Contemporary R&B  

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Contemporary R&B (also known as simply R&B) is a music genre that combines elements of hip hop, soul, R&B and funk.

Although the abbreviation “R&B” originates from traditional rhythm and blues music, today the term R&B is most often used to describe a style of African American music originating after the demise of disco 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 1993), 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.



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-soul-funk-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." 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." 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 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. 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.

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

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. 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. 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". Chris Molanphy of The Village Voice later remarked that "by the early 2000s, urban music was pop music."

According to Billboard magazine, the most commercially successful R&B acts of the decade were Usher, Chris Brown, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Trey Songz, Ray J and Ne-Yo. 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.


In the 2010s, contemporary R&B of this period essentially remains the same as the 2000s, except that songs of contemporary R&B are usually given a somewhat futuristic twist to create a brand new sound of the new era. A new wave of R&B that infused 1990s R&B with synthesizers and a futuristic sound started becoming mainstream with artists like Jason Derulo, Frank Ocean, Miguel, The Weeknd, Sevyn Streeter receiving critical acclaim and commercial success. And despite of being regarded as a "pop" act, Bruno Mars showed a great variety of styles including 1990s/1980s smooth R&B, as Babyface noticed when he attended his tour.

See also

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