WTF is Happening to R&B?
By Sophia Trimble
There has been a pressing question on everyone's mind recently that needs to be addressed. What is happening to R&B?
6 NOV - 2021
A genre that once dominated the charts is rumoured to be falling flat as of late, with witless whispers of R&B’s decline being spread all over social media.
Not to be confused with rap, R&B is an abbreviation for the musical genre ‘Rhythm and Blues,’ although the two genres do lean on each other and are often intertwined. The name Rhythm and Blues replaced the extremely outdated term ‘Race Music’ in the 1940s, which R&B was once categorised as. A song is usually classified as R&B when there is some kind of distinctive drum machine rhythm (60-80 bpm), and smooth, pitch-corrected vocals in a specific vocal arrangement. Rhythm and Blues is often sung by African-American people (hence the outdated ‘Race Music’ categorisation) who on average tend to have stronger vocal timbre than people of other cultures.
Just like rap, R&B is a genre almost completely overrun with men. I’m sure it’s no easy feat being a woman in the music industry at all, let alone specialising in a genre of music dominated by men. Almost all women in R&B have expressed their experience as a woman in the industry, having to claw their way to the top and having very real feelings of constantly having to prove their worth to producers, writers, composers… pretty much any man they’ve had to deal with on their way to where they are now.
Ask a man who his favourite R&B artists are and I can almost guarantee you, not a single female artist will be on his list. Not even one of the greats, the leading ladies of RnB. I’m talking SZA, Doja Cat, Beyoncé, Summer Walker, Rhianna (duh), Jhené Aiko, Chloe x Halle, Jasmine Sullivan, Kali Uchis, Kehlani, H.E.R, Ella Mai, Teyana Taylor, Brandy, Mila J, and so many more. All of these artists are powerhouse black women who represent everything we need more of in the media. There are, of course, sub-genres of R&B which each of these women can fit into as well, for example, Kali Uchis is classified as Latin R&B, Doja Cat as Rap or Afrofunk, and H.E.R is more Soul.
Claiming R&B is dead or even a ‘dying genre’ is a bit dramatic. Rhythm and Blues may not sound the same as it used to, but it is definitely not going anywhere. The current definition of R&B needs to be looked at for sure, as it seems to be either too restrictive or too fluid to define the progressive R&B sounds we know and love today. Just like every genre of music, R&B has been stretched, altered and adapted to remain up to date and popular.
As long as I’m alive, R&B will be too.
I have no doubt that we are due for a resurgence of R&B music any day now. Rhythm and Blues is nowhere near dead, but merely going through an identity crisis. However, for as long as I’m alive, R&B will be too. I believe that the women in this genre are the ones who are keeping it going, they have done what women do best - adapt. The key to lifting up our wondrous women in R&B is simply supporting them and streaming their music so they can keep creating art.
If you’re not sure where to start, Chatty has curated a playlist of our favourite songs from women in R&B, from us to you.