(April 17, 2022). If I were king for a day, i.e., Billboard’s Editor-in-Chief or at least the Director of its Charts Department, I’d change the name of the trade magazine’s Adult R&B Airplay chart to the “Grown Folks Music” chart, because that’s exactly what it is… a chart that ranks the popular tunes we grown folks listen to most.
And the songs we are listening to the most this week mark a welcome return to the top by two veteran singers whose first albums were released decades ago and who achieve a mark reached by only one other man (and two women) in the chart’s three-decade history.
The Adult R&B Airplay chart has been around since August 1993, when Billboard created several niche charts to reflect the growing separation of U.S. radio into various splintered markets. There’s also a Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart, a Rhythmic Airplay chart, and a Rap Airplay chart. To further complicate things, just three weeks ago, Billboard added an Afrobeats U.S. Airplay chart to its already vast menu of sub-genre lists.
But, back to the current Grown Folks list, ahem, Adult R&B Airplay, the veteran artist sitting atop this week’s 30-position chart is no stranger to the rankings. And this past week he earned a milestone achievement that will certainly make his ride-or-die fanbase very happy.
Adult R&B legend Kem, who has been recording for Motown (now an imprint distributed by Capitol Records) since his debut album Kemistry two decades ago, climbed to No. 1 this week with the beautiful, lilting ballad “Stuck On You.”
The move (up from No. 4 last week) gives Kem his eighth No. 1 overall, dating back to his first—the classic “Love Calls”—in 2003. This ties him with Charlie Wilson and Maxwell as the men with the most Grown Folks No. 1s. Ironically, Maxwell is who Kem ousted from the top position this week with his “ascension” to No. 1 (diehard Maxwell fans won’t have to “wonder” about that reference).
Speaking of Maxwell, his eighth Grown Folks No. 1, the song “Off,” sits at No. 2 this week, just two weeks after he tied Wilson’s lead. (By the way, Maxwell’s first chart hit “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” stopped short of No. 1, peaking at No. 2 in August 1996). His first No. 1 was “Fortunate” in May 1999. His biggest, according to Billboard’s career ranking, is 2001’s “Lifetime,” which topped the list for 15 weeks that year and spent 91 weeks on the chart between 2001 and 2003.
Btw, Wilson, who last hit No. 1 on Adult R&B in 2020 with “One I Got,” is also riding the current chart at No. 22 (and climbing) with the song “No Stoppin’ Us” (featuring Babyface, K-Ci Hailey and Johnny Gill). That means all three of the leading men—Kem, Maxwell and Wilson, that is—have current hits on the Adult R&B chart. Uncle Charlie’s biggest Grown Folks hit is “There Goes My Baby,” which dominated Adult R&B airplay for nine weeks in 2009.
In the longevity department, Maxwell holds a significant lead over both Kem and Wilson. Maxwell’s eight No. 1 songs have spent a combined 75 weeks at the top of the Adult R&B chart, with Wilson far behind him at 45 weeks and Kem sitting at 34 (and counting).
Maxwell is also the only male (joining Toni Braxton) who has had a number one in each of the four decades of the chart’s existence (1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s). Of course, technically speaking, Charlie Wilson was hitting No. 1 back in the 1980s on Billboard’s mainstream R&B chart as part of the Gap Band (well before all this separate adult chart stuff started).
Placed immediately behind Wilson, Maxwell, and Kem with seven No. 1s on the Grown Folks chart is R. Kelly, whose last topper was “Feelin’ Single” ten years ago. It’s not likely that Kelly will move up the rankings given his legal woes. It’s also not a stretch to say that the “Bump ‘N’ Grind” singer might have added a few more number ones in recent years had his self-inflicted problems never occurred.
Sitting behind Kelly in the solo male category are fellow Grown Folks faves Brian McKnight, the late Luther Vandross, and Usher, each with six No. 1 Adult R&B Airplay hits.
Of course, it’s safe to say that Luther and other adult-leaning soul men like Freddie Jackson and maybe Lionel Richie would have dominated this list had it existed when they were in their primes. Back then, all R&B artists—whether they catered to adults or the kids—had to compete with one another on just one main list, the Hot R&B Singles chart (and the various other names that chart has had over its 80-year history). Of course, Luther, Freddie and Lionel regularly dominated that chart during the 1980s and early ‘90s.
But back to Kem and Maxwell, it’s great to see these enormously talented brothers get their just rewards at this point in their long careers, and with songs so melodically rich. “Stuck On You” is the kind of ballad you rarely hear in mainstream circles anymore. It has that sweetness that crooners like Lionel Richie mastered back in the day (and had pop and R&B fans alike—both young and old—buying in droves). Richie even had his own “Stuck On You” back then.
Equally as satisfying is Maxwell’s hit “Off,” which also touches a nostalgic nerve and could easily return to the top spot next week. Both Kem (with Babyface) and Maxwell are touring now, which should continue to keep their profiles high and raise the chances for their songs going forward.
But lurking at No. 3 on this list is the fast-climbing latest single by Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars & Anderson .Paak): their remake of the Con Funk Shun classic “Love’s Train.” There are few classics that touch our collective nostalgic button more than that throwback hit, and it’s got the momentum (from No. 7 to No. 3 this past week) to take over the top on the next chart.
Whatever happens next week, Kem’s and Maxwell’s places in the record books are secure (for now) as two of the three men with the most No. 1s on a Billboard chart that truly caters to us Grown Folks! And this occurred only two years after Kem ended a lengthy six-year hiatus that had many of us wondering whether we would ever hear from him again.
Congratulations to “Kem” Owens and Gerald “Maxwell” Rivera on their latest achievements and a job well done!
P.S.: The women with the most Adult R&B No. 1s are Alicia Keys with twelve and Toni Braxton with eleven. Notably, Ms. Braxton had the chart’s inaugural No. 1 with “Another Sad Love Song” in August 1993.
It’ll be awhile before anybody catches either of those two. The next highest total by females is six (held by H.E.R., Mary J. Blige and Whitney Houston).
As far as groups go, Boyz II Men still rule the roost with five No. 1s, the last of which occurred nearly a quarter century ago (“A Song For Mama” in January 1998). Depending on how long they’re around, Silk Sonic may have no problem overtaking the Boyz from Philly if they keep churning out hits like “Love Train.”
DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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