I conducted this research by finding text and scholarly articles that discussed Anita Baker’s background information and her contribution to music during her era. I researched her as both a mentor and influence to artists succeeding her. My goal was to find direct links in how Anita Baker changed the direction of Black Music. In that research, I was able to come to Jill Scott, and began to conduct research on her as well. In addition to her background information, I wanted to find the genre Scott identified with and how Anita Baker specifically influenced that genre.
The creation of Rhythm and Blues is easily one of the most influential periods of Black music. Forming as Black dance music during the draft of World War II and the Second Great Migration, Rhythm and Blues was coined to encompass all secular music created by Black musicians. By the 1960s, the range of Black people in the music industry had stretched to almost all genres, which correlates to how broad of a genre R&B became, and currently is. At the beginning of its era, R&B included: swing, blues, jazz, and gospel – and while R&B is a collection of other genres, the merging of these different sounds is what defines R&B as a unique sound. As Rhythm and Blues developed as a sound, sub-genres consequently developed based on the various sounds expressed, including: Soul, Retronuevo, Rock and Roll, Motown, and Groove.
Soul is one of the most popular styles of music derived from classical rhythm and blues. The era began in the 1960s, at the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, and worked in unison with the Black Power Movement. Most of the lyrics in these songs bring light to the social and political disparities that African-Americans underwent, and emphasized the importance of Black unity. Soul intersected will all forms of expression; dance, visual art, spoken word, fashion, etc., and this is represented in the music, when spoken word begins to merge with the classical sound of R&B. What began as a musical genre quickly transformed the movement of that time. It was not long until “soul” became synonymous to “blackness.”
During the 70s, music was in a transitional state. Artists went from performing with live musicians, to simulators and electric instruments, and it was during this time that disco, funk, and house music began influencing not only Black media, but white audiences as well. Rhythm and Blues has been relevant in Black entertainment since the 1940s, however the other genres soon began to monopolize Black popular music. In fact, it was not until the 1980s that R&B took precedence in Black entertainment, which was the formation of contemporary R&B, or retronuevo. The time between original R&B and retronuevo is important because it shapes the sound of the sub-genre. Retronuevo has all of the components of classical R&B, but it incorporates the electric sounds that were transforming music at the time. Many of the other sub-genres created from R&B are considered “crossover” sounds, because of its ability to appeal to all audiences. Retronuevo, however, maintained most of the styles of classical rhythm and blues, with the modification of the lyrics to attract a different audience. This is notable because it is the first genre that was the modification of a collection of other genres.
Anita Baker was born on January 26, 1958, in Toledo, Ohio, but grew up in inner city Detroit. Her birth mother, who was only 16 at the time, recognized that she could not provide for Anita at such a young age, and left her in the care of Mary Lewis. Unfortunately, when Anita was 13, her foster mother passed away and was left under the care of an older foster sister, Lois Landry. Her foster family provided her with a stable environment that emphasized hard work and religion; she joined a church choir at an early age, but also sang secular music on the side. By 16, Anita was performing at local night clubs, and gaining recognition from David Washington, who can be contributed to kick-starting Baker’s career.
With the help of David Washington, Anita Baker was signed to Ariola Records as the lead singer of the group Chapter 8. Their first album was released in 1979, which was right before their record label was taken over by Arista Records. The album did not sell as well as expected, and the label attributed this to Baker’s ability to be lead singer. The group split shortly after, which sparked Anita Baker’s solo career. She officially went solo in 1982 and produced her first solo album, The Songstress, in 1983. With over 300,000 sold copies, Anita was able to establish herself as an upcoming artist that covers a wide range of material and moods, from pop and soul, to jazz and blues. In 1986, Baker released her second album, The Rapture, with Elektra Records. The Rapture is accredited as her breakout album; selling more than 8 million copies, and earning her multiple Grammy’s. Her second album includes some of her most popular work, including “Sweet Love,” and “Been So Long.” And it was during this time when her role in the creation of retronuevo as a genre was most imperative. Retronuevo was defined as black music that merged the sounds of gospel, R&B, and electronic dance music. Rapture encompasses each of these sounds. Baker’s distinctive voice quality showed her influence from gospel, given that her talents developed in the church setting. Her songs play on the partnership between R&B and disco. In “Been So Long,” she uses an R&B base, but includes electric instrumentation, and the electric piano, to create the desired sound of retronuevo.Aside from just the musical structure of retronuevo, Anita Baker set the tone for the cultural importance of black music during the 80s.
