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R&B SCRAPBOOK: "THE MUSICAL BACKDROP OF MY LIFE"

Keith Naftaly, President, A&R, RCA Records

R&B has been the musical backdrop of my life. For it to have played such a huge role in my career as well is an absolute blessing. I’ve always been drawn to its sensuality, the musicianship of its practitioners and how the best in class can flip from making music for preaching to dancing to fucking with total flair and finesse!

From elementary school straight through to programming KMEL during the peak of new jack swing to A&R’ing everyone from Whitney to Luther to Christina, not to mention these past couple of decades sitting courtside with Mark [Pitts] and Peter [Edge] lending creative input to everyone from Miguel to D’Angelo to Jazmine Sullivan to Chris Brown, it’s crystal-clear that R&B owns my heart, personally and professionally. Fun fact: The first project I A&R’d was the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack with Clive Davis, which was a Babyface R&B master class.

R&B is super-potent right now; authentic lyrics, killer melodies and real instrumentation are having a moment, which is extremely refreshing for the overall musical landscape. The fact that SZA’s “Good Days” is the second-most-streamed song of 2021—at half a billion streams—is a beautiful thing. That song is pure fuel for the soul, 100% emotion and feels. H.E.R. bringing back blazing guitar solos alongside wise, knowing lyrics is simultaneously evolutionary and revolutionary in the spirit of greats like Prince, Alicia Keys and The Isley Brothers. And shout-out to A&R phenom Tunji Balogun for nurturing the next wave of R&B stars, first by signing Bryson Tiller and Khalid but also at his Keep Cool imprint with Normani, Lucky Daye and Van Jess.

Recalling how specific records left their mark on me, The Best of the Stylistics was junior high make-out music from front to back. Earth, Wind & Fire’s Gratitude, with the live extended versions of “Reasons” and “Devotion,” was also a staple. And being from the Bay, Tower of Power was everything—“So Very Hard to Go” may just be my favorite song of all time.

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