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From Xscape to SZA: the R&B soundtrack for taboo love affairs

Amanda Parris
Listen to Marvin's Room, July 28th 2017

Marvin's Room with Amanda Parris on CBC Radio


This week on Marvin's Room we're exploring R&B's fascination with love affairs.

R&B is often considered the music of romance. There are countless classic songs about love desired, love achieved and love lost. But there’s another arena of love, a more risqué topic of conversation that R&B has a history of engaging: a romance outside of moral approval, the kind often shrouded in secret.

In “She Don’t Have to Know,” John Legend begged his lover to keep their affair secret. Amy Winehouse confessed her guilty conscience in “You Know I’m No Good.” SWV showed their competitive edge when they sang about stealing someone’s man in the song “You’re the One.”

Today we're exploring the soundtrack of one-night stands, illicit affairs and odes to being the side chick.

Here are four songs that celebrate R&B’s fascination with the taboo love affair.

Luther Ingram, '(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right'

The soundtrack to forbidden love (or lust) has been around since the start of R&B and it includes this chart-topping hit from the '70s. With his tightly cropped afro and even tighter flared pants, the late singer Luther Ingram proclaimed to the world that he is ready to throw caution to the wind and risk it all for this adulterous love affair. Apparently he wasn't the only one. The biggest artists of the day lined up to cover this song: David Ruffin, Isaac Hayes, Percy Sledge — even Tom Jones added the passionate ballad to his catalogue.

Xscape, 'My Little Secret'

This is the arguably the quintessential '90s R&B anthem to forbidden love affairs. “My Little Secret” has absolutely nothing to do with love — it’s all about the lust. The R&B girls group not only sings about having an affair without regret, but admits to getting turned on by the secrecy and betrayal.

SZA, 'The Weekend'

SZA has become famous for the abstract metaphors and poetic songwriting that defined the EPs and mixtapes she released before her debut album. But in this song, she is very literal: SZA has crafted an ode to being the side chick. She’s the third wheel in a consensual love triangle, and it's a subject she revels in. SZA peels back the layers and asserts that there’s power in being the third — or fourth — wheel.

A. Chal, 'Love N Hennessy'

Peruvian R&B artist A. Chal's summer banger is dedicated to the art and drama of dangerous public flirtation and private cheating. Once again there is no confession of guilt, but rather he seems to take pleasure in the messiness of the situation. You may not agree with the sentiments behind the lyrics, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bounce to the super addictive beat that comes with them.

The Marvin's Room Playlist for July 28, 2017

  1. Zhane, "Hey Mr. DJ"
  2. Beyonce feat. Andre 3000, "Party"
  3. A. Chal, "Love N Hennessy"
  4. Majid Jordan feat. PartyNextDoor, "One I Want"
  5. Ann Peebles, "I Can’t Stand the Rain"
  6. Kae Sun, "Ship and the Globe"
  7. Nuela Charles feat. Darren Frank, "Unfortunate Love"
  8. Xscape, "My Little Secret"
  9. SZA, "The Weekend"
  10. Luther Ingram, "(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right"
  11. Adria Kain, "Dawn"
  12. Daniel Caesar, "Blessed"