Will R&B Survive Its Evolution?

FantasiaThe year 2013 was a great one for R&B. The genre has spent the last 5 years slowly working its way back to the top of the charts. However, the emergence of some of its newer stars does bring into question the future of the sound of R&B. The genre has gone through many changes. From doo-wop, to psychedelic, to New Jack Swing, to neo-soul, R&B music is one of—if not the most—adapted genres on the charts. The more progressive sounds of artists such as Miguel, Stacey Barthe, and Dawn Richard arguably leave little room for the crooners of the past. The biggest question is, how many will evolve with seemingly the sound of the future?

The sounds of rhythm and blues have changed over the last few years. The genre, which was once loaded with heartfelt lyrics and powerful vocals, has given way to deeper, darker lyrics, and less emphasis of vocal acrobatics. To some, this has been a welcome change. To others, it’s a sign that the talks of R&B being dead are coming to fruition. It could be viewed as a classic case of one generation not liking the other’s R&B, or it could go much deeper than that.

Janelle MonaeOne thing that has remained constant throughout the evolution of rhythm and blues is the featuring of strong vocals. Even the lighter pop sound that Motown crafted still contained a church-like vocal element. This is not to take away from the vocal talent of artists such as Janelle Monae, Miguel, and Frank Ocean; however, as skilled as the may be vocally, their ranges are not the focal point of their art forms. This is not to say that all artists of yesteryear were all vocal juggernauts, but with the exception of a select few, the majority of R&B artists dating from the early 2000s and back were more centered around high ranges and heart- thumping notes.

Some would argue that progressive R&B is not the evolution of the genre, but merely a “sub-genre.” With artists such as John Legend, Tamar Braxton, Fantasia, and others still taking up a lot of space on the airways, progressive R&B just gives listeners an alternative to what they usually hear. Whatever the case, R&B seems to be split right down the middle. Separation is not what’s best for the genre at such a fragile state.

All generations have their stars. For the writer of this article it was Boyz II Men, Babyface, and Brian Mcknight who defined rhythm and blues. For the generation before me it was Luther Vandross, Patti Labelle, Aretha Franklin, and more who led the pack. Times change, and R&B is not the same as it was even ten years ago. There must, however, always be a link between the generations. To successfully merge the old with the new, generations of the past must embrace change, and generations of the future must pay homage to what set their sound of choice in motion.

–Nick Eden

Nick Eden is a singer/songwriter/R&B junkie based out of Atlanta, GA. He is a winner of the Steve Harvey New Star Project and appeared on Season 1 of BET/Centric’s Apollo Live. His new EP #FLIGHT1980 is available for FREE download HERE. Follow him on Twitter @nickeden and on Facebook.

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