graphic than the college-radio alt/indie bands Tipper Gore persecuted 20 years ago.

    Today’s black music is just another example of how, today, blacks have been freed to be themselves… and the results ain’t pretty. Today’s black music is Africa Unbound. Sexually explicit R&B is nothing more or less than the rhythmic, erotic noises that black people naturally make when there are no white people telling them to stop.

    And as we all know, white people haven’t been allowed to tell black people to stop doing ANYTHING for close-on half a century. So about all we can do is to turn the dial. Maybe to one of those C&W stations that still seem to know that there might be a little more to this thing called “Love” than just an endless series of genital collisions.

    An aside (relevant, I hope): The golden age of black pop music that was Motown — and I mean that sincerely, they did lots of great stuff — to which this article nostalgically refers, was similarly euphemistic by necessity. Motown main-main Berry Gordy — a smart and hardworking businessman — used to send the youngsters in his “Hitsville USA” stable to Finishing Schools to make them more palatable to white audiences in general. Gordy didn’t want some talented young “find” of his to blow their big chance to get on, say, the Sullivan Show by coming off too ghetto during the pitch, so he’d pay for them to take lessons in standard white English, middle-class manners, etc, before taking them to see TV producers for bookings. He wanted to raise young Diana Ross, etc, up to white levels of social acceptability, to give them maximum opportunities in the mass media. The strategy worked brilliantly: Gordy got rich, radio got good music, and TV got African-Americans who were polite, dressed decently, behaved themselves, and didn’t frighten white people.

    I sometimes think about Berry Gordy sending his Motown kids to Charm School to get the Harlem out of them, whenever I see some new gangsta rapper sneering at me or some new hoochie-mama shakin’ her, uh, I guess hoochie-booty at me from some TV screen. I think how, nowadays, the old Gordy/Motown status quo of black uplift has been not altered, but completely reversed, turned on its head. Nowadays a pop music producer tasked with grooming some middle-class, non-thuggish black performers would insist that the singers go to Thug School, to get the ghetto INTO them. Train them to be LESS socially acceptable, to be LESS palatable to white tastes, to be MORE trashy and threatening and disgusting. Which means 2011 black music is the Anti-Motown.

  9. HH says:

    What strikes me most about this article is the degree to which Blacks see EVERYTHING in racial terms as opposed to Whites, who see virtually nothing this way – at least not in public! The author of this piece is speaking exclusively about Blacks and Black music, to Blacks, and with no pretense whatever of addressing anyone else.

    Must be nice…

  10. madison grant says:

    “Desegregation split the black community.”

    In other blacks and whites were better off under segregation.

    And the reason black music was more genteel in the 60s was because Motown founder Berry Gordy was trying to appeal to white audiences.

    OTOH early 20th century blues records made for black audiences often had filthy lyrics.

  11. Anonymous says:

    “Ghettos had become burnt-out shells…”

    As if the residents of those ghettos weren’t the ones that burned them down and the burning and looting were somehow caused by the neighborhood, not the residents.

  12. Anonymous says:

    What’s left to say?…white women are obliging and encouraging these vulgar forms of self-expression. Sometimes, I think white women are a different species entirely, most have explicitly as their motive the abrogation of the white race in its current form.

  13. Bilbo Baggins says:

    Though some blacks were able to produce “music” about “love,” in many of the “songs” it was clear what they meant by “love”.

    “Let’s Get It On.”

  14. aj says:

    The music changed because blacks lost something essential—something that all Americans, regardless of race, should regret.


    Yes, because white Americans have nothing more important to do than fret about the breeding habits of Africans.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I’m not prudish to an extreme degree regarding music. That said, white musicians do sing about love and maybe even sometimes sex or sensual matters, but they do so less frequently and in a more artistic and subtle way. When black musicians/rappers/singers make music that have lyrics pertaining to sex and/or love, it’s very crass, vulgar, and not-so-subtle.

  16. Disgusted says:

    Actually, much of pop music, especilly heavy metal is worthless nowadays. In fact, it is DEGENERATE!

  17. Anonymous says:

    This is a very accurate article. All R&B is bumping and grinding. Its disgusting and not even worth listening to. But it also shows where the younger black generation is headed.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Its not R&B anymore. Its diversity music.

  19. olewhitelady says:

    Before the civil rights revolution, blacks were encouraged to fit into Western culture–to, in plain terms, act white. After the revolution, they were encouraged to indulge in their own culture, to intensify it, to wear African garb and hairstyles. Smarter blacks seldom went for this; they got out of the ghetto and succeeded by continuing to act white. The least intelligent blacks stayed in the ghettoes. White liberals at first encouraged them to “do your own thing”. Without the controls of Western values, or even African tribal laws, these people did the same thing any least-intelligent segment of an ethnicity would do. Without any meaningful civilizing influence, they became more savage. Simple desegregation didn’t help such folks, so the liberals pushed for overt integration. Then the liberals decided that they needed perks to compete with whites, and we got Affirmative Action.

