I Am Hip Hop are firm believers in paying homage to greatest while they are still active, especially when they still killing stages around the world.
Ahead of their European tour, we had the massive privilege of speaking with one of the most important R&B groups of the last few decades, Blackstreet. The singers had experimented in solo ventures after their last album in 2002, but four of them regrouped in 2014 to bring the powerful vocals together again.
The reunited vocalists Eric Williams, Levi Little, Mark Middleton and co-founder, Chauncey Black, spoke with us about what was so unique about R&B when they broke through, along with how they combined together in this new era.
“I was overseas doing my own thing by building artists in Australia. The people I was dealing with then wanted me to do a Blackstreet show to help bring awareness to the artists over there.” Chauncey explained.
“I felt that if I was to do a Blackstreet show, I have to get the original guys in that built it so we can do the album. I reached out to Levi, Mark and Eric to really give the fans what they want. When I get on stage and see these guys singing, I get blown away every night. This is like a great basketball team where you know all the players and every night, everybody is doing something great!”
Blackstreet are responsible for some of the most recognisable anthems of the 1990s, including club banger, No Diggity and the ever-emotional ballad, Don’t Leave Me. With their legacy firmly planted, the group had a healthy discussion about how R&B and the music industry as a whole has changed over the years.
“Music in the 90s was more about relationships and love as the songs had lyrical content and meaning.” Eric shared.
“As opposed to today, where they have catchy phrases and repeat the same thing over and over. I’m not mad about that but I am comparing what was happening then to now.”
Eric’s bandmate, Mark conquered with him and followed up with more details on the change.
“Now they have really dumbed down our musicianship. We had classic singers, songwriters and musicians with real talent, along with labels that were willing to develop talent.” Mark said.
“Now records don’t really cost much to make and now you don’t need to have real talent to make a hit song. We are the real talent and the real musicians but half the people these days can’t even read, write or play music.
“Back in the day they wanted you to go to the highest depths with your vocals but now they hold young vocalists down. There has to become a marriage between the production and the artistry again!”
Chauncey also explained how R&B musicians were especially respected and he noticed when the transition first started to happen.
“When Hip Hop came on the scene, it kind of watered down R&B. Hip Hop was such a dangerous stamp on the business because executives wanted to hear more Hip Hop and Hip Hop slang on R&B. Back then Hip Hop artists wanted to be R&B superstars like us! There is no love these days but R&B was all about love.”
Levi added how the change in the way music is consumed is one of the ultimate factors to the way the sound has been overhauled as a whole.
“Also, the business model has changed, as the way the records are sold and perceived is different.” He shared.
“When you come and see a Blackstreet show, you see hardcore R&B fans that really come and love the music. We thank God to be able to have that platform as people still love what we do. We came from an era when people not only really bought music from the record stores but when they came and saw us live, they saw a total experience.
“Now people overuse technology and when people come and see them live, it sounds nothing like that. The cool thing about the change is that it is great for new artists as the middle man is now cut out. You can do the record yourself and upload it so it can be good for independent artists.”
Levi also concluded what separates Blackstreet, along with 90s musicians as a whole.
“Good music will always be around, it will always surface. Blackstreet tried to make records that you would hear forever. You still listen to Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye and when you hear them, they’re like soundtracks to your life. That’s what we also tried to accomplish in the 90s!”
The group then turned to share the many artists that have broken through recently that they love and feel still uphold the light of R&B. The group shouted the names together in excitement.
“Bruno Mars, Miguel, Chris Brown, and what about the ladies holding R&B down? Ella Mai, H.E.R, Jazmine Sullivan and Fantasia!”
The group will be performing at the Jazz Café for three nights in a row on the 25th, 26th and 27th March. Chauncey revealed to us that this is the perfect set up to release their first album for the first time in 17 years!
“There are more dates that keep popping up, at the moment we have three shows in London, one in Switzerland, Cologne and Stuttgart, Germany and Luxembourg. We have actually been to all of these places but this time it is really a formal entry for the new album that we have got coming out. We are going to put something together when we come back and this is for that.”
Chauncey shared how their musical experiences with co-founder, Teddy Riley, along with other super producers, will enable them to find a renaissance with this project.
“The last time we had an album was back in 2002, this time it will be very special as back then people tagged us with the New Jack Swing title so much. Now with our vocal ability and what we learnt from the industry from the likes of Babyface, Teddy Riley and Dr. Dre we can come with a fresh new sound to make R&B.”
Chauncey concluded that the whole group is grateful for their fans, who they call their friends and they look forward to the year ahead.
“We like to tell all our friends that we are so grateful to still be out here and love what we do. We really appreciate it. We know that we have to do another album because of all the appreciation that we get from them.”
Catch Blackstreet at the Jazz Café next week. Tickets available here.
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