Can’t Sing? Don’t Sing!
by DeVone Holt

This article first appeared in Lee Bailey's EUR Report.

(May. 8, 2003) LOUISVILLE, KY – Like most parents, my mother believed as a child I had many hidden talents that needed to be nurtured in order to blossom.

Consequently, I was made to take saxophone and trombone lessons, which served only to reveal that I was no Quincy Jones. I was forced into gymnastics and quickly bailed out when my middle school buddies got a glimpse of me in stretch pants. And I was coerced into football only to learn that it takes more than a Jehri curl to be like Walter Payton.

But perhaps the most embarrassing episode of my formative years was the time my mother sought to gauge my singing prowess. She convinced the music minister at our church to let her 10 year-old “baby boy” take part in a duo-led song in front of a packed congregation.

Prior to those 15 minutes of shame, I knew I wouldn’t make a living singing, but on that fateful Sunday, so did the rest of the church. Even with my head tilted back and the microphone positioned at my waist, the pitch inconsistencies and cracks in my voice were painfully audible.

Despite the requisite applause and words of affirmation after my debacle, it was unanimously decided that I would become a permanent fixture in the background of the church choir. After all, that’s what was expected of someone with no singing talent.

Now, fast-forward to 2003 and we see the dawning of a new day. It’s an era in which my lackluster vocal skills could potentially make me the next big star. Although talent judges on shows like Star Search challenge aspiring artists to seek vocal perfection, the popular music allotted priority airtime suggests that not even mediocre skills are necessary to become a pop icon.

Take for instance, the slew of rappers who are no longer satisfied with simply rhyming in their songs. For some godforsaken reason, they’re now compelled to try their hand at singing – to the painful displeasure of those of us who hear their songs on the radio every other hour.

In his song “I Know What You Want,” rapper Busta Rhymes takes vocal butchering to new heights when he steps outside of his comfort zone and offers up his wounded baritone for the melodic chorus. And his case as a singer is worsened when he attempts to croon alongside his song mate and vocalist extraordinaire, Mariah Carey. It’s like the vocal parallel of beauty and the beast.

But Busta isn’t the only rapper who needs to reconsider his ambitious singing aspirations. There’s a growing list of other wannabe-singers who would surely yield a humbling comment from Simon Cowell if they vied for the next American Idol title.

Da Brat is the latest ear-polluter to be added to this list. In her new song “In Love Wit Chu,” she creates an anomalous appreciation for the vocal-stylings of Milli Vanilli by putting our ears in a chokehold.

Super producer Pharrell of The Neptunes seems to be campaigning for a spot on this list as well. His vocal contributions to Snoop Dogg’s “Beautiful” and Jay-Z’s “Excuse Me Miss” are beginning to push the limits of our listening patience.

And we can’t forget the most notable pioneer of the singing-rapper craze, Ja Rule. He’s built an illustrious career by penning memorable, melodious hooks. Unfortunately, he sings them too. His deep, gravely voice is definitely an attention-getter, but one better replaced by a real singer. And Bobby Brown doesn’t count!

It’s unfortunate that Ja Rule and others are content ruining what might otherwise be exceptional songs. But it’s worse to know that while they do it, talented singers like Sean Levert, Shanice, and Boyz II Men are sitting at home waiting for their phones to ring.

In a perfect world, the vocal sensations of yesteryear wouldn’t fade so easily into obscurity. Instead, they would balance out the rising tide of those who make a mockery of the craft. But until things change, I’ll keep buying earplugs and continue making room in the back of the choir stands.

### DeVone Holt is the author of the forthcoming book Hip-Hop Slop: The Impact of a Dysfunctional Culture. He can be reached at

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