    So now we have a population of mostly darker-skinned, lower-mental people concentrated in ghettoes. Most are like over-the-hill slaves on a plantation–no longer useful but still maintained by massa. Most don’t enjoy the dignity of a job or a spouse. Abortion rates are so high that one must conclude that children are seldom seen as a blessing.

    And what do white liberals do? They continue to tell these folks that they must all go to college and get an advanced degree. They must seek diversity by acquiring white friends and sex partners. They must move into racially integrated neighborhoods and compete with the white Joneses. And, at the same time, these people must somehow maintain their ethnicity and black culture as something superior to and more desirable than white, Western mores. Few critics, black or white, will dare to tell them that a culture rooted in sex and drugs is disadvantageous. Privately, many white-acting blacks fear and condemn them and would probably agree that such people would have been happier under segregation.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Recently, on the buses I have been seeing young black couples acting sweet toward each other. Holding hands, whispering, and acting tenderly. If you haven’t been raised around blacks, you can’t understand how bizarre and unusual, this is. Inner city blacks are really raised like spartans. All the softer feelings are beat or conditioned out of them. If you grow up in a violent culture it would be unnatural to be a pacifist. As a white from the ghetto, I have zero romantic feelings and a deep distrust of men which has made it impossible for me to have a lasting relationship.

  21. Nick says:

    There is no love in the black home or community so why should there be black love in music?

  22. Alexandra says:

    I remember this one song from the 80s, Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It.” I also remember attending a high school basketball game over 20 years ago and seeing the cheerleaders due a routine to this song.

    And who remembers the hoopla over 2 Live Crew?

    Black music was bad back then…just gotten steadily worse.

  23. ATBOTL says:

    This is being driven by the taste of young women of all races who are main purchasers of pop music. They want songs about casual sex with egotistical womanizers.

  24. Rabble Rouser says:

    Yes, because white Americans have nothing more important to do than fret about the breeding habits of Africans.

    Oh, yes. You are so correct. We whites sit around all day and “fret about the breeding habits of Africans.” We are positively obsessed with black breeding habits!

    Not like we have to get up and go to work to pay for a large, slothful, unemployable black underclass and makeup for AA blacks in our workplaces who have been hired or promoted far past their abilities.

    Don’t flatter yourself. I’d rather study the breeding habits of sea slugs than waste so much as one nano-second on blacks.

  25. white is right, black is whack says:

    2 — Question Diversity wrote at 6:57 PM on December 5:

    No, I don’t believe crack, deindustrialization and desegregation is the cause of this, nor do I think the black community was ever that much “better” “way back then.” If they were, it was only because they were scared of law enforcement and vigilante repercussions.

    The reason why black music today is dirtier than that of a generation or more ago is that the self-censorship that the record labels used to have and enforce were gradually jettisoned.

    You hit the nail right on the head, my amigo. You can tell if you listen close to ‘black music’ that was marketed to whites before the 60s had a small inkling of ‘black’ to it. Listen to a blues song called “Boom Boom Boom Boom, take you in my house, boom boom boom boom…” Compare that to ‘white music’ at the time, like “Some enchanted evening”, for example, and you will see a difference. Both were good, mind you, but I don’t buy either that black music was more righteous back then, unless as others pointed out, it was targetted to a white audience like the songs “Earth Angel” or “In the Still of the Night” to name a few.

  26. Uptown says:

    @7 Girlish

    It is so facile to say, “(W)hat two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home is nobody’s business.” This is one of the great lies of the modern age. What they do affects, or is supposed to affect, all of us.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Total agreement with poster #1: all that so-called “soul-full” garbage is nothing but Africans howling, moaning, groaning & chanting their mating calls.

    Flooding the airwaves and young people’s minds with that stuff is simply a propaganda campaign to brainwash our youth, with the goal being deification of blacks, and the rejection of white men. It is disgusting when white women mimic it rather than strive to be the next Sutherland, and pathetic when white men mimic it, rather than strive to be the next Pavarotti.

    Whites who imitate that idiotic garbage are answering the mating call they’ve been brainwashed believe is best, although “washed” is an ironic term for the use of junk!

    Rather than being raised on Vivaldi & Bach – which would both instill pride in their own heritage and innate abilities, as well as a developed aesthetic sense that would inure them to the onslaught of the garbage that turns our girls into ghetto-whores and boys into pathetic mockery of themselves in their attempts to mimic blacks.

