It’s easy to see that R&B has been suffering the last few years. Many blame the decline on lackluster product by the artists. When the argument comes up, music enthusiasts cite singers such as Jill Scott, Ledisi, Anthony Hamilton, and others as consistent quality artists. Critics, however, place them in the category of soul and neo-soul. Somewhere along the line, soul music was separated from Rhythm and Blues. We will delve deeper into the timeline to find where the separation occurred.
R&B has carried many aliases throughout the ears. From doo-wop, to psychedelic, to funk, to New Jack, the genre remained consistent with great singers putting out great product. The late eighties to mid-nineties period was a wonderful time for black music. R&B had become one of the dominant genres of the times. We celebrated artists on top of the charts like Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, Jodeci, and Mary J. Blige. Emerging artists such as Maxwell, D’Angelo, Dru Hill, Brandy and Monica looked poised to take the genre to the next level. Another form of black music a little over a decade old was also on the rise: Hip-hop. Representing a more rugged, political and gangster side of black culture, people of all races began to gravitate towards the genre. For the newer generation of R&B artists who grew up on hip-hop, they began to incorporate more of that attitude and direction music.
Towards the end of the nineties, a “sub-genre” of R&B known as neo-soul began to emerge. Though most neo-soul artists were heavily influenced by hip-hop, they were able to evenly mix elements of the two dominant black genres. While neo-soul began to take control of the airwaves, some would argue that the more mainstream R&B artists began to feel out of place. Elements of the blues in Rhythm and Blues began to disappear.
Flash forward to today’s times. Save a few exceptions like Fantasia, Anthony Hamilton, and Jennifer Hudson, it seems as if the singer reared in church has been replaced by the singer reared on the block. The establishment of Urban Adult Contemporary radio became a double-edged sword for soul music. On one had it gave an outlet to singers who had been shut out of a lot of black radio stations; however it relegated soul to a “Hits and Oldies” format. Some have stated that the natural progression of R&B was neo-soul, but due to the backlash from many of its artists the tag neo-soul became a four letter word. While we may not be able to pinpoint exactly where the separation began, one thing is very clear. R&B music as a whole has been suffering, and will continue to suffer until it regains its soul.