Is there a place for R&B to stream on your playlist? Have too many of today’s listeners lost touch with the sultry sounds of rhythm and blues that they have given up on the voices like Whitney Houston or Luther Vandross? The current state of R&B in today’s popular culture is definitely at a peculiar crossroads musically because we see music caught between mainstream popularity play, genre diversity, and traditional 90s R&B.
Being popular in mainstream media is always a successful way to gain popularity in any market. That plan works seamlessly in the music industry the same way. What is popular, trendy, and catchy for consumers will most definitely sell the fastest in any market. If consumers in 1989 wanted to be crooned by Babyface with “Whip Appeal,” then they would flock to the stores to purchase cassette tapes and call into radio stations to hear his new single. However, if in 2022, trendy dance, pop, and rap songs are doing well on radio and streaming platforms, then R&B love songs might not be the popular mainstream route to go. By the same token, R&B artists like Summer Walker, Ari Lennox, and H.E.R. have had very successful performances with their Tiny Desk Concert—just a different, mainstream music platform—in their careers. Sometimes R&B might not be trendy on the charts, but consumers are still listening to the music and attending concerts, and embracing artists and their craft.
In the last two decades, R&B music has vastly changed as a genre. If one is to preview the genre of R&B from the 1960s to the 2020s, there would be subgenres of R&B now that would grow from the foundation of R&B in the very beginning. When Berry Gordy founded Motown in the 1960s, R&B was defined more as “Motown Soul” and has grown to include rhythm and blues, soul, funk, disco, doo-wop, and other elements along the way. We now have contemporary R&B that encompasses more than one element or genre at a time to produce a rich product. Therefore, artists do not have to package themselves into one box as an artist. Some diverse artists include DVSN, Sevyn Streeter, Ella Mae, Tink, Daniel Caesar, Bryson Tiller, and 6lack.
Many would say they just don’t make music like they used to. In terms of 90s R&B music, then that would likely be—yes and no. That traditional 90s R&B sound is not so much gone as it has just been updated, tweaked, and reshaped into new sounds and versions. The love ballads “Breathe Again” by Toni Braxton, “For You” by Kenny Lattimore, and “I’m Still In Love With You” by New Edition are all reminiscent of a time when music told a story of love, redemption, and apology, but today love is portrayed in more complicated stories. Artists do their best to share those realities in their music with us—so we get R&B mixed with love and complication. Traditional R&B music has to find a place to merge in the 2020s, be comfortable, and take a seat.
R&B music is definitely not dead in 2022—too many people are just simply overlooking great music that’s right in front of them. It’s possible for you to stream a top R&B playlist at the tip of your fingertip at any given moment. Some top R&B artists to stream include Jorja Smith, GIVĒON, John Legend, INAYAH, Silk Sonic, Jazmine Sullivan, SZA, Jhené Aiko, and Ari Lennox. Now, go enjoy the rhythm and the blues.