Contemporary R&B and hip-hop have been suffering through a rough couple of years. The old school, as it stands, has grown repetitive and predictable, and the majority of the new school is still struggling to find its own identity that exists outside the parameters of past icons. Coming out of a St. Louis area hip-hop scene that has been foolishly ignored by the mainstream music media for a couple of decades now, Willie J has never really fit in with any set crowd. His music is original, hard to categorize and deeply soulful, and his new collaborative single with Arthur Anthony, “Sunshine With the Rain,” just might be the aesthetical breakthrough that urban music has been awaiting the last few years.
“Sunshine With the Rain” is a simple enough song, but it isn’t elaborate samples or genre-bending grooves that are the secret ingredient to its explosive allure. Through empowering lyrics and a stylish beat that relentlessly grabs our attention and refuses to let it go, Willie J and Arthur Anthony exchange harmonious jabs back and forth to create an emotionally charged, inspiring ballad about enduring and overcoming all of life’s challenges to emerge better, faster and stronger than we were before. The message is simple in itself, but it’s one that this generation really needs to embrace at the moment.
A big issue that I’ve had with R&B recently has been the streamlining of its most talented vocalists. FM radio has become entirely polluted with sound-alikes and electronically-augmented rhythms that originate less from the timber of Marvin Gaye and more from the synthetic grind of 80’s industrial acts like Ministry. Willie J’s music is very sleek, but it doesn’t go out of its way to shave itself down to the point of losing its natural character. “Sunshine With the Rain” is organic R&B in its most authentic, studio-produced form.
Artists like Willie J who are intent on promoting a positive message during these socially divided times are going to have the greatest legacies of this era come ten, twenty years from now. With so much strife and divisiveness spilling over from the political world and into our everyday lives, music has become the last holy oasis to get away from the stress and discord of everything going on around us. Willie J is aware of the power that he can wield when he’s got a microphone in his hands, and not only is he openly committed to using that power for good, unlike his contemporaries he’s making good on that commitment.
A lot of young, up and coming artists both inside and outside of the R&B community could learn a lot from Willie J’s approach to making music. This cat doesn’t just set out to record a song so that he can sell records, he gets into the studio and cultivates a feeling that only exists within his the depths of his soul. I think his influence is going to be huge as the years go by, and “Sunshine With the Rain” marks a serious turning point not only for his career but for pop music in and of itself.
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