R&B: The Black Sheep of The Music Business?

On a recent episode of TV One’s Unsung, music legend Eddie Levert stated, “R&B is still the bastard of music.” Many fellow artists, executives, and fans have shared this sentiment over the years. Though R&B is at the core of almost every form of American music, it’s often the most overlooked and definitely the most unappreciated.  SoulTrain.com spoke with several major and independent artists and executives to find out why R&B is the black sheep of the music industry.

“Not the black sheep. More like the jilted lover, used and abused. Nobody wants to come from the soul and create music…no thought or labor to produce timeless music that touched the soul. It’s all pop tart music now!” – ‘Yvette Ramirez, Former LaFace Records executive, Road Manager, Boyz II Men

“Yes, it is under appreciated. The R&B audience is a very critical and engaging audience. But once you win their trust, their loyalty is priceless; look at the success of Charlie Wilson, R. Kelly, or even Mary J. Blige. The R&B crowd appreciates talent and authentic songwriting without depending on the trends like other forms of pop music.” –Tabari Daniels, Music Director, WJZD 94.5

“R&B is the black sheep of the music industry because in its most traditional and pure form, it is Black music with roots stemming from the slave holler, church meetings, and other old stuff that our newly successful and ‘colorless’ celebrity brethren would rather forget.” – Salakida, Indie Soul Artist

“We wish the DJs and PDs had more freedom to play more of the R&B music that is out there and [realize] that R&B/soul is not one dimensional. There is quite a bit of quality variety out there.  It’s just a battle to get it exposed.” – George Littlejohn, Co-CEO, Purpose Music Group

“The music frequency, lyrics, and vocal power it takes to create an R&B song is empowering and can only be successfully accomplished by real artists–no pun–but real artists, period.  Jazz, soul, blues, and gospel are treated like the black sheep. Why? The same reason why chicken nuggets are fake: mass production fast food music is more popular. Real artistry and real music can’t be faked.” – Lina, Indie Soul Artist

“I don’t believe so. I believe that the height of the 80s and 90s was the heyday, but with the decline of the ‘groups’ and people focusing on the single artists, interest in R&B declined. With people focusing now on pop music and more R&B artists trying to do more pop-infused records, people are no longer doing traditional R&B records.” – Deborah Rigaud, VP of Business and Legal Affairs, eOne Entertainment

“Oftentimes I do feel that R&B isn’t given as much respect in the music industry as it deserves. I feel industry ‘leaders’ don’t value the traditional elements of R&B music because they see it as dated and incompatible with the target audience that they choose to market music to. In most cases they place so much emphasis on what will be popular and relevant, instead of adding variety or giving an iota of thought to the preservation of the culture.” -Shanna Veasley, Co-Owner, VibeOut Radio

“I’m a LOVER of R&B and I’m not sure about it being the black sheep of the music biz. I don’t think that R&B gets its fair share of radio time unless it’s on an all R&B station.  I think that it’s truly nuts that artists can’t really cross over to other lanes and then come back.  It’s like if a conscious artist makes a ‘popish’ kind of record that gets popular it’s pretty much a rap for his conscious career.” –Mz. Linda, Radio Personality, Ridin Durty Radio, WRFG

“Yeah, but it wasn’t always like that. Artists have pulled elements of R&B to create new genres of music that music executives feel will be more profitable than traditional R&B.  So, R&B songs get put on the back-burner for watered down tunes that have more commercial appeal, but less staying power like Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, who toured for generations playing the same music. You won’t see half of the artists out now in 20 years!”–Melodee Henderson-Silmon, Entertainment Attorney, Henderson Law Group, LLC

“Oh boy, yes! R&B is a form of music that has created many types of music. The fabric of the music industry was built from soul and rhythm and blues music. From Billie Holiday to Ray Charles to Michael Jackson, R&B has always been the cornerstone of the music industry. So, to see the disrespect of this genre troubles me. The music business feels that R&B is a boutique genre so that means it receives less exposure, less financing and less promotion than pop, rock or country music. If R&B was on the same playing field as other genres it would get the same sales results and success. Take a look at Adele: Clearly she sings R&B, but she’s classified as pop. However, 9 million plus records later Adele is soaring. The music industry stereotypes the typical R&B consumer which causes record labels to box this genre in. There needs to be a return to the 60s where R&B was considered popular and great. It can happen if there are more visionaries like Clive Davis who support true artistry and music.”–Dr. Syleecia Thompson, Professor, Berkeley College, Noted Author of Rhythm Without Blues: The Dichotomy of a Music Genre, and manager of TV One’s R&B Divas star Syleena Johnson

“Yes, R&B is treated like the black sheep of the music biz. Why? Because the best R&B that gets made is far too positive. From the words, to the imagery, real R&B is about love, relationships, pain, triumph and soul. It’s too positive. And as we all know, there is no longer profit in peace and love, but instead sex and violence. Most of this ‘New Age R&B,’ as it’s been called, is nothing but hip-hop in R&B and pop music clothing. The mindset, the stance, the delivery. Most R&B connoisseurs don’t buy this new R&B today because we come from a golden age of R&B–the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. There are too many people who run labels and control the revenue stream of music nowadays that are not true fans of R&B, so they don’t know what to do with it nor do they want to push it because they don’t understand it. Not to mention true R&B fans are the kinds of fans that grow with you. That type of audience is a slow burn audience. Completely opposite of the kind of audience that the record labels need to support most of their music that breaks quickly then fades.”–Muhammad Ayers, Former Atlantic Records R&B Artist, Currently Touring the UK

Whatever your opinion, you have to agree that most of R&B has been catching a bad rap as of lately. In order to fully make a comeback to the forefront, R&B must stay independent for awhile. Being too cozy in the major label system has allowed other genres to take the spotlight from one of the most influential forms of music in world history. Labels like Malaco Music Group, EMI Music, and eOne Music have provided platforms for R&B artists to stretch their wings creatively and free of a major label system that has branded them a niche genre. It’s now time to spread those wings and fly.

-Nick Eden

Nick Eden is a songwriter/blogger/R&B junkie based out of Atlanta, GA. Experience his love for Rhythm and Blues at http://www.RnBLova.com, and follow him on Twitter @nickeden.



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