Justin Timberlake brought sexy back! Can he bring back soul?
Words: Carol Ozemhoya
There’s no doubt that J.T.’s The 20/20 Experience oozes soul, from “Suit & Tie” to the Afro-centric “Let The Groove Get In,” his style, the music and the verbiage all emanate from a place J.T. is actually familiar with. His roots are in Memphis (where he grew up next door to Al Green) and ‘80s soul group Full Force produced his boy band N’Sync’s biggest hits. In addition, his first solo effort drew some of the top names in soul, such as Timbaland and the Neptunes. And, by the way, just about the entire new CD is written and produced by still soul music icon Timbaland. J.T.’s current hit, “Suit & Tie,” has him paired with undoubtedly one of the biggest hip-hop artists of our time, Jay-Z. He and J.T. will be touring together this summer.
On stage Justin moves in that sultry soulful way, made famous by earlier soul heroes such as Marvin Gaye, Prince, Michael Jackson and even James Brown. All that brings us to ponder this: “Is Justin Timberlake bringing back soul?” A little history is in order: from the mid-‘90s and well into the new century, Black music ruled the charts, especially pop and R&B. Whether it was Usher or TLC or Toni Braxton, Destiny’s Child or Janet Jackson, the crossover appeal was immense and launched record-breaking world tours and a love for soul music that was unprecedented in acceptance and sales.
Then things changed and folks such as Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus and Kelly Clarkson took back the pop charts. The Brian McKnight’s, the Faith’s and all those R&B groups that were once on top now struggle to stay on top of their own R&B charts, much less cross over. “Let’s not be so quick to label J.T. as the one purely responsible for bringing soul back. While his effort is commendable and his current album is a sure classic, we must also look to recent works from Fantasia, Miguel, Frank Ocean, etc as examples of artists who’ve redefined soul for the new generation,” says Dion Summers, vice president of programming for urban and hip hop at Sirius/XM Satellite. “It’s an exciting time for soul music. We’re nearing the kind of R&B resurgence that we’ve seen in the ‘60s and ‘90s.”
He’s just making good music. JT is a versatile, talented brother with Soul/R&B roots – Bowlegged Lou
Black radio programmers tell IMC that their request lines call for “Suit & Tie” constantly. Even urban adult contemporary, once a genre that refused to play anything with hip hop in it, is airing “Suit & Tie.” It’s definitely what the audience likes. Maybe it’s that ‘60s grinding feel in the beats; maybe it’s J.T.’s Prince-like vocals; maybe it’s simply the grooves and moves put together by an artist that has already paid his dues as a boy band member and successful solo artist. “I wouldn’t say J.T. is bringing back soul, but I would say he is just doing what he’s always been doing,” says Bowlegged Lou of Full Force. “He’s just making good music. JT is a versatile, talented brother with Soul/R&B roots.” Lou goes on to say that artists such as Charlie Wilson – who’s had top records in the urban adult contemporary charts consistently – along with R Kelly and Jill Scott, have laid the groundwork. “JT is just enhancing and contributing his great music to a soul bed that still exists, whether mainstream radio plays it or not. He has tremendous respect for soul music.”
When Full Force produced and wrote for J.T. and N’Sync years ago, J.T. would be beat boxing and singing Brian McKnight songs, reports the Full Force legend. “I remember when Vibe magazine did an article on us when Full Force was working with Backstreet Boys, N’Sync and Britney Spears… one of our members (Baby Gerry) said in the article about how J.T. had lots of respect for Black music and how he loved Brian McKnight and a host of others. J.T. couldn’t wait to see Gerry to give him a huge hug. He was so grateful that his love for Black music was echoed in a huge Black publication like Vibe magazine.” Lou goes on to say that Justin Timberlake is an international artist that appeals to all people. “He is just doing good music as always and all genres, including R&B… the world is accepting and loving it. J.T. has been doing that forever. His music is colorless.”