The other day, Abuja-based poet Bash Amuneni shared a meme on social media with American singer Carl Thomas singing in the rain. The essence of the meme’s text was that R & B lost its essence when crooners stopped groanin’ in the rain—and this is true.
R & B has been on a decline for about a decade or more. The bedroom ballad playlist has hardly improved in a dozen years. While Hip-Hop is thriving on the global scale, R & B is floundering, struggling for relevance.
Gone are the good old days of the New Jack Swing. The tessitura of Tevin Campbell instigating small talk with a Funk attitude, the harmonies of BoysIIMen inspiring nocturnal text messages to the beloved. Faith Evans’ mellifluent voice sashaying the wee hours of the morning into coital bliss. Gone are the days of the reassuring falsetto and ad libs of Carl Thomas.
I have vivid memories of the first day I heard Carl Thomas. It was late at night in year 2001. I was waiting for my mother to return from the airport with cousins I had never seen. I was fighting sleep by listening to the late-night radio. The lantern’s wick was shuddering from the lack of kerosene and so was my resolve at staying awake but I had one last duty that evening to open the gates for my mother.
The sassy opening guitar riff waltzed into the room assuredly and I was spell-bound. The song writing was compact with a sophisticated bridge and a hook that allowed for improvisatory wails. The song was “Summer Rain”, which sampled Stevie Wonder’s “Summer Soft” but I will not know this for at least a year. The moment I speak about was Pre-Shazam. Buying music on the internet was a long haul for a teenager. Listening via internet radio at cyber cafes wasn’t an option either; the slow internet speed ensured that the song buffered the whole time.
In 2004, I happened on an album by Carl Thomas called “Let’s Talk About It”. I bought it with my lunch money. I took it home and played it alongside Donnell Jones’ “Life Goes On” and Usher Raymond’s “Confessions” throughout my gap year after secondary school.
I was writing love poems at this time and I had discovered the similarity between love songs and poems. While I loved Usher Raymond for his vulnerability on Confessions and enjoyed Donnell Jones’ swift alternation in tempo for his near Magnum Opus, Life Goes On, Let’s Talk About It best both albums in being able to hold both their strong points at the same time.
The album leaps into the room with a Melba Moore sample and fills your heart with thrusting affection. As the album progresses, it finds its hypnotic carabet mode with iterative beats made for slow dance and lyrics pared down for irresistible suggestions. Songs like “Rebound” spool ad infinitum with a simple hook that suggests wholesome worship. Little wonder, a student pastor in my friend, Biyi’s room, was taken by this song.
Biyi and I bonded over music. I took an instant liking to him because he knew and liked Carl Thomas. It is not exactly a rarity to find a Carl Thomas fan in Great Ife, but we were not in large numbers like those who loved New Edition, Jodeci, AZ Yet, BoysIIMen, Mary Jay Blige and so on. The most generic music at the time was white boy bands like Westlife, NSYNC and so on.
My university sweetheart liked Usher, Jodeci, KCi and JoJo but I introduced her to Carl Thomas. At the time, in Angola Hall there was just one undergraduate student who listened to Carl Thomas. One day, I walked past his room and heard a deck blasting a song from “Let’s Talk About It”. I walked into the room and asked to be his friend.
Later, I will occasionally borrow the CD to play on my Discman (mine got scratched from incessant handling) and my sweetheart noticed my interaction with him. She said my new friend liked her and I replied that it was possible. He was, afterall, a Carl Thomas fan.
In my fifth year in medical school, Carl Thomas performed in Lagos. I found out a day before the concert, after a busy day at the hospital posting. I wanted to be in attendance but I was so broke and there was no bank to break for such a lofty feat. Of course, I took my L, like a man.
I consider myself to be the biggest Carl Thomas fan. I copped his third album “So Much Better” the week it came out, listened to it and noted its indie vibe and experimental tendencies but I found it to be generally weak. Two years after its release I was already thirsting for new work from the crooner who seemed to enjoy touring more than bringing out new work. This was around the time that Twitter was growing in popularity. When you opened a Twitter account, your naiveté instructs you to follow all your pop stars. I followed TheRealCarlThomas and tried to engage him in the most intimate of all places: the DM!
I wrote about my love for his great music and the need for a new album and guess what? He blocked me! In retrospect, I understand his action. A male fan from Africa who couldn’t afford a ticket to your concert, was sending you messages on an intimate platform probably reserved for booty calls and a sheaf of nudies. I overstepped my boundaries but I didn’t know till late one night when I had Carl Thomas on rotation and I was surfing Twitter, trying to validate that I was not the only fan who knew the lyrics to all his song.
He released “Conquer” in 2011 and I totally copped and loved it. It was classic Carl Thomas and a matured R & B sound with strong traditional soul influences. From bedroom ballad to sultry morning-after audits of one-night-stands to ballroom love promises, Carl Thomas had got his mojo back. Conquer, in spite of its blithe and totally unaware title, brought him back in the realms of his innate potentials.
We have been waiting 8 years now. He recently released a song called “One with Heaven” but that is not how I will end this love story between a singer and his stan.
About four years ago, I remembered my university sweetheart. We had grown out of love in medical school and stopped contacting each other subsequently. But that night I remembered her and wanted to know how she was treating life.
I was led to her social media account. Her Instagram page revealed she had a beautiful toddler daughter. She had gotten married. A quick scroll down to her page led me to her husband. I was shocked. She married the second Carl Thomas fan in Angola Hall; my friend whom she said liked her.