On Tuesday, September 3, 2013, I felt reassured about the output of R&B music. As perused the CD aisle at the local Best Buy, I felt excited to see the majority of new releases were R&B (Neko Case and Nine Inch Nails among exemptions). That observation should be shocking in itself. This included established artists like John Legend, Jaheim, and Raheem DeVaughn, as well as rising artists in Tamar Braxton (a ‘reintroduction’ you might say) and Ariana Grande (a pop/R&B blend). From my perspective, being an R&B lover who’s at his best singing along with a slow jam, I was happy to see such a great amount of music to choose from the same day. My bigger hope, however, was that some of those albums would sell.
To me, there’s plenty of appeal to buy each album I saw, but I’ll focus on the two most reliable sellers in Legend and Jaheim. John Legend’s Love in the Future (Columbia) is his fourth solo LP, following an agonizing five-year hiatus. Sure, he released that Grammy-winning album with The Roots in 2010 (Wake Up!), but that’s not the same as a true John Legend album. Back in ’04-’05, “Get Lifted” was one of my favorites as a college freshman. Even with neo-soul falling by the wayside since those golden days, Legend showed his gospel-drenched runs were still alive and well on the classy “Who Do We Think We Are?”. Throw in the modern-soul of “Made To Love” or the restrained beauty of “All of Me”, both pre-release singles, and Love in the Future sounds like it should easily match the six figures of Legend’s previous releases.
Moving on to Jaheim, the modern-day mix of Luther Vandross and Teddy Pendergrass. “Age Ain’t A Factor” wasn’t exactly the most distinct or innovative single from the ‘ghetto love’ crooner, but it was vintage Jaheim, no questions asked. Pleasant, chill, and soulful, surely Appreciation Day would serve up another batch of adult contemporary R&B greatness. While some fall off was expected following the 112,000 start to 2010’s fine Another Round, still it didn’t seem unrealistic to see Ja sell near six-figures, right?
The answer is WRONG. While the final sales tally of Legend and Jaheim’s albums won’t be officially released until Wednesday, September 11, the prognostications are U-G-L-Y. Legend, whose last album (Evolver) sold 133,000 copies, good for a number four bow, is aiming for an underwhelming 55,000 copies. Jaheim, who managed 112,000 for Another Round, is aiming even lower for 50,000 copies. The ‘ugly duckling’ of the Tuesday’s releases, Raheem DeVaughn’s A Place Called Love Land looks to aim even lower without charting in the top ten like previous efforts Love Behind The Melody (2008, no. 5) and The Love & War Mastapiece (2010, no. 9). While the good news is that two of the five aforementioned releases are in a dogfight for number one (Grande and Braxton), the bad news is that established R&B artists who might’ve been shoe-ins in the past can’t sell albums.
I’m not trying to burst any bubbles, but even if Grande and Braxton make a respectable splash somewhere in the neighborhood of 110,000 – 120,000, how sustainable is that total following the first week? For Tamar Braxton, the truest R&B artist of the two, can singles “Love and War” or “The One” truly keep Love and War atop the charts? As talented as Grande is, is talent enough to get Truly Yours near gold or platinum certification, something few albums of any genre achieve these days? These are legitimate questions.
R&B sells incredibly inconsistently these days. Anytime an artist within the genre can sell near or over 100,000 copies, they’ve made it and that is SAD. How have the biggest R&B artists fared this year as of yet with debut weeks? Robin Thicke moved an ‘impressive’ 177,000 copies of Blurred Lines, but who didn’t see that coming? Fantasia moved 91,000 copies of Side Effects Of You, though that was down from the 117,000 copies she moved in 2010 with Back To Me. TGT moved 76,000 copies of Three Kings while K. Michelle moved 72,000 copies of Rebellious Soul. Still, where’s that blockbuster R&B effort? It’s nowhere to be found.
Will R&B ever recover from its sales inconsistencies? Doubtful.