I believe that the fate of Jill Scott's career will also, ultimately, decide that of the R&B genre. On September 25, 2007 , Scott will release The Real Thing, her third studio album. If successful, the album will not only bring much-needed support, attention, and mainstream success to a cadre of talented R&B artists, like India.Arie and Musiq Soulchild, but also support the foundations of a genre that is in desperate need of a savior. Granted, it goes without saying that Jill Scott does not fit the music industry's mainstream molds of beauty or success. She's assertive, independent, dark-skinned, and intelligent. A stark contrast from other contemporary artists, her success would speak just as much about the world's perceptions of the qualities of black women as it would say about black music. More importantly, Scott's success would serve as a public dismantling of the notion that one has to sell their body, "soul," or image in order to sell a record.
So… is R&B really dead? In all honesty, R&B, if not dead, is on life support. The state of R&B music is a direct reflection of the state of Black America. As the division between the "haves" (those who make it) and the "have-nots" (those left along the wayside) increases, the viability of group cohesiveness decreases. It is troubling that artists and industry insiders that have made it to the mountaintop and experienced great personal and financial success tend to also be the ones that fail to take risks in creating or supporting alternative voices and cultural discourse — lest they too should fall. When did it become impossible or improbable for the world's best-selling black artists to reflect deeply about the world that surrounds them or challenge their listeners to think or expect the unexpected or demand more than a catchy hook laced over a flashy beat? When will consumers, in particular black ones, begin to support artists that address the realities of race, sex and politics as much as those that create mindlessly entertaining club-bangers? Balance is needed, not only in the representations of blackness in music and other mass media but, also, in Black America's reception of the status quo, for Black Americans are not a monolithic people. There is as much room for Beyonce and Usher, as there is for Tamia and Brian McKnight. However, the reality of the situation is this: if Black America looked at itself, naked and unashamed, an artist like Jill Scott would shine back in the mirror. Jill Scott is the truth and her music is honest and reflective of our times, even if Timbaland fails to produce her tracks. If we, as black people, find the music of Jill Scott unmarketable, undesirable and unworthy of our financial support, then what are we saying about the "soul" of us? Perhaps we, too, are dead.