Contemporary R&B

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Contemporary R&B
Stylistic origins Rhythm and blues, pop, soul, funk, hip hop
Cultural origins Early 1980s North America; New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Montreal, Toronto
Typical instruments Synthesizers, keyboard, drum machine, vocals, talkbox, piano
Quiet storm
Fusion genres
New jack swingHip hop soulNeo soul2-stepGrime - G-funkSnap&B - PBR&B - Zouk R&B
Other topics

Contemporary R&B, also known as R&B, is a music genre that combines elements of rhythm and blues, pop, soul, funk, and hip hop.

Although the abbreviation "R&B" originates from traditional rhythm and blues music, today the term R&B is most often[by whom?] used to describe a style of African-American music originating after the decline of disco and funk in the 1980s.

Some sources refer to the style as urban contemporary (the name of the radio format that plays hip hop and contemporary R&B).

Contemporary R&B has a polished record production style, drum machine-backed rhythms, an occasional saxophone-laced beat to give a jazz feel (mostly common in contemporary R&B songs prior to the year 1995), and a smooth, lush style of vocal arrangement. Electronic influences are becoming an increasing trend, and the use of hip hop or dance-inspired beats are typical, although the roughness and grit inherent in hip hop may be reduced and smoothed out. Contemporary R&B vocalists are often known for their use of melisma, popularized by vocalists such as Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder,[1] Whitney Houston,[1][2][3] and Mariah Carey.[2][4][5]


As the disco era came to a close, a new generation of producers began adding synthesizers and slick drum machine beats to African-American music. Michael Jackson was among the first post-disco black musicians to cross over to mainstream audiences. In its early years, mainstream R&B was very pop-oriented. Notable 1980s R&B musicians include Luther Vandross, the SOS Band, Mtume, Freddie Jackson, DeBarge, Loose Ends, Stephanie Mills, and Marvin Gaye.

Tina Turner made a comeback during the second half of the 1980s, while Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson broke into the pop music charts with a series of hits. Richard J. Ripani wrote that Janet Jackson's third studio album Control (1986) was "important to the development of R&B for a number of reasons", as she and her producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, "crafted a new sound that fuses the rhythmic elements of funk and disco, along with heavy doses of synthesizers, percussion, sound effects, and a rap music sensibility."[6] Ripani wrote that "the success of Control led to the incorporation of stylistic traits of rap over the next few years, and Janet Jackson was to continue to be one of the leaders in that development."[6] That same year, Teddy Riley began producing R&B recordings that included hip hop influences. This combination of R&B style and hip hop rhythms was termed new jack swing, and was applied to artists such as Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat, Al B. Sure!, Guy, Jodeci, and Bell Biv DeVoe.


In contrast to the works of Boyz II Men, Babyface and similar artists, other R&B artists and groups from this same period began adding even more of a hip-hop sound to their work, like the innovative group Jodeci. The synthesizer-heavy rhythm tracks of new jack swing were replaced by grittier East Coast hip hop-inspired backing tracks, resulting in a genre labeled hip hop soul by Mary J. Blige and producer Sean Combs who also had mentored group Jodeci in the beginning and helped them with their unique look. The style became less popular by the end of the 1990s, but later experienced a resurgence.

During the mid-1990s, Michael Jackson, Zapp and Roger, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, R. Kelly, Janet Jackson, Aaliyah, TLC, Brandy, Faith Evans, Monica, Xscape, Blaque, and Boyz II Men brought contemporary R&B to the mainstream. Janet Jackson's self-titled fifth studio album janet. (1993), which came after her historic multi-million dollar contract with Virgin Records, sold over twenty million copies worldwide.[7][8] Boyz II Men and Carey recorded several Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hits, including "One Sweet Day", a collaboration between both acts, which became the longest-running No. 1 hit in Hot 100 history. Carey also released a remix of her 1995 single "Fantasy", with Ol' Dirty Bastard as a feature, a collaboration format that was unheard of at this point. Carey, Boyz II Men and TLC released albums in 1994 and 1995—Daydream, II, and CrazySexyCool respectively — that sold over ten million copies, earning them RIAA diamond status.

In the late 1990s, neo soul, which added 1970s soul influences to the hip hop soul blend, arose, led by artists such as D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Maxwell. Mariah Carey was well known to incorporate her R&B, pop tunes with hip hop. Hill and Missy Elliott further blurred the line between R&B and hip hop by recording both styles. Beginning in 1995, the Grammy Awards enacted the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album, with II by Boyz II Men becoming the first recipient. The award was later received by TLC for CrazySexyCool in 1996, Tony Rich for Words in 1997, Erykah Badu for Baduizm in 1998 and Lauryn Hill for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1999. At the end of 1999, Billboard magazine ranked Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson as the first and second most successful artists of the 1990s.[9]

Simultaneously, in the second half of the 1990s, The Neptunes and Timbaland set influential precedence on contemporary R&B and hip hop music.[10]

R&B acts such as Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson are some of the best-selling music artists of all time.