Understanding the role that Anita Baker played in the 80s helps understand how influential she has been to current artists. Urban contemporary as a genre created a platform for black artists to modify a style of music, and remarket it to another audience. With Anita Baker being one of the most notable artists in the era, it is important to understand the various ways she alone contributed to all genres following contemporary R&B. Neo-soul, for example, is the evolution and modification of soul, to market to a younger generation. Similar to retronuevo, neo-soul captures the essence of its parent genre, traditional soul, which was popular in the 1960s and 1970s.
Neo-Soul is driven by black poets and their spoken word, but combines the elements of funk, jazz, rhythm and blues, and hip-hop to their pieces. The artists of neo-soul re-contextualize the spirit of soul and the reformulate the substance, which produces expressive variety in the convention.
Jill Scott was born on April 4, 1972, in North Philadelphia. Raised by her mother, Joyce Scott, and grandmother Blue Babe, Jill did not have the typical musical background. She is noted for always having a talent in music and spoken word; but instead of pursuing the arts, Jill attended Temple University and studied secondary education. Her goal was to become a high-school teacher. This goal fell short, however, after receiving negative reviews on her teaching style. Jill decided to quit her track of secondary education and pursue an acting career instead. It was not long after this decision that she landed a role in a Canadian show called Rent, and was able to showcase her poetry to a larger audience. It was her poetry that helped her gain attention from DJ Jazzy Jeff, who drove her career in the music industry. Her work did not end here, though. After establishing herself in music, Jill Scott went back to acting and landed roles in notable films for Black entertainment.
Jill Scott’s introduction to the music industry was by way of production. Under the influence of DJ Jazzy Jeff, Jill produced some of black music’s most popular work. This includes You Got Me, which was sung by Erykah Badu and The Roots. She was signed to Hidden Beach Records in 1999, and released her debut album, Who Is Jill Scott? Words & Sounds, Vol. I, a year later. The album received many accolades, as it was an album that reached all audiences. It had enough pep to reach a younger audience, but also had enough soul to attract an older crowd. In most of her work, Jill is able to reinterpret the sound of soul, so that it keeps all of the same elements of the genre, but is more appealing to a more relevant audience. This ability is what makes Jill Scott a key contributor in the entertainment industry. Her ability to intersect her poetry with her musical talents and her theatrics keep her at the forefront of the entertainment industry, but it also keeps her in the inner circle of neo-soul.
In addition to Jill Scott’s connection to neo-soul structurally, further inspection of her lyrics will show that the message in her songs are linked with that of neo-soul as well. An important factor of neo-soul is that it kept the ideology of black consciousness that was formed during the 1960s. Soul rose from the need of cultural and political empowerment. Bred during the Black Power Movement, Black identity and authenticity were emphasized. This message carried over into the neo-soul era, which explains the extreme expression of Blackness and Black love. Similar to that of Anita Baker, Jill Scott’s lyrics also suggest sexual freedom, which had not been done prior to retronuevo. It was Anita Baker who addressed sexual liberation in a way that was deemed socially acceptable during her era. While sexual expression is the new norm for music, it was the push toward this expression during the age of retronuevo that influenced artists today. Songs like “Brotha” and “Crown Royal”, by Jill Scott are examples of the influence that Anita Baker and the sound of soul has over Scott’s sound.
Contemporary rhythm and blues as a genre has been influential to all genres succeeding it. Not only did the lyrical content of music shift during this time, but the instrumentation and musical structure also changed. Simultaneously, retronuevo was simulating the sound of original R&B, because retronuevo was full of slow ballads and easy listening. Anita Baker, in particular, was groundbreaking in her influences for Black women in the industry following her. Her style of music, its content and its audience carried over into all genres of today’s time.
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Neal, Mark Anthony. What the Music Said: Black Popular Music and Black Public Culture. New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.
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