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28 Dec

How Did Hip-Hop And R&B Change into One Genre?

Welcome to The State of R&B, ESSENCE’s have a look at the past, present and way forward for rhythm and blues. On this piece, ESSENCE editor Rivéa Ruff reports on the mixing of hip-hop and R&B.

With artists like Mary J. Blige and Kehlani currently selling out nationwide tours, the anticipation of SZA’s long-awaited sophomore project and classic producers like Babyface, Bryan-Michael Cox, and Jermaine Dupri refocusing their attention on the genre, R&B appears to be shining—at the least in a front-facing manner. But while R&B is clearly alive and thriving, nobody can deny that the genre has modified drastically within the last 30 years. Hip-hop’s influence stands out as the major difference. 

Because the inception of radio and recorded music, charting platforms and music distributors have struggled with learn how to classify music made by Black performers. Originally lumping them right into a category generally known as the “Harlem Hit Parade” in 1942, and later simply “Race Records” by 1945, Billboard coined the term Rhythm & Blues, first popularized in radio and label jargon within the 40s,  and meant as an umbrella term for African-American secular songs.

Billboard tried on “Soul Music” and easily “Black Music” for size between 1969 and 1990, before finally selecting the abbreviation “R&B.” The phrase went on to define the sound for Gen X.

Mary’s Joints

By the Nineteen Nineties, “R&B” was the commonly accepted terminology for soulful Black music. But one fateful studio session with Sean Combs shaped a brand latest sound that may define the genre’s future. 

“Sooner or later Puffy was working at Uptown Records with Jodeci, they usually had a session with Teddy Riley and Teddy Riley didn’t show up,” creator and music critic Craig Seymour says, noting that the group was slated to remix their hit single “Come And Talk To Me.” With Riley out of commission, Combs took inspiration from the DJs of his youth and synced the vocals with one in all his favorite hip-hop songs, “You’re A Customer,” by EPMD. 

“Within the eighties, we had DJs like Ron G, Kid Capri, Brucie B, and they’d take R&B instrumentals – whether it was a Luther Vandross or something like that – and place them over [Hip-Hop] beats,” Seymour adds. “It really got here out of DJ culture, party culture and radio culture.”

Seymour continues his commentary on the turning point led by Combs saying, “That [session] created Hip-Hop Soul. Andre Harrell of Uptown [called] that the primary Hip-Hop Soul record. Very shortly after, Mary J. Blige was working on her second album, My Life, they usually took that very same approach.”

Long known as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, Mary J. Blige pioneered the wedding between hip-hop and R&B together with her sophomore project. As she reimagined soul classics from the ‘70s and ‘80s over thumping beats (courtesy of Combs, who recently reanimated the “R&B is dead” debate), she cultivated a sound that led to a tidal wave of hip-hop-tinged soul. 

The R&B remix went on to reign supreme, with influential collaborations between Mariah Carey and Ol’ Dirty Bastard; SWV and Wu Tang Clan; and in fact, Mary J. Blige and Method Man, becoming easy classics. 

Hip-hop and R&B’s sounds (and audience) became so intertwined on the charts and in the general public consciousness, Billboard modified their charting to Hot R&B/Hip-Hop in 1999, officially consolidating the genres. 

“By the 2000s, you already had R&B and hip-hop moving somewhat closer together and more beat-oriented records on the radio,” says Kelefa Sanneh, creator of Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres . “R&B and hip-hop were really living side by side.”

“It was almost like they balanced one another out as two halves of the identical genre.”

The early aughts were dominated by artists who blended the 2, corresponding to Usher, Alicia Keys, and Beyoncé. More change was on the way in which. 

What Is Alt-R&B?

Starting within the early 2010s, an alternate sound that combined R&B/hip-hop with elements of dance, electronic, or rock went from the fringes to the mainstream with the success of acts like Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, and Miguel. This gave rise to then-bubbling acts like Jhené Aiko, SZA, and PartyNextDoor, who all undeniably had rhythm and blues influences, but melodically and thematically were unlike what audiences had been taught R&B was. Since that time, what classifies as an R&B song, and who qualifies as an R&B artist has shifted, leaving the genre in what The Atlantic has specified as an “identity crisis” for the higher a part of the last ten years.

