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29 Dec

R&B Isn’t Dead, It’s Just Different Now – Essence

Welcome to The State of R&B, ESSENCE’s take a look at the past, present and way forward for rhythm and blues. On this piece, author Imani Mixon takes on the “R&B is dead” debate.

While fulfilling my duty as maid of honor in my cousin’s Memorial Day wedding, I set out to pick the form of songs you play at a marriage — the entrances, the exits, the primary dance, the toast. I quickly realized that current R&B wedding playlists were crammed with the identical songs that played in my parents’ 1999 wedding video. Faith Evans’ “Never Let You Go.” Eric Benét and Tamia’s “Spend My Life With You.” Case’s “Happily Ever After.” Much of our modern understanding of traditional R&B is stuck on repeat, in a continuing loop of eager for late 90s and early 2000s offerings.

It looks like for each “Let’s Get Married,” there are five “Don’t Leave Me Girls.” Heartbreak songs of the begging, pleading, singing within the rain, knocking in your door at midnight with flowers in hand variety. The excellence between way back then R&B and modern R&B is best summed up in Anderson .Paak’s lament on 2019’s “Come Home” — “I’m begging you please come home, nobody even begs anymore.”

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

The best option to go viral within the R&B space isn’t by dropping a latest track or visual but to query its existence or validity. Following in the identical vein because the classic rap debate “Who’s your top five, dead or alive?,” the combative energy of hip-hop’s age-old debate has moved on to R&B. This time though, it isn’t a matter, it’s a proclamation — R&B is dead. Perhaps we should always have known a sonic sea change was near when Jacquees declared himself the king of R&B in 2018. Most recently, Diddy took to Twitter to ask who killed R&B. There is no such thing as a right answer to that query because as with all fandom, R&B’s origins and legends largely rely upon who you ask. Are we talking about Motown Marvin Gaye or Moesha-era Brandy

Contemporary artists who’re blazing their very own trail on R&B’s well-worn path have something to say concerning the debate. 

“Anyone who says R&B is dead, it’s because their outlook on R&B is dead.”

Alex Isley hit the R&B scene a decade ago with the discharge of her first project, Love / Art Memoirs. She’s the daughter of celebrated guitarist Ernest Isley and acknowledges the responsibility to proceed the legacy of traditional R&B. She began working on the album in 2009, after completing her jazz studies major on the University of Calfornia, Los Angeles. Upon graduating, she noted a definite shift within the business of R&B; the DIY spirit of mixtapes and Soundcloud profiles were taking up. Isley didn’t want an excessive amount of time to pass before releasing her debut project, so after some encouragement from her mom, she began producing her own tracks. 

“R&B is continuously evolving. It’s ever-present. It would at all times be ever-present, nevertheless it changes. It’s not going to sound prefer it did even five years ago. That’s the great thing about it,” says Isley to ESSENCE. “Anyone who says R&B is dead, it’s because their outlook on R&B is dead.”

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

Durand Bernarr credits much of his early musical training to singing within the church choir. He thinks of church as a wealthy environment for artist development, it’s where you find out about your voice and the way it complements others. It’s also where you learn to steer and where many pick up their first instrument. It replicates the trajectory of R&B singers like Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, John Legend and Brandy, who moved from prayer and worship to nightclubs and stadiums. For a lot of early profession artists, having a church upbringing serves as a calling card that assumes an artist’s vocal agility and allegiance to Black culture. 

He speaks on the talk, saying, “Simply because it’s not on the forefront or because sonically it’s not familiar to how we used to listen to, doesn’t mean that it’s dead. It’s not that it’s dead, it’s evolved. Now what it’s evolved into? That’s a unique conversation, nevertheless it’s still here,” says Durand Bernarr.

Bernarr first caught Erykah Badu’s attention in 2011 after he posted covers of her songs on YouTube. That very same 12 months, she took him on tour together with her band as a background vocalist for her Coachella performance. In 2020, throughout the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, he shared his album Dur&, featuring soul singers Ari Lennox and Anna Sensible, plus sought-after producer KAYTRANADA. His recent project Wanderlust, a nod to Kelis’ 2001 Wanderland album, is a two-part album that leaves more room to breathe between tracks and makes listeners need to sing. This time around, he’s using more live drums than live bass, too. While Durand is proud to be received as a performance artist, he looks forward to sharing the opposite genres he’s fluent in, like jazz, gospel, pop, rock and opera.

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When R&B emerged as a genre within the Forties, it was little doubt a contiguity to other existing, popular Black genres like jazz and blues. In 2022, appreciating the abundance of Black music, also means welcoming in latest iterations, expressions, and artists. If dedicated R&B listeners share their latest favorite artists and projects with others as an alternative of sequestering them away in an try to protect them from the mainstream, latest, buzzing artists might get the resources and visibility that mainstream platforms and audiences provide. 

In lots of ways, serpentwithfeet’s most up-to-date release DEACON proves that he’s the moment. His 2021 album charts the progression of a romantic relationship and explicitly explores the great thing about Black love, specifically between men. The project is brimming with cheeky, catchy lyrics like “Never heard truth come from skinny lips” and “Me and my boo wear the identical size shoe.” serpent says contemporaries like Ravyn Lenae and Brent Faiyaz as artists who’re carrying the R&B torch. 

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“It’s essential to honor what has already happened before, but additionally to not miss the blessings which might be happening now. It’s essential for me to be tuned in to the brand new music that’s coming out and the brand new ideas. There’s a lot data and a lot wonder there that it’s essential for me to not miss the moment either,” serpentwithfeet says.

Serpentwithfeet is a classically trained opera singer who grew up within the church, so he was already aware of the elasticity of music. He says that he hasn’t encountered the R&B is dead conversation in real life. It doesn’t occur among the many musicians in his network because it could be offensive. You possibly can’t make that claim whilst you’re within the presence of musical peers and laying down an R&B track.

Thankfully, he is worked up, not threatened by the changing tide of R&B.

“I at all times consider Black music as an expansive art form. From jazz to gospel to R&B to soul. I’ve at all times known there to be those who push in all of those genres. So after I say that I make R&B or I’m a baby of R&B. That’s not me attempting to be funny, I’ve just known people in all these genres to at all times push. That’s what we do as people, we push,” he says.

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The value we pay for encouraging artists to lean so heavily on social media and streaming to get their songs heard is that those self same outlets have grow to be the battleground for this incredibly distracting discourse. The artists have already moved on from the conversation—it’s the industry and the audience that keep it alive.

As we enter one other latest phase of R&B, the songs and sentiment can be less one-sided and more reciprocal, less gendered and more fluid, less uncertain and more empowered. R&B has been the genre of holding hands and planning, of heartbeats and heartache, of roses and romance, of breakups and a second likelihood, and it’s becoming a sounding board for the multitudes of affection we would like to experience and a playground for the probabilities of sound. We welcome this newness into existence with every song and each sway, with each retweet and every replay.

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