Contemporary R&B is a music genre of American popular music, the current iteration of the genre that began in the 1940s as rhythm and blues music. Although the acronym "R&B" originates from its association with traditional rhythm and blues music, the term R&B is today most often used to define a style of African American music originating after the demise of disco in the 1980s. This newer style combines elements of soul, funk, dance, and, from 1986 on, hip hop.
The abbreviation R&B is almost always used instead of the full rhythm and blues term, although some sources refer to the style as urban contemporary (the name of the radio format that plays hip hop and contemporary R&B) .
Contemporary R&B has a slick, electronic record production style, drum machine-backed rhythms, and a smooth, lush style of vocal arrangement. Uses of hip hop-inspired beats are typical, although the roughness and grit inherent in hip hop is usually reduced and smoothed out.
With the transition from soul to R&B in the early to mid 1980s, Luther Vandross and new stars such as Prince and Michael Jackson rose in popularity. Jackson's Thriller repopularized black music with pop audiences after a post-disco backlash among United States mainstream audiences.
Female R&B singers such as Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson became very popular during second half of the 1980s, and Tina Turner came back with a series of hits with crossover appeal. Also popular was New Edition, a group of teenagers who served as the prototype for later boy bands.
In 1986, Teddy Riley began producing R&B recordings that included influences from the increasingly popular genre of hip hop. This combination of R&B style and hip hop rhythms was termed new jack swing, and was applied to artists such as Keith Sweat, Guy, Jodeci, Bell Biv DeVoe, and the popular late 1980s/early 1990s work of Michael Jackson. Another popular, but short-lived group (with more pronounced R&B roots) was Levert.
In the new jack swing/R&B group Boyz II Men, the most successful R&B male vocal group of all time, repopularized classic soul-inspired vocal harmonies, and several similar groups (such as Shai, Soul for Real, Az Yet, All-4-One, and Dru Hill) followed in their footsteps. Boyz II Men and several of their competitors benefited from producers such as Babyface and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. As a solo artist, Babyface and contemporaries such as Brian McKnight eschewed prominent hip hop influences, and recorded in a smooth, soft style of R&B termed quiet storm.
In the early 1990s, more R&B artists began adding even more of a rap/hip hop sound to their work. The synthesizer-heavy rhythm tracks of new jack swing was replaced by grittier East Coast hip hop-inspired backing tracks, resulting in a genre labeled hip hop soul by Sean Combs.
Hip hop soul artists such as Aaliyah, Mary J. Blige, R. Kelly, Monica, Brandy and Usher brought more of hip hop slang, style, and attitude to R&B music. This subgenre includes a heavy gospel influence in terms of vocal inflections and sounds. The style became less popular by the end of the 1990s, but later experienced a resurgence.
During the mid 1990s, Mariah Carey, girl groups TLC and SWV and Boyz II Men brought contemporary R&B to the mainstream. Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey recorded several Billboard Hot 100 number-one hits, including "One Sweet Day", a collaboration between both acts which became the longest-running number-one hit in Hot 100 history.
Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men and TLC released albums in 1994 and 1995—Daydream, II , and CrazySexyCool respectively — that sold over ten million copies, earning them diamond RIAA certification. Other top-selling R&B artists from this era included Aaliyah, Toni Braxton, Vanessa L. Williams, Mary J. Blige, Brandy, Monica, Usher and R. Kelly, and groups En Vogue, BLACKstreet, Salt-N-Pepa and Destiny's Child in the late 1990s.
In the late 1990s, neo soul (which added 1970s soul influences to the hip hop soul blend) arose, led by artists such as Aaliyah, D'Angelo, Lauryn Hill, and Maxwell. Artists such as Missy Elliott further blurred the line between R&B and hip hop by recording both styles.
Also In the early 2000's Aaliyah was crowned the princess of R&B with a string of hits including the number 1 hit Try Again, Rock The Boat, More Than A Women and Miss You until her untimely death in 2001 after the release of her third studio album Aaliyah (album).
In the late 2005 and early 2000s, the influence of R&B on dance could be heard in the work of several artists R&B-dance, such as Jennifer Lopez, *NSYNC and 98 Degrees. *NSYNC's lead singer, Justin Timberlake, and Nelly Furtado released recordings with heavy influences from both R&B and dance/hip hop music. Other stars who performed heavily R&B-influenced dance/hip hop music include Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera, Rihanna, Fergie, Pink and Akon.
In the United Kingdom, R&B found its way into the UK garage subgenre of 2-step, typified by R&B-style singing accompanied by breakbeat/drum and bass rhythms. Among the most notable 2-step acts are Mis-Teeq, Lisa Maffia and Craig David, who crossed over to American R&B audiences in the early 2000s.
In the 2000s
By the 2000s, the cross-pollination between R&B and hip hop had increased to the point where, in most cases, the only prominent difference between a record being a hip hop record or an R&B record is whether its vocals are rapped or sung. Mainstream modern R&B has a sound more based on rhythm than hip hop soul had, and lacks the hardcore and soulful urban "grinding" feel on which hip-hop soul relied. That rhythmic element descends from new jack swing. R&B began to focus more on solo artists rather than groups as the 2000s progressed. Between 2000 and 2004, the most prominent R&B artists included Aaliyah, Beyonce, Usher, Mary J. Blige, and Alicia Keys.
Soulful R&B continues to be popular, with artists such as Keys, Anthony Hamilton showcasing classic influences in their work. Some R&B singers have also used elements of Caribbean music in their work, especially dancehall and reggaeton.
Quiet storm, while still existent, is no longer a dominant presence on the pop charts, and is generally confined to urban adult contemporary radio. Most of the prominent quiet storm artists, including Babyface, Miki Howard and Gerald Levert, began their careers in the 1980s and 1990s, although newer artists such as Kem also record in the quiet storm style.
In addition, several producers have developed specialized styles of song production. Timbaland, for example, became notable for his hip hop and jungle based syncopated productions in the late-1990s, during which time he produced R&B hits for Aaliyah, Ginuwine, and singer/rapper Missy Elliott. By the end of the decade, Timbaland's influences had shifted R&B songs towards a sound that approximated his own, with slightly less of a hip hop feel. Lil' Jon became famous for a style he termed crunk & B, deriving its influences from the Southern hip hop sub-classification of crunk music. Jon gave R&B artist Ciara the title of "The First Lady of Crunk & B", and Brooke Valentine and Usher have recorded R&B songs with strong crunk influences.