The song of summer 2013 was not that horrible “Blurred Lines,” or even Daft Punk’s decent “Get Lucky” — at least not if you’re an R&B fan over the age of 35. Jaheim’s “Age Ain’t a Factor” ruled the airwaves of adult contemporary radio throughout the warmer months, not to mention the playlists of all sorts of cabarets and crab feasts. If you’ve recently seen a crush of people who haven’t been carded in years rush the dance floor, it’s a good bet they were dancing to “Age Ain’t a Factor.” (Full disclosure: I may have been one of those women.)
The young one that I got, I’m ’ bout to leave her
’Cause berries sittin’ on the vine, with time are sweeter
The first time I heard the single, from Jaheim’s 2013 album “Appreciation Day,” I was driving through Prince George’s County and an older gentleman wearing a backward Kangol hat and a Bluetooth was blasting it out of his Cadillac convertible. My 37-year-old ears were immediately pricked. Not a single youngster in the vicinity took notice, though — it’s as if the notes of the song are in a pitch that can only be heard by people who are worried about their 401(k) plans and know how to Zydeco line dance.
If I can be your man, girl, you won’t want for nothin’
You look better the older you get — Benjamin Button!
Okay. So comparing a woman to Benjamin Button isn’t exactly like comparing her to a summer’s day. But the theme of the song is still intriguing. Male R&B singers are kings of the backhanded compliment. They may sing that they’llstill love you when your hair turns gray or tell you that you holding up pretty well, or that you’re a fantastic mom.
What Jaheim has done may not seem like a big deal — making R&B music that talks about wanting to sleep with beautiful women isn’t exactly groundbreaking. It’s not like the guy is singing, “I love and respect you, admire your many great accomplishments and would never objectify you.”
But while R&B is filled with odes to “pretty young things,” direct references to women older than say, 35 (who are a major part of the R&B fan base), are uncommon.
We don’t expect Trey Songz to wax poetic about women his mom’s age. But what about singers who are older — Kem, Maxwell, Anthony Hamilton, R. Kelly? Okay, maybe not R. Kelly. Is it implied that a 40-something balladeer is singing to 40-something women? It certainly isn’t explicit. How is music that is supposed to be by and for grown folks so devoid of references to grown women?
It’s reasonable that male R&B singers should be making more music for their loyal base. They wouldn’t be pandering, and it could be good for business. They would attract more listeners, sell more concert tickets and help them compete with female R&B singers, who are much better at making music for a diverse audience while capturing a rich array of experiences.
No woman expects or needs some suited-up crooner to validate her existence, but there is no denying that people like music that speaks to them directly. Some of those people are young and carefree. And some of them, as Jaheim puts it, are “gettin’ better with time.”
Godfrey is a freelance writer.
Jaheim performs at DAR Constitution Hall on Saturday.