King of R&B is Decent, but Jacquees is a Jester at Best
Evan Dale // Nov 11, 2019
No cap croons the braggadocious melody of Jacquees’s opening statements on his self-astute new album, King of R&B. And with it, as well as a feature verse from T.I. listing off the world’s most cliché sex positions under a banner of freaky sex, comes a lot to unpack. Coming back from an album’s first three minutes where our self-acclaimed protagonist goes on vocal run after vocal run begging his listeners to clap for him is hard to do.
But we’re going to let the mirage ride anyway.
Firstly, and importantly: it needs to be said that Jacquees is outrageously talented, and by the tenants of a mid-2000’s old-school where Trey Songz and T-Pain were experimenting wildly with hip-hop’s cinematic production and crass thematic discourse, Jacquees is undeniably so. His vocal range is more than solid; his penmanship brings a lot of hilarity and even the occasional rhyme; and his confidence is peak R&B superstar.
But in a musical moment where R&B and Neo-Soul have embodied roles as some of the world’s hardest-hitting risk takers, innovators, and influential artists, a king has got to find a sneakier way to bite the past, a truer lane to make a legitimate statement, and a smoother, better way to drive the future forward.
The world expects a lot from its modern R&B royalty. Daniel Caesar’s vocalism is largely unparalleled – only matched in uniqueness and range by artists like Snoh Aalegra, Brent Faiyaz, SiR, and Mahalia – whose own lanes are all arguably also untouched in emotional scape. Songwriting has become deeper, more poetic. Purpose has grown a limb for fighting for something more than one-night stands. A project like Raveena’s Lucid is an R&B thesis on femininity and strength; A direction like Dijon's always dives into self-doubt and struggles with emotionality and self-discovery. And though the hyper-sexualized routes of artists like DVSN are still rooted in R&B’s risqué 2000’s scene, they’re more in-depth, less predictable, and delivered with world-class vocalism that has the ability to mask absurdity of the lyrics altogether.
It’s not about being funny anymore. It’s about saying something – singing something – and doing so in a way that makes an audience listen to what’s being said.
Jacquees’s thesis, however, is rooted in at this point archaic musicality and a weak stab at relevantism founded only in comedy and self-obsessed self-acclaim.
Don’t get it twisted: there’s more room for exploring the past than ever before. With the more experimental, futurist decisions artists make to change the soundscape of R&B and Neo-Soul, the more space artists have to also look in the opposite direction for inspiration. Devin Morrison’s 2019 debut album, Bussin’ is a vibrant example and exploration of 90’s R&B. But it merges lanes with modern production and highlights what the current scene can learn from the past. Jacquees on the other hand doesn’t deviate in texture, vocal delivery, or discourse from a mid-2000’s R&B scene that was already limited.
Which begs the question: would Jacquees even be in the conversation for King of R&B in the decade-and-a-half-old scene to which his music actually belongs?
Devin Morrison’s Bussin’ would have been an undeniable string of skate rink anthems in ’97, but that wouldn’t make him king then or now. Would Jacquees’ King of R&B had held up to T-Pain’s Epiphany, Chris Brown’s Exclusive, or Alicia Keys’ As I Am a decade later? Hard to say.
But, if he wouldn’t have even been the outright king in a scene that had less artists, doing less, exploring a narrowed corner of music, how could he ever compete in a scene that has more breadth, experimentation, and influence than it ever has before?
The simple answer is that there is no king of R&B. There isn’t a queen either. Music has become much larger in the wake of the SoundCloud generation, granting anyone from any corner of the globe the opportunity to explore musicality in their own unique way and find an audience doing it. Music is too wide – R&B is too wide for any one person to hold enough influence for a crown that isn’t hyper-specific.
So, is Jacquees the king of sustaining the lifeline of 2007 throwback R&B? Sure.
King of R&B is musically a good album. It’s undeniably reminiscent of an era that most of its listeners grew up grinding to on the junior prom dancefloor. And for that alone, it’s well done by the boxes it texturally aims to check. It’s brimming with hits when lyricism is cut from the equation, and raw, hyper-sexualized R&B of the past is all that counts. But in terms of songwriting, innovation, experimentation, influence, and sustainable importance of any kind, it comes up remarkably short of anything deserving of a title. In its lane – in Jacquees’s lane, T-Pain, Trey Songs, Chris Brown, Musiq Soulchild, Lloyd – are kings; Beyoncé, Solange, Alicia Keys, Keyshia Cole, Rihanna – are queens. Today, there are too many artists heading in too many different directions to even begin making a list of royalty at all.
Had Jacquees made an album in homage of the sound that has clearly influenced him the most, and had he done so with thematic discourse that deviated from his obsession with self-importance and a Trumpian need for affirmation and praise, King of R&B (which would probably then have a different title) would be worth discussing further.
Instead, claiming the crown of an entire musical spectrum that has become almost impossible to define at a macro level makes Jacquees a jester at best.