Raw Thoughts #2: Listen to R&B you nerds

Saturday afternoon, global warming was doing its thing so Millan and I sat in Washington Square Park, watched some Hindu devotional chanting then blasted the new Surf Gang album. We agreed that it’s solid but too short, RealYungPhil says words like they’re the only words that matter and Evilgiane might be a wizard. Later that night, Millan convinced me of the existence of witches.

The Big Steppers hit us with some big ideas this go-around. In the second edition of this column, we shed tears over a plugg wizard named kynlary, ponder the Whiteness of music nerdom and enter the world of MARBLE RACING. Subscribe to our Patreon if you want to submit a song, poem, Ja Morant highlight, fit pic or Instagram apology for us to discuss in next month’s column.

Art by Tyler Farmer

HD Angel – “Lots of american music nerds raised on the internet have terrible R&B literacy”

Millan Verma: Presumably because they don’t have sex. Seriously. It’s the genre’s reason for being. Look Willie Hutch in the eye and tell me his fire wasn’t lit by slippery eroticism. Run one Sade track and tell me she isn’t a satisfied woman. Don’t you know that “Midnight Train to Georgia” isn’t about a locomotive? Willie and Gladys may be funk or soul or whatever you want to call it but it’s all the same. R&B is sex music. You can’t learn sex on the internet. You can learn about sex, but that’s like watching a saxophone lesson on YouTube versus actually playing one. Dig? It’s like trying to understand psychedelic music without dropping acid. Sure, you’ve listened to Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland” but have you become it?

To the music nerds raised on the internet, whoever you are, on the next rare occasion you allow sunlight to toast your skin, and are in the comfortable vicinity of a lover, throw on East Atlanta Love Letter. Be amazed as this person relaxes their shoulders and cranes their neck, rather than fleeing the scene at first sound of the high-pitched, unnecessarily abrasive 46 second SoundCloud single from XYZ.

I can point you to the light but I cannot lead you through the tunnel. Godspeed!

Mano Sundaresan: The easy answer is because most of the American music nerds I imagine you’re describing aren’t Black / didn’t have R&B playing in the house growing up, but why then are the same people running all the #HipHopTwitter pages and claiming to know so much about rap history? I’ll speak from experience. I did not have any R&B or rap playing in my house growing up. My parents didn’t have much of a connection to American music. As a kid, I got into rap through my older cousins. They showed me Wayne videos and played me the most glamorous, thrilling music of the mixtape era during summers in India. In school, rap was pop. Rap dictated the clothes we bought, the files we shared, the forums we joined and the mixes we made.

I initially understood R&B through rap’s hook masters: T-Pain, The-Dream, Ty Dolla $ign, Miguel. In my head, R&B was a foil to rap. And I think for a lot of nerds that didn’t grow up with the genre, R&B remains an afterthought, especially as it was subsumed, warped, even made by rap artists in the 2010s. This blurring of genre lines can be a gateway drug to R&B (it was for me!) but I imagine for others it diminishes the genre’s own lineage and impact. And so they get into boring RYM-core bullshit that vaguely draws from the hokey rock music their dad played in the car on the way to Montessori. It’s a shame, because R&B is in such a good place. So much of the textural weirdness and subversiveness that interests music nerds can be found in modern R&B. Millan’s probably more right though.

Billie Bugara – “Rare Billiecore [DO NOT RESEARCH]”

Millan Verma: All of those boys are so in love with her. She knows it but likes playing coy. Garnering attention by pretending you are unaware of it leads to more attention. I don’t think this is a bad thing. She deserves it; she is the star. Although I’m not convinced it is she who sings. The court she strolls on makes me think of how the average American basketball player is much better than the average European basketball player. Street ball, I mean. I once visited a Pablo Picasso museum and was surprised to find out how much of a degenerate he was. I know that word–the strong word–has a negative connotation. But I think it’s brave to reveal your true desires for the world to see. I wonder what those bloated old men staring at Iveta Bartošová would draw on a canvas. If Picasso were there he would draw something more perverted than I hope anyone reading this could muster. Something truly benign. With animals and tails and a serpent’s tooth involved. Gooey, interconnected limbs reminiscent of a silly puddy orgy. Maybe Iveta would sit atop a cloud and these drooling eastern Europeans would stack themselves like a kamikaze human centipede in hopes of reaching her. Best not to poke around inside other people’s brains. 