Within the many years between Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love” and Summer Walker’s “Girls Need Love,” what we expect of as rhythm and blues evolved from soft saxophones and piano melodies to speaker knockers. On the vocal side, production was once laced with honey sweet, soulful voices trained up in the way in which they need to go, however it has been at the least partially replaced by whispery, semi-nasal, autotune-heavy vocalizations and vocal inflections that talk to a latest generation.

“[Starting in the early 2000s], the thought was should you desired to get on the radio, you needed to learn learn how to sound great over a beat and that meant making your voice somewhat smaller, less room for runs and ad-libs and perhaps less time for really old-fashioned ballads,” Sanneh observes. “A broader issue in music [today] is that lots of really popular music is more beat-driven, more rhythm-driven. Singers must determine learn how to make space for the beat or learn how to sound good over a beat, and that’s led to lots of various things – it’s led to sing-rapping, it’s led to the whisper vocal or simply murmuring over the beat.” 

Read “Never Too Much? A Look At Sexually Explicit R&B Lyrics” here.

Today, artists like Lizzo, Kid Cudi, and Ty Dolla $ign leave some scratching their heads on what lane to even place them in. Is Roddy Wealthy rapping or singing on his chart-dominating single “The Box” or his vocal feature on Mustard’s “Ballin’?” Do Doja Cat’s vocals on tracks like “Say So” or “You Right” place her in the identical category as H.E.R., or as Nicki Minaj?

“The one thing that differentiates the artists is their chosen form. A hip-hop artist’s musical foundation is spoken words which are rapped. R&B artists are singers,” Samantha Selolwane, head of Promotion, Hip-Hop and R&B at RCA records, says. She cites artists like Chris Brown, T-Pain, Drake, Future, Young Thug, Migos, and earlier ones like Missy Elliott and Lauryn Hill, as examples of what she calls the “Rap & B” style. “The sweetness about modern artists is their ability to mix each,” she says. 

On the opposite end of the genre-bending spectrum, consider Steve Lacy’s “Bad Habit.” Due to a push from TikTok, it’s the preferred song within the nation, currently holding at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for two consecutive weeks. It has also held fast and robust on each the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot R&B Songs charts and sits at #3 on the worldwide iTunes R&B chart.

“Bad Habit” is classed as R&B/Soul, but for keen-eared listeners, it’s strongly paying homage to a mid-90’s grunge ballad or an early aughts alternative rock jam. The truth is, it’s also charting equally as high on Billboard’s Hot Rock & Alternative Songs, Hot Rock Songs and Hot Alternative Songs charts – the primary single to effortlessly dominate all five distinctions. 

“As we speak, Steve Lacy has the primary song within the country. What’s that exactly? Is that R&B?” Sanneh wonders. “I don’t know. Perhaps. But a technique I’d need to answer that query is to look at them for the following couple years and to determine who’s listening.” 

Sanneh also notes that R&B has all the time been classified by who performs it, especially along racial lines, despite what the music feels like. “​​Our music has often been largely segregated and that’s often led to Black singers being rather more prone to be categorized as R&B,” he adds. Nevertheless, genre boils right down to community.  “My belief is that that community still exists even when it’s gotten somewhat tougher to measure.”

Is R&B’s Flexibility Young Millennials and Gen Z’s Gain?

R&B is more malleable than ever and it’s of no consequence to young listeners. “If you speak to Gen Z or Gen Alpha, they’ll’t tell the difference between pop, rock, alternative, R&B,” Selolwane says. “To them, it’s all just vibes and moods. All they’re concerned about is do they prefer it or not.”

She pegs the young audience because the true lead on learn how to perceive the changes. “The patron is the one who’s light years ahead of what is occurring,” she says. “The industry is the one which has to meet up with how the patron is accessing their product.”

Singer Joyce Wrice embraces the paradox with open arms. Along with her own eclectic spin on soul, she grew up influenced by the likes of Brandy, Mariah Carey, Missy Elliott, Janet Jackson and Aaliyah. “My dad played a lot music growing up. He introduced me to Tamia,” she says of her influences. “Her voice and soulfulness just had me in awe.” 

Read “How Much Money Do R&B Artists *Really* Make?” here.

