Greg Kot, a noted music critic, once wrote one of my favorite lines in music criticism when he stated "disco was the worst thing to happen to soul music."
In writing that line, Kot reminisced about the salad days of soul music where artists actually played instruments and had phenomenal voices. Essentially, soul music wasn't simply "Black" music but music that told a story from the heart. And to this end, soul music came in a variety of shapes and forms ranging from the soulful voice of Marvin Gaye, the manufactured pop styling from Motown, to the gut-renching, hard driving sounds of the Stax label, to Philadelphia sound. The common denominator of 60s music was the fact it had a story to tell. With true vocals. And real instruments.
The advent of disco make the record producer the main force and with that musicians and "vocalists" became similar to the cotton gin: interchangeable parts.
Sure, the disco era had its stars but the music was lifeless. And, as Kot so greatly pointed out, Black music became mechanical. It was all too easy to push a button and to manipulate a voice so everything sounded just right. The strings which made the Philadelphia sound so memorable became nothing more than the touch of a keyboard on the latest 12'' record spun at your local disco.
By the early 1980s, video killed the radio star. Disco killed great Black music.
I tell you this because this morning I was cruising along the Garden State Parkway listening to what passes as "morning drive" radio. Flipping the station to Power 105.1, I head the final minute of Jodeci's "Stay". For a second, I couldn't help but get lost in memories of my youth. Ah, to be young and carefree in the early 90s. One can't help but realize that the song could be deemed a modern-day, New Jack Swing classic.
Yet at the end of song I heard something as glaring as a needle scratching a record. (Remember that sound?) It was the sound of Cedric Hailey (loved and known to millions of young girls as "K-Ci") crooning and extending the song's final notes. The rest of the members would soon join in.
And suddenly, it struck me. Jodeci killed the black male vocalist!
"How?", the music lover in you asks.
Jodeci was one of the forerunners of the modern R&B movement. By that, I mean music that was heavily influenced by hip-hop. Jodeci sold millions of records. Jodeci had vocals and production that was as smooth as silk. This left larger record companies to try to mimic their success (because after all, the larger record companies love to copy each other leaving originality to the independents and underground labels). As result, we have a new collection of singers who all want to sound like Jodeci.
And today, their influence is stronger than ever.
Listen to any standard R&B song today. Name a singer. And he not only croons, but holds the final notes of his songs. This vocalization isn't unique to Jodeci but they helped popularize this method of singing.
I know that it's only popular music, but by virture of their popularity, Jodeci helped push out talented soul singers who will never have a chance to see the light of day, or rather, the music charts and commerciall radio. Or even "American Karaoke", I mean "Idol", is filled with young Black men believing that they must sing in this nasally croon as opposed to just belting it out.
Blame Jodeci. (Or at least give them a royalty check.)
Looking back, if only I know where Jodeci would take popular R&B, I would have rallied my friends against buying their cassette tapes. Now, I can only shake my head in disbelief of the monster they created.