“If I Get Caught,” the title track from R&B duo Dvsn’s latest album, released last month, is far from subtle in its description of what some might call “toxic” behavior. In the chorus, intended for social media contagion, singer Daniel Daley informs us that “if I get caught cheating, that doesn’t mean I don’t love you.” Apparently wWhen Jay-Z approved the use of the “Song Cry” sample featured on the track, he texted Dvsn saying, “I didn’t think you could make a song more toxic than ‘Song Cry’. “/ I’m correcting myself.” In response, Dvsn posted a screenshot of the exchange on Instagram with the caption, “…by the way Jay, that’s not toxic, that’s honest.”
The world of R&B has become riddled with so-called “Toxic Kings”, singers who recount their adventures of infidelity – chasing euphoric highs, avoiding responsibility and twisting confessions into a shield against retaliation. Dvsn went so far as to associate the release of the disc with a live panel on “open monogamy” featuring Dvsn, Nick Cannon and sex therapist Dr. Tammy Nelson. It was streamed on the band’s YouTube channel. The key takeaway was that if you feel tempted to cheat on your partner, open monogamy might be for you. More importantly, if you come to a consensus with your partner about having other sexual partners, the integrity of the relationship can be maintained.
Sure, “If I get caught” does not suggest consensus. In the same panel, Daley confesses, “I think the reason a lot of guys cheat is because they’re afraid to tell the truth to the person they still want to be in a relationship with.” This thought manifests itself in the second verse of the song. “And to tell the truth, it’ll hurt you more / If you ever find what you’re looking for / I’m not perfect / Baby girl, I’m worth it,” he coos.
This message, which runs throughout Dvsn’s album, feels like a messy paradox, increasingly common as male artists become more faith-based in their music. Kendrick Lamar’s latest outing, Mr Morale & The Big Steppers, is framed as a journey through more vulnerable spaces of masculinity and features Taylour Paige-assisted “We Cry Together,” in which the two play out a heated love feud. Similarly, Kanye’s chaotic exit 2 earlier this year, a glimpse of his feelings about his split from Kim Kardashian was laid bare almost uncomfortably. The album notes for Drake’s 2021 release Certified Lover described the record as a “combination of toxic masculinity and acceptance of truth that is inevitably heartbreaking”.
Brent Faiyaz, who reluctantly carries the torch of Toxic King, addressed the term in the intro of his recent album Wasteland. On “Villain’s Theme”, an introspective spoken word duet with Jorja Smith, he presents the conflicting thoughts of a man and a woman around sex, philosophy and the concept of toxicity. The track is an attempt to show both sides of the coin, the toxic labeler and the labelled. The final question is what Faiyaz pursues throughout Wasteland. His rejection of the concept of being toxic as a whole challenges us to ask ourselves whether we should use the word at all. IIs it actually unfair to call someone toxic if they’re upfront about their flaws?
“Traditionally, toxicity refers to a set of habits and behaviors that harm others,” says Denise Freeman, founder of Real Focus Therapy. avoid regarding them as poisonous. She suggests that an individual can self-reflect while engaging in toxic behavior. In place, we need to be aware of the potential consequences of music as an introject, which refers to an influence that can unconsciously shape our beliefs.
“Music that normalizes cheating can unconsciously cause impressionable young men to engage in this learned behavior,” she says. SureWriting is a cathartic process, and artists are free to express themselves as they see fit. But rather than avoid the word “toxic,” artists need to stop being defensive about the label and take ownership of their behavior — flaws and all.
Traditionally, R&B has given us songs about falling head over heels, unconditional love, or crying anthems about heartache; but a rise in alleged toxicity in the genre has led to calls for the return of softer R&B. “I don’t think soft R&B exists, but old school R&B had meaning and depth and creativity, which doesn’t necessarily translate into current R&B,” said Dr. Syleecia Thompson, author of Rhythm without blues Told rolling stone. “This younger generation is influenced by hip-hop and rappers, and it shows in their music.”
Elements of hip-hop – from the harsh realities it portrays to traditional indicators of male power such as wealth, cars and girls – have inevitably been absorbed into R&B due to the current generation growing into the genre and of its existing influence on pop culture. “I guess they [current R&B artists] talk about their truths…their environment, how they were raised, their upbringing, their non-traditional viewpoints.
Despite a societal urge for men to express their emotions, when served in all its rawness, it can become indigestible for many. Partynextdoor’s “Savage Anthem” features an uncensored and unapologetic confessional about infidelity and commitment issues. Drake has a song called “F*****g Fans”.
But maybe there really is depth in R&B’s rising class of toxic (but honest) men.. Freeman argues that an inability to engage can stem from a person’s unique experiences of hurt, resulting in an avoidance of attachments as a means of self-preservation. For too long, the dominant trope has been of a strongman suppressing his feelings to fulfill his duty as a provider. As the stereotype is dismantled, men have the opportunity and the responsibility to be honest with themselves about what they Actually want a relationship. At the very least, their potential partners can now make an informed decision to take it or leave it.