Though enthralled by soulful vocals, it was the sound of hip-hop, particularly that of Biggie and 112, that made her fall in love with the fusion of rap and R&B. It’s heavily inspired her work. 

“I’d say [my sound is] feel-good R&B soul music paying homage to the 90s and early 2000s – with my very own twist,” Wrice describes. That twist, very like with those that got here before her, found her collaborating with rappers Freddie Gibbs and Westside Gunn on her critically acclaimed debut effort, Overgrown.

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Functioning as her tackle the 90’s-inspired dance craze currently sweeping the industry, her latest EP, Motive, finds Wrice collaborating again with popular Haitian-Canadian producer and deejay, Kaytranada. Their experimental work pulls from dance, afrobeats, and electronic music.

“I just love Kaytranada’s sound selections and I actually desired to make a dance uptempo project,” she says of why she leaned into dance and afrobeats on her latest effort. For Wrice, the present state of R&B is exciting and the longer term is ripe with possibility.

“I imagine that [R&B] will proceed to develop by itself – just like how now there’s alternative R&B and other styles,” Wrice says. Selolwane mirrors the sentiment, saying, “I believe R&B will probably be more experimental and more boundary pushing,” the RCA exec says of R&B’s sound shift within the upcoming years. “The long run of R&B is within the hands of those that have yet to create it.”

But does this regular progression to latest, experimental, genre-melding sounds leave more orthodox R&B on the back burner? Not by an extended shot. 

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Throw It Back

“Traditional R&B has never taken a back seat to anyone,” Selolwane says. “So many artists have all the time kept the normal sound of R&B alive, even when other types of R&B thrive. I do nevertheless enjoy this latest Alternative R&B that’s making its technique to the forefront. We usually are not monolithic in our R&B selections. We adore it all.”   

While the sound is continually stretching,  accommodating and incorporating latest influences, each Seymour and Sanneh imagine a star on the horizon will soon define the sound that’ll best show this era of rhythm & blues. 

“I do think we’re waiting for that one big talent to unify all of it and convey us right into a latest era, and that all the time happens,” says Seymour. “That happened with Aretha Franklin, it happened again with Mary J. Blige.” 

“Like much of popular music, the history of R&B does are inclined to be cyclical and things that appear kind of uncool now are inclined to morph into something cool and vice versa,” Sanneh adds. “I wouldn’t be too surprised now if there’s some R&B singer who perhaps people aren’t [currently] taking all that seriously, who seems to have an enormous effect and we’ll look back at 2022 saying ‘he or she was right under your noses and also you didn’t even realize that this thing was about to blow up and alter the way in which we take into consideration this genre.’” 

Over the past decade, a latest crop of crooners have begun to succeed in back into their childhoods (or before they were even born) and paint their very own pictures with their findings. Bryson Tiller, the originator of “Trap Soul,” cut his teeth on a sample of KP & Envyi’s 1998 regional hit “Shawty Swing My Way” for his breakout single “Exchange.” 27-year-old Tink’s latest album, Pillow Talk, finds her sampling 702’s 1996 song “Get It Together” for “Goofy.” Beyoncé protégé Chlöe is taking it back to R&B’s raunchier roots, covering Adina Howard’s 1995 smash “Freak Like Me” on a rework of her song “Surprise.” 

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“I feel the genre has actually gone back to ‘90s form of R&B with various subgenres. Some artists tap into using samples and remakes,” Selolwane says. “Other artists are tapping into the ‘new-soul’ era and others are experimenting with alternative sounds to R&B so I feel the music is more ‘90s now than it was before.”

So, R&B actually isn’t dead. But it surely is tough to acknowledge now and again for individuals who were born by Luther Vandross, bred by Sade and Phyllis Hyman, reared by SWV and Mary J. Blige, and schooled by Dru Hill and 112. But for the generation that got here behind them, whose roots stretch only way back to Aaliyah and whose branches stretch to an eclectic sound we likely haven’t even conceived yet, this iteration of R&B is what resonates most.

Perhaps one in all the originators of the partnership between hip-hop and R&B, Mary J. Blige, said it best when debating Combs over his “R&B is dead” commentary.

“You may’t kill something that’s in our DNA,” she said. “It’s gonna keep transitioning from generation to generation to generation to generation.” And ya don’t stop. 

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