Which R&B singer is/was most important to their group? A family discussion.

OPINION: There’s nothing more entertaining than spending real time pontificating about R&B and then choosing violence where everybody else chose peace. The post Which R&B singer is/was most important to their group? A family discussion. appeared first on TheGrio.

Which R&B singer is/was most important to their group? A family discussion.

OPINION: There’s nothing more entertaining than spending real time pontificating about R&B and then choosing violence where everybody else chose peace.

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

One of my favorite pastimes is perusing social media for arguments nobody asked for that create spirited discussions amongst the homies. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of minding your own business only to be blindsided by a question you didn’t even know you cared about that starts an hours-long text battle — social media really is the gift that keeps on giving. 

Such is the case with a graphic that was sent to me with a question I’d never pondered that immediately forced me into an opinion, defense and rebuttals for any and all takers. According to the information on the graphic, it was created by a social media account called The Derelict Collective; I can’t seem to find this actual slide on Instagram or Facebook, but I did find a very similar one so I’ll just assume that my wife is right when she says I can’t find things that are right in front of my face. To that end, I have no idea when this was created or how many people have already weighed in on this discussion, but let’s move on. This particular graphic asks a very important, unimportant question: Who was most important to their group? 

Here are the options: Dawn Robinson (En Vogue), Teddy Riley (Blackstreet), Ralph Trevant (New Edition), Sisqo (Dru Hill), Beyoncé (Destiny’s Child), Brian or Brandon Casey (Jagged Edge), Left Eye (TLC), Slim (112), Coko (SWV) and Raphael Saadiq (Tony!Toni!Toné!). 

Hmm. There’s a lot to think about here. But let’s lay out a few things. This graphic doesn’t say anything about solo success or how huge an artist became because of the group, but at its most basic — which person listed is the most important to their group? So no, the answer isn’t automatically Beyoncé, though, you could make an argument … we’ll get there. Everybody listed is not only important to their group’s success but essential to it, but in order to make a pick we have to get rid of some folks and this will hurt me more than it hurts you.

Be that as it may, let’s start eliminating folks. The easiest one (not easy, but easiest) to eliminate here is Left Eye from TLC. While she was clearly the most visible member and definitely had the most non-musical news pegs, T-Boz was probably the most important member of the group; her voice set the tone for the vast majority of the songs. I am going to controversially say that Dawn Robinson is also not the most important. Admittedly, when she left the group, their success wasn’t the same, but I’m not sure that was their fault so much as it had been five years between 1992’s “Funky Divas” and 1997’s “EV3” and music changed a lot by then. The marketplace had lots of R&B options. Dawn was important, of course; her vocals are driving a lot of those early En Vogue records, but I also think of all the members pretty evenly. Maybe that’s just me. 

I also think — and this pains me to say — that in this iteration you can eliminate the Casey Twins from Jagged Edge since the vast majority of their early, noteworthy hits were produced by Jermaine Dupri and Bryan Michael Cox; the twins, however, did do the songwriting. They’re obviously important — I’m not sure the group could exist without them — but I think that to discuss importance, if you do the writing and production, like Teddy Riley, then you move up the rankings. 

Actually, it’s more difficult to eliminate folks, so let’s just go with the people who are in the running for most important. That list would be Sisqo, Beyoncé, Coko and Teddy Riley. Oh, and of course, Ralph Tresvant who is the absolute reason that New Edition is even still a thing. Shouts out to Slim and Raphael Saadiq — no shade, all love — but I think it’s only now that we think of Tony! Toni! Toné! as Raphael Saadiq and company. 

So boom. As I said, there is no Blackstreet without Teddy Riley who not only was a songwriter on the group’s records but also produced (or co-produced) all of them. But I’m not sure he’s who I think about first when it comes to Blackstreet; would that group have had a chance to exist if somebody else did production? Perhaps. 

I don’t think Destiny’s Child even gets a chance to exist without Beyoncé. So she’s definitely on the shortest of short lists. Coko was the literal SOUND of SWV. Coko’s voice on that hip-hop/R&B production was the driver of SWV (and probably what broke them up). In the same vein, Sisqo was the frontman and the most visible member of Dru Hill. Could Dru Hill exist without Sisqo? Probably not. I just don’t think anybody would be lining up to see a Dru Hill show minus Sisqo. Kind of like Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child. You don’t get the latter without the former. I do think, though, Beyoncé is more important to Destiny’s Child than Sisqo is to Dru Hill so that bumps her up. But I actually think that Coko is more important to SWV than Beyoncé is to Destiny’s Child; again, Coko was the SOUND of SWV and I’m not sure we can attribute a sound to Destiny’s Child in the same way. 

And then there’s Ralph Tresvant. I’m genuinely not sure New Edition makes it without Ralph. Any and everybody would be disappointed if you showed up to a New Edition show and Ralph wasn’t there. If Bobby isn’t there, the audience isn’t surprised, but if Ralph isn’t there the promoters might have to cancel the show. Johnny singing all those leads just isn’t the same. At this point, we know the whole group as the sum of its parts and love them all, but Ralph was that dude early on. He was the voice. And if you believe the television series, he really was the reason they ever even got a shot, which kind of makes him the actual most important member of the group. He was the sound and the reason for the season. I think Beyoncé and Coko are like that but I already said Coko was more important. So between Coko and Ralph, I am going with Ralph, but I’m not happy about it. I don’t think I’m wrong, but my soul wants me to say Coko.

Whew, that was hard. You can make arguments for them all. 

Who you got?

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things, drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.

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