Guilty Pleasures…Early Noughties R&B Duets

Art & Lit Music

David Atley confesses

‘Crazy In Love’ was one of the biggest selling tracks worldwide in 2003, spending three weeks at number 1 in the UK Singles Chart and eight weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. It catapulted Beyonce to superstar status after the break-up of Destiny’s Child and was one of the first hints at a relationship between her and Jay-Z. The track is a great example of a whole sub-genre that dominated the charts in the first half of the 00s – R&B and Rap Collaborative Love Songs.

Another one of Destiny’s Child dabbled in this mouthful of a sub-genre. In 2002 Nelly and Kelly (Rowland) collaborated in the ‘Dilemma,’ a song which explores the heart-ache of a relationship that cannot be. The accompanying video shows the relationship develop through a series of vignettes which culminate in some late night, middle of the road dancing as Kelly declares “You dont know what you mean to me.” The song shows a softer side to Nelly, an aspect to his artistry that he would subsequently explore in the split-screen-tastic ‘Over and Over’ with Tim McGraw.

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One of the most profound changes in character was that of Ja Rule. In his three collaborations with Ashanti between 2000 and 2004, all of which gained top ten status, he expressed a more loving side, a facet of his personality that isn’t obvious when you hear stories linking him to the death of Proof from D12. The highlight of these softer works is 2004’s ‘Beautiful’, a track which features both Ashanti and R Kelly. It is the later’s verses and acting which are the high points for both the song and the video. R Kelly considers the shallow reality of love that comes with the celebrity status, all the while wearing the most fetching dressing gown and throwing trays of spirits around (such acting wouldn’t reach its full potential until ‘Trapped in the Closet.’)

My favorite track from this sub-genre is Blu Cantrell’s ‘Breathe,’ which featured a guest appearance from Sean Paul back in 2003. Strangely not a hit in the US, peaking at 70 in the Billboard Top 100, the song went straight to number one in the UK and spent four weeks there. Cantrell still hasn’t been able to replicate what she perfected here. The song highlights Blu’s vocal range and ability to drive recklessly, while Sean Paul is left to give an emotional response (“Woman if you leave me now I’m gonna shed a little tear for you”) while grinding to the bird’s-eye camera.

I could just be looking back at these tracks with rose-tinted glasses, but the current crop of R&B artists, who occupy the top of the charts, don’t seem to be able to replicate to what has come before in this micro-genre. These nuggets of pop-perfection, which still provide a great deal of satisfaction every other Thursday at Babylove, are just a pleasure.