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Contemporary R&B

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

The genre features a distinctive record production style, drum machine-backed rhythms, pitch corrected vocals, 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, R. Kelly, Craig David, Stevie Wonder,[1] Whitney Houston[1][2][3] and Mariah Carey.[2][4][5]


Contemporary R&B originated at the end of the disco era, in the late-1970s, when Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones added more electronic elements to the sound of the time to create a smoother dancefloor-friendly sound.[6] The first result was Off the Wall (1979), which—according to Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic—"was a visionary album, that found a way to break disco wide open into a new world where the beat was undeniable, but not the primary focus" and "was part of a colorful tapestry of lush ballads and strings, smooth soul and pop, soft rock, and alluring funk".[7]

Richard J. Ripani wrote that Janet Jackson's 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."[8] 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."[8] 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 Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat, Al B. Sure!, Guy, Jodeci, and Bell Biv DeVoe.


R. Kelly was listed in 2010 by Billboard the most successful R&B artist of the past 25 years.[9] He is also referred to as the King of R&B.[10]

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.

In 1990, Mariah Carey released Vision of Love as her debut single. It was immensely popular peaking at number 1 in many worldwide charts including the Billboard Hot 100, and it propelled Mariah's career. The song is usually said to have popularized the use of melisma and brought it in to mainstream R&B.

During the mid-1990s, Whitney Houston's The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack Album sold over 40 million copies worldwide becoming the best-selling soundtrack of all time.[11] Janet Jackson's self-titled fifth studio album janet. (1993), which came after her historic multimillion-dollar contract with Virgin Records, sold over twenty million copies worldwide.[12][13] Boyz II Men and Mariah 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.

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. 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.[14]

Simultaneously, in the second half of the 1990s, The Neptunes and Timbaland set influential precedence on contemporary R&B and hip hop music.[15]

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


"Modern r&b isn't about discrete songs. It's about texture, mood, feel—vocal and instrumental and rhythmic, articulated as they're smooshed together."

Robert Christgau, The Village Voice, 2003[16]

Usher was cited by Billboard as the no. 1 Hot 100 artist of the 2000s decade, with 7 number-one singles that accumulated 42 weeks at the top.[17]

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.[18]

Alicia Keys ranked fifth on Billboard Artist of the Decade list. "No One" ranks No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 songs of the decade.[19]

In 2001, Alicia Keys released "Fallin'" as her debut single. It peaking at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, Mainstream Top 40 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts. It won three Grammy Awards in 2002, including Song of the Year, Best R&B Song, and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. It was also nominated for Record of the Year.[20] Beyoncé's solo studio debut album Dangerously in Love (2003) has sold over 5 million copies in the United States and earned five Grammy Awards.[21][22]

Usher's Confessions (2004) sold 1.1 million copies in its first week[23] and over 8 million copies in 2004, since then it has been certified Diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and, as of 2016, has sold over 10 million copies in the US and over 20 million copies worldwide. Confessions had four consecutive Billboard Hot 100 number one singles—"Yeah!", "Burn", "Confessions Part II" and "My Boo".[24]

Beyoncé was named by Billboard the most successful female act of the 2000s.

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.[18] 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".[18] Chris Molanphy of The Village Voice later remarked that "by the early 2000s, urban music was pop music."[18]

Between 2005 and 2009 Raymond, Knowles and Keys released albums—B'Day, Here I Stand, I Am... Sasha Fierce and The Element of Freedom.

Mariah Carey's The Emancipation of Mimi (2005) debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and earned ten Grammy Award nominations. Led single "We Belong Together" topped the Hot 100 charts for 14 weeks, and was later hailed "song of the decade" and won a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 2006.

The mid-2000s came with the emergence of new R&B acts Ashanti, Trey Songz, Omarion, Ciara, Christina Milian, Mario, Keyshia Cole and Akon. Ashanti's eponymous debut album topped both US Billboard 200 and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts. It earned her three Grammy nominations winning one for the Best Contemporary R&B Album. R&B newcomer Chris Brown released his self-titled album in 2005 which debuted at number two on the Billboard 200. His debut single "Run It!" peaked on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and the US Radio Songs.

