I wrote a piece a few years ago about how, on a work trip listening to my iPod playlist of male R&B vocalists, I began to appreciate that there is greater diversity within black male singers’ voices than I think is generally accepted or understood.
It’s often said that there isn’t much variety in the voices of black male singers. And there is some truth to that; that is, if you are speaking solely in terms of tone. But when you listen to Bobby Brown, Eric Benet, Tevin Campbell, Darien Brockington, R. Kelly, Donell Jones, and Tank back to back, you do hear tremendous diversity in phrasing, in the way these brothas articulate.
I thought about this when I was revisiting my favorite Ne-Yo song, “Addicted.”
There’s a defensiveness that is, paradoxically, inviting because of the way Ne-Yo uses his voice here that I find incredibly interesting. Ostensibly, the song is about (re-)establishing his bonafides as a man, but he doesn’t resort to the same kind of limited vocal posturing that one normally finds in male R&B singers. The lyric is heterosexist; the approach, less so. That tension really really works for me, particularly when you consider that there aren’t that many songs in his catalog that make use of his voice with quite this much dexterity.