I don’t know what constitutes R&B anymore. Rather, I don’t know who is an R&B artist anymore. That’s the first thing that popped into my head when Decatur, Ga., singer Rodriguez Jacquees Broadnax, popularly known as Jacquees, proclaimed himself the king of R&B for this generation.
For starters, he’s 24, so I suppose his generation is the 18-25 crowd? I have no idea, but if so, maybe he has a case. True story, until today, I had never heard a Jacquees song. I didn’t even listen to the Jacquees’ Quemix of Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” that somebody had taken down. Fan favorite though it may have been, I never heard it. I listened to his 4275 album, and surprisingly, it is an R&B album. I will even go so far as to say that I like it. He’s actually singing not just this Trap&B delivery that is so popular nowadays. But dropping an R&B album in the midst of a fairly wide open lane doesn’t make you the king.
So what does make one the king? Assuming this monarchy exists, this is a good question. It used to be so much easier when Michael Jackson was establishing the blueprint. For instance, Mike did each facet of kingin’ bigger and better than everybody else. He made better albums, sold more albums, sold out more stadiums, and was widely recognized as the king. Worldwide. Heads of state wanted to meet Michael Jackson, not the other way around.
Even though Bobby Brown came through and tried to crush a mid-sized building with Don’t Be Cruel (I will die on this being the best post-Thriller R&B album ever), doing all the same things as Mike on a smaller scale, MJ was still the king. As the industry has changed though, the ability to reach that level of dominance changed as more and more folks entered the fray, and as music itself changed. But if MJ is a blueprint, then I think the only other folks who truly compared in terms of influence, scope, and just plain ole reach to the people would be Bobby, Usher and Justin Timberlake—and yes, on a purely musical (not human being; I think at this point, we can all agree without debate that R. Kelly is a trash human) basis, R. Kelly.
I don’t know what the 2018 version of that list looks like, largely because, what even constitutes R&B anymore? It used to be a pretty clear delineation between R&B, pop, and rap. You could be R&B and go pop (same with rap), but R&B wasn’t in question. The modern version of R&B, though, is so close in nature to rap because the vast majority of rappers are harmonizing auto-tuniously and singing their verses. It’s only rap because of the sound beds, but the truth is, the subject matter and vocal delivery is much more R&B-ish. Is Bryson Tiller a rapper or a singer? Real question. Even the Grammys seem confused; seems like they just threw non-trap rapper folks who released albums on their nominations lists.
And that’s why it calls into question who is even in contention? If Jacquees is claiming king, who are the R&B singers of this generation he’s comparing himself to? Trey Songz? Is it Chris Brown? Is Chris even of this generation? And if he is, is Miguel? D’Angelo is a relic of another time (technically), and his output is so sparse and only R&B in theory. And since half the Trap&B rappers sing so much, does that include Travis Scott, Lil Uzi Vert, Juice WRLD, Young Thug, etc? They sing with a lot of that emo R&B ethos, but they’re “rappers.” Perhaps the true answer is Drake, who sings as much as he raps and did drop an R&B-ish second half of Scorpion.
Because so much of today’s music is less genre-specific and more boundary crossing—hence, Trap&B—and the talky-rappy version of singing that folks like The-Dream and Chris Brown were so adept at, the idea of a king of R&B becomes this nebulous journey into who the fuck constitutes R&B, unless you include people like Drake. That’s why any kind of R&B conversation pretty much starts and stops almost immediately. Jacquees decided to be provocative and get the people going. I mean, when Lil’ Wayne started calling himself the best rapper alive (since the best rapper “retired”) in 2004, folks thought he’d bumped his head. But you know what happened? He said it so much that other folks started repeating it. Maybe Jacquees is following in Wayne’s footsteps and trying to Jedi mind trick folks into thinking of him in such a way.
Maybe with his video (and the luck of the subsequent ridiculous rebuttal by J. Holiday, who needs to sit down somewhere and probably catch him that valet job somebody tried to hand him), Jacquees was trying to up his streaming numbers, which may have been successful marketing because I’ve had at least three conversations so far telling people that, while he’s tripping for referring to himself as the king of R&B while Chris Brown is still alive, they should check out his album, which has nods to all of our favorite R&B greats from the ’90s. Shit, if DeVante wanted to craft an entire album on him (assuming he can still see the keyboards; drugs are a helluva drug), he might turn in a classic.
Ultimately, John Legend is right. I don’t think there is a king of R&B right now, and Jacquees doesn’t have the catalog, the name recognition, or even the cultural cache to claim such a lofty title. To quote EPMD, he gots to chill. But hell, if you don’t think you’re the greatest, who else will? Might as well create a firestorm of content on a slow news day. And who knows, maybe he can get there one day.
He should stop talking for now, though.