During this time also came the emergence of R&B songwriters.[25] Bryan-Michael Cox co-wrote Usher's "Burn" and "Confessions Part II" (2005), Mariah Carey's "Shake It Off" and "Don't Forget About Us" (2006), and Chris Brown's "Say Goodbye" (2006).[26] Keri Hilson would co-write songs Mary J. Blige's "Take Me as I Am" (2006), Omarion's "Ice Box" (2006), and Ciara's "Like a Boy" (2006).[27] Rico Love co-wrote Usher's "Throwback" (2005), Keri Hilson's "Energy" (2008), Pleasure P's "Boyfriend #2" (2008).[28] The-Dream wrote Rihanna's "Umbrella" (2007), J. Holiday's "Bed" and Usher's "Moving Mountains" and "Trading Places" (2008).[29] Ne-Yo wrote Mario's "Let Me Love You", Rihanna's "Take a Bow" and "Unfaithful", and Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable" (2008).[30]

According to Billboard, the most commercially successful R&B acts of the decade were Usher, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Chris Brown and Ne-Yo.[31]


Contemporary artist Kelly Rowland from upper left: Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, and Usher have experimented with EDM.

Continuing from the 1990s and early 2000s, 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 Auto-Tune 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 Charlie Puth, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, SZA, Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Ariana Grande, Usher, John Legend, Frank Ocean, Pharrell Williams, Chris Brown, Jennifer Lopez, The Weeknd, Ne-Yo, Zayn Malik, and Ella Mai.

"These days almost all r&b goes for voice-plus-sound rather than voice-plus-song, with the sound ranging from precision track-and-hook to idiosyncratic atmospherics."

—Christgau, Vice, 2017[32]

Early 2010s artists such as Kelly Rowland, Ne-Yo, Usher, and Chris Brown began embracing new electronic influences while still keeping R&B's original feel. Kelly Rowland"s "Commander",[33] Usher's "OMG",[34] "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love",[35] "Scream"[36] and "Climax",[37] Chris Brown's "Yeah 3x",[38] "Turn Up the Music"[39] and "Don't Wake Me Up"[40] are all EDM-oriented. As this electronic element continues to grow apparent throughout the genre, contemporary artists like are gaining popularity outside of R&B and continue to collaborate with non-R&B artists.

Singers Miguel, John Legend, Jeremih, Eric Bellinger, and Chris Brown are popular in mainstream hip hop for many collaborations with rappers such as Wale, Rick Ross, YG, and J.Cole. Today's R&B is far more diverse and incorporates more sonic elements than before, as it expands its appeal and commercial viability.[41] Trap music's influence maintained a strong presence on the music charts with R&B singer Beyoncé's songs "Drunk in Love", "Flawless" and "7/11", Bryson Tiller's debut studio album, Trapsoul, and Mary J. Blige's "Thick of It".[42].