Vandana Ravikumar – “who’s the TV/movie character you most strongly identify with?”

Millan Verma: This is a tough one. Sometimes it’s Rocky in the Rocky II training montage. Other times it’s Darius from Atlanta in that Amsterdam episode. Where doors to strange places are opened by a variety of unassuming characters. If I figure it all out then I hope to be exactly like Hank Hill.

Mano Sundaresan: Jim Carrey’s character in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, who’s got such big-brained raw thoughts energy but can only conjure the word “nice” to describe anything positive IRL.

Vandana Ravikumar – “ok i submitted one already but this just occurred to me…do u guys know what marble racing is and do you have any thoughts to share on it”

Mano Sundaresan: Oh boy. If you haven’t seen these races, readers, I’ve got the perfect geeked-out-your-body, 11PM on a Friday watch. Like just look at this shit!

As some of you know, for a while I was working on a daily news show at NPR. (You already know where this is going.) For my very first reported piece—they call them “tape and copies” in the biz—I dove into the world of marble racing. Keep in mind this was like early pandemic, so people were doing silly little things like baking more bread than a family needs and blowing a bag on marble racing sports betting. Anyway, I talked to one of the dudes who narrates these events. It’s awesome that he narrates these in real time. He has no idea what’s gonna happen, he’s just sitting there yelling at some balls! He was electric to chat with, but my editor only let me use a single line of our conversation. The piece that aired was a minute long.

Bill Differen – “Long time reader, first time caller here. Just wanted to see y’all’s thoughts on the greatest artist of our time, kynlary. Nobody like them right now. 

Mano Sundaresan: Because I am zooted off the caffeine on a Saturday morning, I wrote a haiku in real time to each of the songs you submitted as I listened to them.

“the word sorry wasn’t enough”

Hyperpop death kiss,
Vaguely violent and forlorn.
Fragment or finished?

“what it do to you”

Another intro.
Shoutout to the blind and deaf. 
Their voice is a frog’s.

“amg keys”

55 seconds???
Rap is becoming a wink,
songs form from their ends.

“remember her times”

“Fuck it” flow is a hatchet.
Ends on a comma,

“amiri on us”

Rod Wave ass guitar.
This reminds of GAYBOICLIQUE,
The silly-sad GOATs.

3 thoughts on “Raw Thoughts #2: Listen to R&B you nerds”

  1. amazing post here, and this is an interesting read on why some folks are disconnected from R&B. I’d add that the genre’s commercial collapse arrived in the late 00s, and the lines between rap and r&b really blurred through the 2010s; sort of makes sense that by the 2020s the genre’s impact would only be further muted. I saw footage of a Rod Wave concert that sounded like gospel/r&b, so the sound still exists. The genre’s run with particularly male singers has been done for a minute.

    • thanks David. yeah it’s fascinating how Rod Wave and even artists like YNW Melly, NoCap have ascended as “rappers” when they’re basically singing over guitar beats. I remember old interviews where Ty Dolla $ign would talk about how he’s barely rapping on songs too despite being cast as a hip-hop guy or whatever. Seems like we have reached a pt where the distinction almost doesn’t exist for some artists (and audiences), and that threatens to dilute the way we think about them. Need an R&B critic on Rod Wave is what I’m saying basically lol.

  2. Love the thoughts on the nerds who’s only consumption of hip hop is on the internet and do not get laid. Until I started dating and having sex in college, I was so painfully unexperienced in R&B it was sad. Now I find myself diving into R&B albums with a much more open mind now that I’ve been exposed to it much more. Not saying it’s the same for everyone, just an anecdote similar to the points you expressed in your post! Love the post btw