    The music business is not run willy-nilly; nothing is produced by accident. Fads are generated from the top. It is all done quite purposefully, and that purpose is furthering the process of extinction of white people’s pride in themselves, their culture and heritage, and ultimately: the people themselves.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I like the popular music right now, but i can’t help but noticing all this feel-good techno pop, all the singers are always black boys or white girls or some combination of the two. If yer a white male singer, for the most part, you must be being played on some kind of separate, not diverse, ghetto type station. Ghetto as in excluded.

  29. Sandi says:

    I never cared for “black” music even in the sixties when I was growing up. When the Beatles came out I was estatic. My preference is Classical music, and some new age, and I still love the hard rock which is very “white” based per artists that perform it. (Def Leppard, Bon Jovi type music…)Give me a power ballad anyday. It has been studied, “white” music is melody based, “black” is beat and rhythm based.

    To me, when blacks sing they sound like they are moaning, whining, or wailing, and the beat of the music, ugh. It is very irratating to my eardrums. There are only a few I can stomach.

  30. Justin says:

    The reason why there is no more love or romanticism in R&B music today is because Black music became more “militantly juvenile” (as writer Nelson George once put it) from the mid-1980s onward. The unexpected but undeniable rise of Hip-Hop and other forms of Dance-oriented music (House, Techno, etc.) literally transformed contemporary Black music and it became far more teen-oriented. By the early 1990s, it had become virtually impossible for adult-oriented singers who specialized in romantic music or who had been major stars prior to Hip-Hop’s emergence to get any kind of considerable amount of radio airplay (international superstars like Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and the late Luther Vandross are the only exceptions I can think of). What this all boils down to, however, is the fact that radio program directors and music directors saw that Hip-Hop and other teen-oriented genres was where REAL MONEY could be made and that by playing these genres they could greatly increase ratings and revenue–as the old saying goes, “Money talks”. This, however, is an issue which has affected any and all musical genres as over 90% of today’s music is utter garbage compared to that of the 1960s or ’70s.

  31. Jason Robertson says:

    Blacks on average are more physically sexual by nature than whites. So far as music goes, they tend to prefer rhythm as against melody. Gospel music shows them at the best, and of course they sway and jiggle to its beat. More educated religious blacks look down on rap, hip-hop and grime as “devil music”, but the same could be said of heavy-metal noise used by “racist” white skinheads. Jazz in US black slang means copulation, but whether the music term preceded the sexual term is disputed. There is a close connection between their music and erotic dancing, much cruder and more immediate than dance music as developed in Europe. Physicality remains a predominant element in the best black music, whereas mental aesthetic sensitivites are predominant in the best white music (e.g. symphonic orchestras). Some black women however make excellent singers for white operas; again, a genetic trait in the vocal chords.

    Entertainment of both races can be reduced to the lowest common denominator, as has indeed been happening, and blacks are nearly as much victims as whites of a process driven largely by non-black commercial exploitation.

    The main problem has been the cultural revolution of “sex, drugs & rocknroll” as described in books by David Noebel, Judith Reisman, &c. Both white and black taste has been driven downwards, with the sexual element becoming more blatant, vulgar, promiscuous, perverted and sadistic. Some white popular music retains a certain gentle sentimental romanticism, harder to find in its rauncher black counterpart – compare Taylor Swift with Rihanna.

    The worst aspect of this development is the deliberate video flaunting of young scantily dressed blondes in front of the ugliest bling-decorated black gangsta types; there is a method behind this madness to be sure. Rhythmic repetitions, like alcohol, drugs, porn and disco/club lighting, are designed to break down inhibitions in the short term. To extrapolate in the longer term we could have a generation of “sheeple” that really are sheeple – brainless, race-less, religion-less, spirit-less protoplasmic automata locked into perpetual serfdom. “We have discovered happiness, say the Last Men, and blink” (Nietzsche). Worse even than that?

  32. Fritz says:

    In the 60s, Blacks were still trying to mimic Whites in order to gain acceptance into respectable society. Their best and brightest were successful to a certain degree, i.e., Jimi Hendrix, Sam Cooke, Diane Ross and some others. The problem came when Whites ceased to pass judgement on just about anything Blacks did, not only in music, but politics, achedemia, you name it. The result has been Black culture degenerating to it’s lowest, loudest denominator. Accepance into mainstream White culture hasn’t raised Black culture, it’s devolved ours.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Take an oppressed self-loathing people and elevate them immediately to high positions in society at the expense of everyone else and that’s what will occur. Music has always been a reflection of it’s time.