Whatever Happened to R&B?

August 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Growing up as a kid in the 90’s, the two music genres that I couldn’t get enough of were Pop and R&B. In 2011, Pop music serves as one of my many strong inspirations (including one of the reasons why I started this blog). Yet I can’t say the same for R&B music. 2011 has proved itself to be the year of Pop, placing pressure on artists who once were strictly R&B musicians.

R&B in the 90’s was lush and soulful. It could trigger a deep pain and also prevent pain from happening. The lyrics were honest and raw; they spoke about relationships, love, hurt, and happiness. Being an overly emotional kid who thought too deeply at times, I connected to the music on many levels.

My first R&B CD was TLC’s CrazySexyCool (released in 1994). Obviously I received this CD way after its release, but it was my first introduction to the urban & rugged R&B subgenre that was forming at the time. I remember bouncing to tunes like Kick Your Game, Waterfalls, Creep, & Diggin’ On You even though I was not mature enough to grasp the lyrics. But that didn’t matter; the hook and rhythm was all I needed.

As I grew older, R&B truly stepped up its game up throughout the years and gave birth to artists and groups like Aaliyah, Ginuwine, SWV, Joe, 112, Brandy, 702, Jon B., Blaque, Kelly Price, Faith Evans, Mary J. Blige, Destiny’s Child, Donell Jones, Jodeci, En Vogue, Tyrese, Dru Hill, Jagged Edge, Isyss, Jaheim, Lil Mo, Lauryn Hill, Mya, Monica, Ashanti, Total, Usher, Mariah Carey, Xscape, etc. Need I go on?

My favorite R&B artist was (& still is) Aaliyah. During her short stay on this earth, she graced the world with a new R&B sound that was laced with cool and confidence. Ever since I saw her for the first time in the music video for Are You That Somebody, her music has influenced and inspired me. Read here for more about Aaliyah & my favorite album from the fallen star.

But  what happened? When did R&B lose its grip on its unique sound? As much as I love and appreciate Pop music, I blame it for the induced coma of R&B. Especially in the past 3 years or so, R&B has sharply changed its soulful sound in favor of an international Electro sound. Examples include Usher’s OMG, Chris Brown’s Yeah x3, Rihanna’s Don’t Stop The Music, Ne-Yo’s Beautiful Monster, and many more.

In 2011, Pop is hard to escape. But there are some artists who are craftily sneaking in their take of classic R&B. I thank Frank Ocean’s We All Try, Beyoncé’s Dance For You, Miguel’s Quickie, & Keri Hilson’s One Night Stand for their attempts to bring back a sound that needed to be heard by people who forgot what R&B is.

In a sea of techno synths, complicated genre fusions, and “4 on the floor” beats, R&B music has lost its swagger and sexiness. I hope that in the future of music, all of these Electro Pop artists-via R&B/Soul will return back to their roots. I’m sure that I’m not the only one yearning for the good old days.


Who are your favorite R&B artists/groups?

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