I’ve been very pessimistic about the current state of R&B music. Mainstream artists are creating one-dimensional music that’s a Flanderization of the genre, and hidden gems still exist but are much harder to find. And the less said about Brent Faiyaz the better. Two albums have recently caught my attention and given me hope for the next generation of R&B music.
The first album is “Breezy” by Chris Brown. It felt nice to listen to someone who can legitimately be considered a pop superstar that chose to go down the route of a traditional R&B album instead of the much easier EDM path. The album is bloated at 24 songs in length, and I hope that Brown stops trying this “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach, but there are some great songs on the album such as “Pitch Black”, “Closure”, “Psychic”, and “Iffy”. I hope he inspires some of his contemporaries to create true R&B music.
I’ve spoken at length before about the reasons why some people still choose to avoid Chris Brown, and that’s fine. I also have to mention that Tory Lanez is on this album as well, and that may also trigger a response from some listeners. I’m not here to sway anyone either way. You have the right to choose whether you want to support Chris Brown but don’t tell some lawmakers or that might change soon. But I digress.
The other album that I discovered recently is “1–800-HIT-EAZY” by Hitmaka and Eric Bellinger. The album is a proper R&B album in every form and fashion from two incredibly talented individuals, and it’s remarkable. The album was released in February 2021, and it saddens me that good music doesn’t spread through blogs and word of mouth the way that it used to. However, this album doesn’t seem destined to elevate either to true superstar status for two reasons that are both unfortunate and equally different.
Hitmaka is a super producer that has had a hand in multiple hit records over the past few years. He is influenced by R&B classics and stays in that lane, providing a solid backdrop for the artist without ever overpowering them. He’s a reliable hand that can provide a softer sound for rap albums or an aggressive sound for R&B artists perfect for a feature with a rapper. There’s one big problem that Hitmaka faces and is the reason he’s not a household name.
Hitmaka is also Yung Berg.
For those who may be unaware Yung Berg was a rapper from the late 2000s that was equally famous and infamous. He was insanely talented and had several hit records — remember “Sexy Can I?” — but he also had a penchant for verbally writing checks that his ass cannot cash. Coupled with his slight stature, he was an easy target for robberies, getting beat up and various other forms of humiliation. This peaked when he got his Transformers logo chain snatched in Detroit and it was paraded throughout the Myspace metaverse.
I need to pause here to expound upon the act of chain snatching. Getting robbed for your chain is one of the most disrespectful things that can happen in the hip-hop community. Your chain is the physical representation of your crew, your neighborhood, your hometown, or some other logo with high sentimental value. Getting your chain taken is highly insulting, and even worse if someone physically takes the chain off your neck. Fewer people wear chains in 2022 but please be aware that if you do you are a “walking lick” so to speak, but I digress.
The embarrassment of Yung Berg being on the losing end of so many physical altercations altered his career trajectory and forced him into a behind-the-scenes role in the music industry. There’s no way to know how different his career would be without that ill-fated night in Detroit, but we know that he has shown remarkable resiliency to even be at this point where he’s allowed to show his face as Hitmaka and not meet immediate ridicule. Eric Bellinger on the other hand has never had a chain snatched, but he is afflicted with another music industry curse of death.
Eric Bellinger is a ghostwriter.
For the past decade or so, Bellinger has been writing hit records for rappers, singers, and pop stars. It’s reached that point that Bellinger named his label and production company YFS. YFS stands for Your Favorite Song because it’s a high probability that your favorite song on your favorite album was written by Bellinger. There are two routes for every ghostwriter. You either emerge from the shadows to be recognized for your talent, like Frank Ocean. Or, you are forcibly sent back to the shadows to continue churning out material for other more famous artists, like Quentin Miller. Unfortunately for Bellinger, it has been the latter.
Despite having numerous hit records himself, he is never seen as a true solo music act. In a weird series of events, Bellinger’s most viral moment was when he began singing the introduction to Usher’s “Superstar” as an online challenge and it caught steam, leading to a gig where Bellinger is now a background singer and dancer for Usher’s latest concert appearances. The irony of this is that this will most likely lead to Bellinger writing songs for Usher while the two work closely together, further cementing his legacy as a behind-the-scenes music industry veteran.
I think “1–800-HIT-EAZY” is a swansong for both Hitmaka and Eric Bellinger’s attempts at being solo artists, as both feel at ease and confident in their roles as producer and songwriter respectively for the stars. It’s one thing to never attempt to follow your dreams, but after numerous failed attempts at crossing over into pop superstardom, it’s also a sign of awareness that you become content with your position in the musical food chain. Let none of this take away from the magic of the album and I highly recommend that everyone listen to it.
Unless you’re a chain snatcher.
Pass this on to a friend (or three) and tell them to sign up here if you enjoy this newsletter.