Is R&B Dead?

We take a dive into a genre that's seen a multitude of alterations.

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In the “not too distant” past, Black Twitter was once again catapulted into an uncontrollable frenzy when media mogul Sean “Love” Combs mustered the audacity to utter these three words live on Instagram: “R&B is Dead.” Immediately afterwards, R&B fans and artists alike were livid, filled with pure rage and vitriol for what many would consider being pure blasphemy. As a collective, most of us are still deciphering the intent behind his inexplicable antics. Some speculate that it may have been a clever marketing tactic while others surmise that it may have been a byproduct of brazen ego. Whatever the case may be, at the very least, it has brought a well-ignited line of inquiry about the current state of R&B to the forefront of public consciousness and whether or not, it is indeed alive and well. Let us unpack.

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Let’s start off by underscoring that the concept of change isn’t anything new to R&B. Over the years and undoubtedly so, there have been a multitude of significant shifts to the sound and feel of the genre. With each new decade, it has ushered in a novel and refreshing iteration of it. Come to think of it, R&B is one of the few genres that have been able to undergo and survive a multitude of alterations. In the 80s, legendary acts such as DeBarge, The Gap Band, New Edition, Luther Vandross and Chaka Khan spearheaded it. Then in the 90s, it spawned remarkable talent like Boyz II Men, Aaliyah, TLC, Mariah Carey, BBD, Jodeci, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, and more. At the start of the 00s, the world received R&B savants like Usher, Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, Jazmine Sullivan, Alicia Keys, Béyonce and much more. Nowadays, the torch has been given to phenomenal acts like H.E.R., PJ Morton, Alex Isley, Kenyon Dixon, Lucky Daye, Tone Stith, Luke James and more. With every phase of its evolution, it has all contributed to bolstering the allure and magnitude of the genre.

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In this dialogue, it is important to acknowledge that the R&B of yester-years has perhaps dwindled to some degree. This would admit that slow, baby-making brand of the genre isn’t as chic as it once was. However, with this being stated, there are still myriad artists who craft music tailored to this particular enclave. Some noteworthy acts that come to mind include Tank, Rotimi, Trey Songz, Avant, Joe, The-Dream, Luke James and much more. With this being said, there are still vessels that provide this experience if this is something you’re seeking. In the grand scheme of today’s R&B landscape, it is relatively delusional to make the claim that it is “dead” in any form or fashion.

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To make such a claim is totally tone deaf and ignores all the stellar R&B music and acts that have arised from the last few years. While the R&B of yester-years have diminished a bit, the genre is still very much going strong. Some of the projects that illuminate this reality include SIR’s “Chasing Summer,” Ari Lennox’s “Shea Butter Baby,” Ravyn Lenae’s “Hypnos,” Lucky Daye’s “Painted,” H.E.R.’s Back Of My Mind, Frank Ocean’s “channel: Orange” and much more. Aside from the relative departure of R&B’s former sound, there aren’t any glaring indications that would incite one to believe that R&B has reached its demise.

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Just as the traditional, golden-era of Hip-Hop has shapeshifted into contemporary Trap and Drill, R&B has morphed in comparable fashion. And that’s absolutely fine. And when it comes to statistics, there’s evidence to support the reality that R&B is still very much pertinent and absorbed at a consistent rate.

Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” opened up at number 1 on the Billboard chart with the equivalent of 332,000 sales in the U.S., garnering the second-highest debut of the year.
Lucky Daye’s ‘Candy Drip’ gave Daye his first “top-five” debut on Billboard’s R&B albums chart since making his big splash on the R&B scene back in 2019.
Brent Faiyaz’s ‘Wasteland’ made his first #2 debut on the “Billboard 200” charts.
Chris Brown’s “BREEZY,” which is his 10th solo studio album, gracefully reached number 4 on the US Billboard 200, making it his 11th top-tenth album in the country.

As for the present and future of R&B, it’s glaringly bright with little to zero indications of slowing down soon. Not even sir Diddy can stop that.

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