See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "R&B". Archived from the original on March 15, 2012.. Kustom Beats.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Frere-Jones, Sasha (April 3, 2006). "On Top: Mariah Carey's record-breaking career". Archived from the original on April 20, 2006.. The New Yorker.
  3. Jarret, Michael (October 6, 1998). "Whitney Houston Syndrome". Sound Tracks: A Musical ABC. Temple University Press. ISBN 978-1-56639-641-7. Search this book on
  4. ""Vision of Love" sets off melisma trend". The Village Voice. February 4, 2003. Retrieved November 2, 2014.
  5. "The 100 Greatest Singer of All Time : 79 – Mariah Carey". Archived from the original on March 24, 2010.. Rolling Stone. November 12, 2008.
  6. Ward, David (November 2011). "R&B and Influence: The Producer as Ephebe". Circulation Mag. Retrieved August 27, 2015.
  7. Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Michael Jackson – Off the Wall". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved August 27, 2015.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Ripani, Richard J. (2006). The New Blue Music: Changes in Rhythm & Blues, 1950–1999. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 130–155, 186–188. ISBN 978-1-57806-862-3. Search this book on
  9. Concepcion, Mariel (November 18, 2010). "The Juice Presents Top 50 R&B/Hip-Hop Artists of the Past 25 Years". Billboard. Retrieved December 15, 2014.
  10. "Cover Story – R. Kelly". Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. 95 (5): 56. 28 December 1998 – 4 January 1999. ISSN 0021-5996.
  11. Gipson, Brooklyne (January 26, 2012). "Adele's 21 Closing in on Billboard Charts Record". BET. Retrieved November 2, 2014.
  12. Goldberg, Michael (May 2, 1991). "The Jacksons score big". Rolling Stone. p. 32. ISSN 0035-791X.
  13. Bickelhaupt, Susan; Dezell, Maureen (January 13, 1996). "Room with a private view". The Boston Globe. p. 26.
  14. Mayfield, Geoff (December 25, 1999). "Totally '90s: Diary of a decade". Billboard. 111 (112). ISSN 0006-2510.
  15. Frere-Jones, Sasha (October 6, 2008). "The Timbaland Era". Archived from the original on October 1, 2008.. The New Yorker.
  16. Christgau, Robert (September 30, 2003). "The Commoner Queen". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved October 15, 2014.
  17. "Usher Crowned Top Hot 100 Artist of Decade". Singersroom. December 22, 2009. Retrieved June 27, 2016.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Molanphy, Chris (July 16, 2012). "100 & Single: The R&B/Hip-Hop Factor In The Music Business's Endless Slump". The Village Voice Blogs. Archived from the original on July 20, 2012. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
  19. "Artists of the Decade". Billboard. December 11, 2009. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
  20. ""Fallin'" Wins Song Of The Year". December 2, 2009. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
  21. Caulfield, Keith (December 30, 2015). "Beyoncé's 'Dangerously in Love' Album Surpasses 5 Million Sold in U.S." Billboard. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
  22. Leopold, Todd (February 9, 2004). "Beyonce tops with five Grammys" (Press release). CNN. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
  23. Susman, Gary (March 31, 2004). "Usher sells a record-breaking 1.1 million". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
  24. "Usher, Keys Duet Keeps Cozy At No. 1". Billboard. November 4, 2004. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
  25. Hope, Clover (November 27, 2012). "Unsung Heroes: The 36 Best Songwriters Of The 2000s". Vibe. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  26. "Bryan-Michael Cox – Credits". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  27. "Keri Hilson – Credits". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  28. "Rico Love – Credits". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  29. "The-Dream – Credits". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  30. "Ne-Yo – Credits". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  31. "Artists of the Decade Music Chart". Billboard. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  32. Christgau, Robert (March 3, 2017). "On Syd's Depth and Resonance: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau". Vice. Retrieved March 4, 2017.
  33. Androids (March 22, 2013). "10 Singers Who Should Make an EDM Album > Kelly Rowland". Complex. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  34. Shipley, Al (August 6, 2014). "20 Biggest Songs of the Summer: The 2010s (So Far)". Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  35. Lamb, Bill. "Top 10 Usher Songs". Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  36. "Usher Wants To Make You "Scream"". Popdust. April 26, 2012. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  37. Khal (July 25, 2013). "Diplo's Most Surprising Production Credits > Usher – "Climax"". Complex. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  38. Wete, Brad (October 21, 2010). "Chris Brown dances through a block party in 'Yeah 3X' video: Watch here". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  39. Garibaldi, Christina (January 26, 2012). "Chris Brown Drops New Single 'Turn Up The Music'". MTV News. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  40. "The Wins and Fails of the 2012 BET Awards > Win: Chris Brown performs "Don't Wake Me Up."". Complex. July 2, 2012. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  41. Bat (November 29, 2001). "What is Hypersoul?". Archived from the original on November 2, 2014. Retrieved December 11, 2013.
  42. "Listen to Mary J. Blige's Powerful New Song 'Thick of It'". NPR. Retrieved November 25, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

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