I don't too much talk about contemporary male R&B artists on this blog, and that's mostly because they suck. Seriously, if I were to spend too much time sharing my male R&B tastes, you guys would probably start wondering why I'm blogging about Bobby Brown and Dru Hill in 2009, so I more or less leave it alone. Still, that's not to say that I don't appreciate a select few guys in the game right now, so I thought I'd give you a quick run through.
The list will progress from least worthy of my time, to most, and I think you'll see that the first few names are really scratching at the bottom of decency, but I digress.
List are fun, and here's mine of the top ten men in contemporary R&B.
Oh, and Maxwell supersedes this list, as he's clearly above all these hoes.
10. Bobby Valentino
I said the bottom of this list would be rough, but in all fairness Bobby Valentino is a pretty solid artist. He's so far from original that it almost hurts, but as I've said before, there's nothing wrong with playing it safe, as long as it's well executed. Bobby's debut was weak, but his 2006 follow-up, Special Occasion, was easily one of the best R&B albums released that year. He rides his mid tempo lane quite nicely, and even his cover of Babyface's "Soon As I Get Home" worked out better than expected. Songs like the Timbaland produced "Anonymous" prove that he can pick up the pace when necessary, and while I've tried so hard to dislike his current single, "Beep Beep," I definitely end up feeling it just enough when it comes on in the club.
But yeah, he looks like a Teddy Graham, so...
Sammie is easily the most underrated artist on this list. The kid releases a single about as often as Posh Spice expresses emotion, so it's understandable that he'd be unfamiliar to audiences. But, his lack of visibility is in no way indicative of his vocal talent. At just 21, Sammie can sing a ballad like a grown man. I don't mean "I can finally get in the bar!" grown, I'm talking panties thrown on stage grown. His material matches his talent, and song's like 2006's "Come With Me" put him miles ahead of other, more commercially successful, artists. Oh, and "Slow" rivals songs by both R.Kelly and Janet in the baby-making category.
Lloyd has a falsetto that the world ain't ready for. Yes, you've heard better, but not nearly as consistent. I don't know many artists that can utilize the register so frequently without transitioning from breathy and seductive to worn and exhausted, often within the same song. Lloyd pulls it off, making even the most trite material melt under his presence. He's one of only two artists on this list that can move from R&B to Pop with ease, and without losing much of anything in translation. Oh, and "Girls Around the World" is throwback perfection...Lil' Wayne feature and all.
7. Trey Songz
I would argue that Trey Songz is the best vocalist on this list, and I'd be right. The only thing that keeps him from appearing further up is his lack of consistently good material. Spend enough time with both Trey Songz and Trey Day and it becomes obvious that the man loses focus midway through each project. Still, when Songz isn't so concerned with trying to keep up with R. Kelly, and finds his own stride, he exudes the potential to become one of the most celebrated male vocalists of our generation. No, really, that voice is something serious.
Say what you will about the man and his lyrics, but Ne-Yo knows how to capitalize on the everyday. He's made a career out of writing lyrics so void of depth and individuality, that anyone can relate to them, and arrangements so simple that one can't help but to sing along. I've said it before, I'll say it again: brilliance. More than that, he's one of very few successful producers that has also managed to be taken seriously as an artist, and while his own music hardly stands out from the music he provides for other artists, it's satisfying nonetheless. While I'll always argue that 2006's Because of You was his best work, last year's Year of the Gentleman proved that even one of the most predictable producers in the game is capable of taking a step outside of the box. Oh, and that other artist who transitions effortlessly from R&B to Pop? Check "Closer."
Oddly enough, Mario's breakout hit "Let Me Love You" hardly does it for me. By no means do I dislike the song, but it was never something I was dying to hear. That being said, Mario is probably the artist I listen to the most on this list. 2004's Turning Point was good, but 2007's Go! was a real accomplishment. Has anyone heard that record? Nope, probably not. That's too bad, because Mario trades in teenage suggestiveness, for aggressively adult material without missing a beat. While lyrics like, "Not tryna be your lover, just wanna fuck you like no other" border on Pretty Ricky bawdiness, Mario delivers them with a maturity that will have you falling for the game by the album's midpoint. But, it's his cover of Keith Sweat's "Right and a Wrong Way" that will leave you feeling embarrassed: "Damn, this is almost better than the origi..."
4. Lyfe Jennings
I don't think anyone is as big a Lyfe fan as I am. All of his albums stay in constant rotation on my iPod, as if removing them would be blasphemous. Something about his voice, paired with the subject matter of his lyrics keeps me interested in just about everything he does. For me, Lyfe is the Mary J. of the male R&B game, and I don't feel like that's a stretch. The same pained vocal technique utilized by Lyfe has been the cornerstone of Mary's career, and both artists are telling stories about survival. Despite general consensus, I think last year's Lyfe Change was everything Jennings needed his third outing to be, and I'm still waiting for a 3rd single.
3. Ryan Leslie
Yeah, I've only just started giving Ryan Leslie a chance, but the swiftness with which I've acquainted myself with his back catalog should serve as an indication of how impressive I think he is. While his production for other artists is hit or miss, his own stuff is good. Like, really good. I've been listening to his self-titled album non-stop for the past week and a half, and what I feel is far too genuine to be called an infatuation. In a perfect world (where the hell is Keri Hilson?) Ryan Leslie would change the game, forcing male R&B stars to step up their lackluster, Lil' Wayne dependent hustle, and get back to approaching music as art. In reality, it'll sell about 100,000 (if) copies in its first week, fall off from there, and be followed by a statement from Leslie blaming the economy and pledging allegiance to his passion in spite of stalled units. Yeah, that sounds about right.
I don't need to elaborate on this too much; you're all familiar. I will say that for all of his lack of creativity, Usher is amazingly consistent. More or less, he's been singing the same songs since My Way, and doing it well enough to keep us interested for what is nearing two decades. That's a hustle, and I ain't mad; especially considering that Here I Stand, his one attempt at a change of pace, was met with such lukewarm response.
That album was good. Yeah, I said it.
You're mad, huh? I don't care. My list, my rules.
Love/Hate was my favorite album last year, and after hearing "Rockin That Shit," and a few other songs, I'm pretty confident that Love vs. Money will be my favorite album of this year. The-Dream's obvious Prince influence is just subtle enough to be flattering, and not tasteless. And as he moves away from the 80s funk of songs like "Nikki" and "Fast Car," he only continues to prove himself a more credible artist with each successive single. I won't pretend like The-Dream is breaking new ground, but he's certainly modernizing an already laid foundation, and complimenting greatness is the next best thing to achieving it.
And realistically, Rihanna owes him her entire career. He probably even cosigned on that bob.
Honorable Mention: J. Holiday, Sterling Simms, Craig David
Oh, and no, I didn't forget about Anthony Hamilton, Jamie Foxx, or Chris Brown. In fact, I very consciously passed them all over.