By the 2000s, the cross-pollination between R&B and hip hop had increased. Mainstream modern R&B has a sound more based on rhythm than hip hop soul had, and lacks the hardcore and soulful urban "grinding" feel on which hip hop soul relied. That rhythmic element descends from new jack swing. R&B began to focus more on solo artists rather than groups as the 2000s progressed.

Following periods of fluctuating success, urban music attained commercial dominance during the early 2000s, which featured massive crossover success on the Billboard charts by R&B and hip hop artists.[11] In 2004, all 12 songs that topped Billboard Hot 100 were African-American recording artists and accounted for 80% of the number-one R&B hits that year.[11] Along with Usher's streak of singles, Top 40 radio and both pop and R&B charts were topped by OutKast's "Hey Ya!", Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot", Terror Squad's "Lean Back", and Ciara's "Goodies".[11] Chris Molanphy of The Village Voice later remarked that "by the early 2000s, urban music was pop music."[11]

According to Billboard magazine, the most commercially successful R&B acts of the decade were Usher, Chris Brown, Beyoncé, Amy Winehouse, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Trey Songz, Ray J and Ne-Yo.[12] Other recording artists today have combined traditional R&B with elements with various pop styles, such as contemporary pop, pop rock, dance-pop, and electro-pop, to create a lighter and more international sound. Artists like Anthony Hamilton, Musiq Soulchild and Raheem DeVaughn tended to keep to old styles of soul.


Continuing from the 90's and early 2000's, R&B, like many other genres, drew influences from the technical innovations of the time and began to incorporate more electronic and machine-made sounds and instruments. The use of effects such as Autotune and new computerized synths have given R&B a more futuristic feel while still attempting to incorporate many of the genre's common themes such as love and relationships. The evolutions of the genre's production and instrumentation have spurred the successes of performers such as Frank Ocean, Pharrell Williams, Miguel, Janelle Monae and The Weeknd, who have embraced new electronic influences and kept R&B's original feel. As this electronic element continues to grow apparent throughout the genre, many of these more contemporary artists are gaining popularity outside of R&B and continue to collaborate with non-R&B artists. For example, singer, Miguel is popular in mainstream hip-hop for his many collaborations with rappers such as Wale and Rick Ross. Today's R&B is far more diverse and incorporates more sonic elements than before, as it expands its appeal and commercial viability.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "R&B". Kustom Beats. Retrieved July 13, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Frere-Jones, Sasha (April 3, 2006). "On Top: Mariah Carey's record-breaking career". The New Yorker. CondéNet. Archived from the original on April 20, 2006. Retrieved August 30, 2008. 
  3. ^ Jarret, Michael (October 6, 1998). "Whitney Houston Syndrome". Sound Tracks: A Musical ABC. ISBN 978-1-56639-641-7. 
  4. ^ "'Vision of Love' sets off melisma trend". The Village Voice. February 4, 2003. 
  5. ^ "The 100 Greatest Singer of All Time : Rolling Stone". Rolling Stone. November 12, 2008. Retrieved November 22, 2008. 
  6. ^ a b Ripani, Richard J. (2006). The New Blue Music: Changes in Rhythm & Blues, 1950–1999. Univ. Press of Mississippi. pp. 130–155, 186–188. ISBN 1-57806-862-2. 
  7. ^ Goldberg, M. (May 2, 1991). "The Jacksons score big". Rolling Stone. p. 32. ISSN 0035-791X. 
  8. ^ Bickelhaupt, Susan; Dezell, Maureen (January 13, 1996). "Room with a private view". The Boston Globe. p. 26. 
  9. ^ Mayfield, Geoff (December 25, 1999). "Totally '90s: Diary of a decade". Billboard 111 (112). ISSN 0006-2510. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c d Molanphy, Chris (July 16, 2012). "100 & Single: The R&B/Hip-Hop Factor in the Music Business's Endless Slump". The Village Voice Blogs. Village Voice Media. Retrieved July 16, 2012. 
  12. ^ "Artists of the Decade Music Chart". Billboard. Retrieved February 8, 2011. 
  13. ^ Bat, "What Is Hypersoul?", November 29, 2001, "", December 11, 2013

Further reading[edit]