What’s Happening to R&B?

The once chart-topping genre has now become outdated and not nearly as popular as it was in previous years. Has the unifying category of Rhythm & Blues died out?

Veronica Glover

Staff Writer

I heard D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” (1995) recently and was caressed by the soothing notes of harmony and poetry throughout each verse. All of a sudden, I felt immense gratitude for the platinum record as it implements lyrics surrounding love, romance, and unity for people of color. The debut of “Brown Sugar” was monumental not only for the culture, but for the sound of rhythm and blues as a whole. The collection of songs embraced a number of other genres, including hip-hop, funk and soul, triggering the evolution of a new era of music: neo-soul. The effect of the album was revolutionary, inspiring other artists such as Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Jill Scott to re-imagine the sound of soul. 

The genre of neo-soul became popularized and mainstream, reinventing the structure of R&B. Since then, artists were able to redefine the genre and transform it with new artists who were able to develop from their forerunners. While the ‘90s may have been the Golden Age of R&B, it was at its peak in the early 2000s with Chris Brown, Usher, Mario, Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys consistently releasing some of the decade’s greatest music (not to mention, the strength of musical groups, particularly Destiny’s Child, 112 and B2K). However, the passionate genre was in competition with other categories on the roster: largely hip-hop and pop.

Almost half of the charts in 2021 consisted of hits from pop music, although it was once tied with hip-hop in previous years. Today, hip-hop, Latin, rock, pop and world music are leading the charts in growth so far in 2022. Be that as it may, where does that leave R&B? R&B appears to be a dying art form, with very few artists remaining prevalent in the category. From the early 2000s, newly discovered artists known as Frank Ocean, Daniel Cesar, SZA, Jorja Smith and H.E.R. launched onto the music scene and took over the genre. However, these young, fresh faces do not seem to be enough to maintain the genre of R&B to a great extent. 

Lately, it appears as if the two genres of hip-hop and R&B have infused, with hip-hop seeming to have a lasting impact on the charts and streaming services. Still, it is not enough to keep rhythm and blues alive. Before hip-hop took over the charts, R&B brought in a wave of new artists eager to produce “slow jams” or upbeat tempos that incorporated disco, soul and funk. These tunes dominated the radio, club scenes, and family gatherings that unified cultures and promoted dancing. There are still listeners eager to connect with those same melodies of the ‘90s that evoke raw emotion and passion that reflect the true essence of love and humanity. 

With hip-hop increasing its popularity worldwide, the hits remain consistent on the charts, with other artists blending the sound of rap into various genres. Meanwhile, as hip-hop grows commercially, R&B is slowly fading out and the digital age is increasing in popularity. As technology develops, the accessibility of streaming has stunted the growth of other genres and shifted the focus on current trends. Labels and executives have deemed R&B as less profitable, shifting the focus to hip-hop and pop, forcing more artists to become independent. Labels spend more money marketing rappers and pop stars, regulating the exposure of music on the market. The radio also plays a major part in the dramatic decline of R&B, as the target audience has shifted towards younger listeners who favor a more contemporary sound. 

As the rap scene continues to dominate all platforms, eventually R&B will die out completely. Especially when artists are constantly being overlooked by media giants who no longer believe in their craft. While there are still many listeners and lovers of R&B, the genre gives the impression of being targeted towards older generations and adults over 35. Hip-hop, pop, and Latin music cannot be the only genres being consumed and pushed by the media industry. If younger artists are able to bridge the generational gap and encourage adolescents to gravitate towards the sound, R&B will regain its popularity and thrive as it once did for many years.

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