Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hip Hop? No R&B is Dead

Had to bring this 2008 article I wrote back because certain people are mistaking certain tracks for R&B, Enjoy the read...

For as long as I can remember, the pervasive influence of music has been sustained through it’s uncanny ability to relate to human emotion as well as diversify it’s sound to please the masses. One genre in particular that represented such claims was R’n’B which up until present has been able to re-invent itself time and time again providing music for the mind and soul.

From the late 80’s onwards R’n’B was established and divided into different forms of eclectic and soulful sounds including Soul, New Jack Swing and Neo-Soul. These sub genres were the basis of the urban scene and introduced an array of amazing solo, duo and group singers. Whereas a large majority enjoyed R’n’B, the minimum record sales from capable artists in the 90’s meant that recognition was minimal amongst and against the influx of Rock, Country and Pop album sales.

Corporate strategy was therefore introduced by music labels in which they would produce R’n’B superstars; controlling their image and distribution of a certain type of R’n’B I like to call Urban pop. This would allow music sales to rise and is now seen as the forefront of contemporary R’n’B. Although this fills the pockets of CEOs, executives and artists alike, the strategy has somewhat stifled the identity that was and should be R’n’B. We are now accustomed to hearing artists sing popular songs rather than the rhythmic sounds of true R’n’B.

What is R’n’B?

Rhythm and Blues is the definition and representation of this sound often blending funk, dance and/or soul. There is a certain “limited but just right” level of exuberance shown in R’n’B music which makes it enjoyable to listen to as a genre. The combination of Poetry, Feeling, Flow and soul of the artist (hence where the sub genre “soul” came from) enabled listeners to have an emotional attachment to the content and meaning of an R’n’B song. However it seems in this era that these components of R’n’B have disappeared and the overall essence of the genre has left. The content is still the same, with the words portraying soulful stories however the substance has gone….Blues with no Rhythm.

One of the major reasons for this decline is the lack of true Rhythm and Blues artists in both the UK and the US. The 90’s (and partly noughties) had an abundance of talent filling our Discmans and stereos with R’n’B music.

Do you remember…

UK: Lynden David Hall, Beverley Knight, Omar, Eternal, Floetry, Terri Walker
US: Blackstreet, Jodeci, H-Town, Shai, Boyz II Men, SWV, Keith Sweat, 702, TLC, Brownstone, Montell Jordan, Next, Monica, Tamia, Lauryn Hill (etc etc etc)

UK have tried to bring in R’n’B influenced artists but their time has been short lived leaving it an almost non-existent genre in the UK. This wont surprise many as there has never been a sole year where a flood of UK R’n’B artists are on the scene at once even though there have been a number of them spread over the years. What makes the US list interesting is the number of groups involved in the generation of soul and swing. Today’s industry shows a decrease in melodic groups representing the genre. The solo artists are scattered around in different sub genre’s however the so called forefront of R’n’B has artists involved in Urban Pop and judging by the success it may be this way forever.

Contemporary R’n’B is dominated by the likes of Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, Rihanna, T-Pain and Akon. All are talented, creative and entertaining artists, but they have been moulded by their labels into Urban Pop Figures. This wades well to the popularity of R’n’B but doesn’t truly represent the genre’s art form. Some may argue the case, as all of the named artists have produced songs that rival or emulate the sound of the 90’s; however the difference between the sound of today and the 90’s is that at least 90% of songs on an album in the soul/swing period had production representing R’n’B whereas today’s albums have at least 30-40% (often much more) urban pop tunes (club bangers). The search for sales rather than sound has reached even the legends in R’n’B with the King, Queen, Prince and Princess (R.Kelly, Mary J Blige, Usher and Beyonce) of the genre having to accommodate their styles and sounds to the up-tempo expectations of their labels and ultimately fans of popular music.

R’n’B artists such as Bobby Valentino are dropped by their labels due to record sales. This is no coincidence as Bobby V is known for producing tracks with more soul orientated content and flow. It seems as though the more records an R’n’B artist sells; the less soulful influence is involved.
LOWER RECORD SALES: NEO SOUL/SOUL - Musiq, India Arie, Dwele, Jill Scott, Anthony Hamilton, Erykah Badu
R&B - Trey Songz, Brian Mcknight, Donell Jones, Tank, Tyrese, Faith Evans

HIGHER RECORD SALES: URBAN POP - Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, Rihanna, Akon, T-Pain, Ciara

With the gap between Urban Pop and R’n’B record sales increasing it seems more and more likely that the genre as we know it will never be the same again. Could we be heading into a change of name for the genre? Is R’n’B dead? Well put it this way, if it isn’t dead it’s gone beyond a life support machine and is on its very last breath.

1 comments so far....:

Simone said...

This is a very well written article. R'n'B has lost its substance in search or sales.

Is this due to the rutless culture of the music industry or the constantly changing needs of society?

Either way, the quality of modern music has dramatically dropped and is encouraging new artists that this is the best way to 'get rich, quick'.

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