State of Emergency: The current state of R&B

Jordan Sheppard | Staff Writer

“Where’d the music go?” This was the question asked by R&B singer Leela James in her 2005 single “Music” from her first studio album A Change Is Gonna Come.

In the song, James is questioning the state that music was in at the time and can be used in terms of the music of today. Many mainstream artists are more focused on making money rather than making songs that have meaning behind them.

One of the genres that James is touching on is R&B, as she mentions the likes of Gladys Knight, Marvin Gaye and Chaka Khan.

When she asks where has the music gone, in particular where has R&B gone? The genre that is known for putting people into all kinds of grooves and helping people fall in love seems to have disappeared from the mainstream platform.

In previous decades, ranging from the 1960s until the mid-to-late 2000s, R&B had a solidified spot as one of the nation’s top genres, with artists such as Anita Baker, Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross becoming household names and crossing over to the Billboard pop charts.

Once the year 1990 had come around, the genre was in for a decadelong peak, producing many hit artists and groups such as Mary J. Blige, Keith Sweat, Brian McKnight, Toni Braxton, SWV and Boyz II Men.

Many have coined the ’90s as the Golden Age of R&B, considering it to be one of the best periods for the genre.

Though the ’90s had a lot to offer, this decade is the beginning of the answer to what happened to R&B.

“R&B started to go downhill when hip-hop started becoming more mainstream,” said Kevin Anderson, Operations Director of Smooth 88.1, WHOV. “It’s like R&B had started to take on a hip-hop or urban persona, and it started to be reflected in the subject matter and approach to making music.”

Hip-hop had emerged in NYC in the 1970s, and then throughout the ’80s, but had struggled to gain the momentum to cross over into the mainstream and pop market. Many radio stations at the time had refused to play any of the genre’s music.

Once the ’90s had come around, hip-hop had started to rise through the ranks, emerging as one of the top genres along with pop and R&B. Rap artists such as MC Lyte, LL Cool J, Coolio, 2Pac and many more had begun crossing over into the pop charts and cracking the top 10.

At this point, the relationship between R&B and hip-hop had formed. Many R&B artists had rap artists featured on their songs and vice versa in terms of rap artists featuring R&B artists on their songs to sing either hooks or choruses.

This newly formed relationship didn’t go well for R&B, as hip-hop had begun to push it out of the way for more room to stand in the spotlight.

Then many R&B artists had begun to take on the culture and personas of many of the current hip-hop artists of the time.

“That male persona, being boastful, [had] started to take over the culture, and then from there, R&B was next,” Kevin Anderson said.

R&B used to be purely about love, and once hip-hop had entered and it was packed with these rough and tough and over-sexualized lyrics, many R&B artists had taken suit and followed. They also used many hip-hop beats to sing over.

The divide that used to separate both genres is what essentially brought them together and then started to kill R&B, therefore kicking it out of the mainstream field.

When people say that R&B is dead, the response to them is that it isn’t dead, it’s just not mainstream anymore.

While you have hip-hop to blame, consumers are also to blame. In order to help keep R&B alive, we have to support the artists and buy or stream their music.

R&B has a lot of hope left, and eventually it shall see itself back into the mainstream market.


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