By Jas Jackson
History and the Creation of Beats
R&B is a genre we all know and love, from notable artists like Usher and SZA to smaller artists like Nao and Kyle Dion. We all know what it sounds like, but what is R&B?
R&B, or Rhythm and Blues, is a genre of music brought to life in the 1940s by African-American gospel, jazz, and blues artists. One of the first hit R&B songs was made by Louis Jordan—a saxophonist from Brinkley, Arkansas. The hit song was called "Is You or Is You Ain't My Baby?"
R&B has evolved from its early days and integrated rock 'n' roll aspects in the '50s and hip-hop in the '90s. The older form of R&B had core beats made of drums and bass while incorporating typical jazz music.
This new and improved form is referred to as Contemporary R&B. It's characterized by heavy bass lines, keyboards, and studio synthesizers.
Many rhythm and blues songs focus on love or the struggles of the black community and the hopes many have for change. It's been a popular way to voice feelings in a harrowing way, with songs like "Hardlife" by Summer Walker and "Gonna Love Me" by Teyana Taylor.
Controversy Over the Life of R&B
There is a constant debate within the music industry over whether or not R&B is dead. Some artists like Sean Combs, better known as Diddy, seem to think so. In an Instagram live from 2022 with Timberland, Mary J. Blige, and Kehlani, Diddy said, "R&B gotta be judged to a certain thing – it’s the feeling though, doggy. No, no, no. It’s a feeling. You gotta be able to sing for R&B, and then you gotta tell the truth. R&B is not a hustle. This shit is about feeling your vulnerability."
R&B has changed since Diddy first entered the music industry, and that's an undeniable fact. R&B in the 90s had synths, heavy drums, shakers, bells, piano, bass, and inertia. The standard for R&B was completely different.
Today, contemporary R&B still holds close to its '90s roots, but there are now different vocals in openings, guitar, analog warmth, sounds you hear every day, like waves and chatter, and bass, which has evolved from the well-known bass guitar to computer-generated sounds. Really, what has affected and changed R&B has been the evolution of technology.
Mary J. Blige had something to say in response to Diddy. “You can’t kill something that’s in our DNA. It’s gonna keep transitioning from generation to generation to generation to generation." She ended her argument by saying, "But, let me just say this. We have to keep ourselves alive as R&B singers." The long-standing debate over the death of R&B will continue to be talked about for as long as R&B evolves, changes, and breathes life into new genres. To argue both sides of this debate, I'll conclude with this. Old school '90s R&B is dead who's to say it can't be revived, though? Rhythm and Blues is ever-changing, as we can see from the likes of one of the first famous R&B songs ("Is You or Is You Ain't My Baby?") to songs like "Good Days" by SZA. Watching it grow and develop into a new generation is a privilege we should all be thankful for.