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8 Reasons Why R&B Has Died in the Black Community

Written by on May 23, 2017

One of the Black community’s greatest gifts to the world is an astounding list of genres and artists who have changed the way we all listen to music. Without genres like the blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, Afrobeat, calypso, reggae, roots music, rap and hip-hop, The western world might still be doing the waltz. But there has been a significant drop in the popularity and influence of R&B over the last several decades. Where R&B artists used to be chart-toppers, now they are virtually invisible on the charts as their record sales have plunged. They no longer even have much of a presence on Black radio. So what happened to this previously dominant musical genre?


The Whitewash

Some of the most successful R&B artists now are white — names like Justin Timberlake, Adele, Robin Thicke. In 2013, Billboard‘s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart was topped by a white artist 44 out of 52 weeks — including 37 straight weeks, January to October, where it was topped by either hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis or Thicke. These artists are allowed to explore actual R&B music, producing lush tracks filled with musicality that evoke a previous era of R&B music. So Timberlake’s enormous success, while perhaps well-deserved, inherently speaks to the limitations and pressures placed on Black artists in comparison to the artistic freedom granted to white artists. It forces us to question whether Timberlake, if he was Black, would be given the latitude to explore pop, funk, rock, soul and R&B, all while blending retro elements with futuristic sounds, or if he would be pressured by label bosses to conform to the same watered-down, generic pop standard so many one-time R&B artists now call home because “that’s what listeners want.” By comparison, consider that in the Billboard issue dated Nov. 23, 1963, when Black artists were still struggling to break out of being viewed as “race” music, just under half of the Top 10 on the Hot R&B Singles chart were white acts.


Too Much Focus on Physical Attributes, Not Enough on Talent

There was a time when R&B singers were elevated and celebrated because of their talent and not their looks. It would be disrespectful to name fabulous singers of the past as examples, but one who has been called the “Queen of Soul” might be a prime example. The quality of the music, of the voices, was paramount back then. But those days are long gone. Today, there are too many R&B artists who are eye candy with not much talent or average talent, and the truly talented artists are not signed or promoted because of the way they look. The record-buying public notices such superficiality — and stops feeling compelled to buy the music.

Pharrell Williams in Adidas

The talented, powerful R&B producers of yesteryear would identify talent, hone it, enhance it. Names like Norman Whitfield, Quincy Jones, Leon Sylvers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, LA Reid and Babyface, and Teddy Riley reigned supreme. But somewhere in the late ’80s and early ’90s, R&B began to focus the bulk of its attention on the producers, to the detriment of the artists. Artists wanted to work with the “in” producer at the time. As a result, R&B music started to sound the same. No matter who was singing, songs could be quickly identified because of the producer’s sound. Earth, Wind and Fire songs sound like Earth, Wind and Fire songs. They did not sound like the Gap Band. They each had their inimitable styles that could not be duplicated by others. But the genre has been taken over by an overwhelming sameness.

Too Much Sex

A five-minute trip through the radio dial — if you can actually find Black R&B artists on the radio — shows just how incredibly hypersexual the music and lyrics have become. Usher, Trey Songz, Chris Brown — they seem to spend nearly all their time singing about how hard and how often they’re going to hit it. And little else. While there was sexual content in R&B music between the ’60s and ’80s, it was much more clever, more disguised, less explicit. There were love songs, but they spoke on the many aspects of love. Today’s R&B music is so overladen with sexual themes, adults are embarrassed to listen with even teenagers in the car. In such an environment, a plunge in sales was inevitable.


Artists Too Limited

One has to wonder why mainstream Black music, once rich with R&B that promoted love, tenderness and substance, now includes one of two types of songs: vapid pop numbers by artists who sound more like robots than real people and commercial rap tracks that glorify violence, materialism and misogyny. It’s hard not to conclude that this shift in style, one that minimized music of positivity and substance, was orchestrated by record label and radio executives in an effort to reshape the sound of Black music, and perhaps the perception of Black people.

chris brown

Nobody Is Buying Music Anymore

As most people know, there has been a startling plunge in the number of albums sold compared to previous years. This phenomenon has pulled down every genre; R&B has been hit especially hard, as has hip-hop. Hip-hop albums sold 24.1 percent less in 2014 than they did in 2013, and CD sales saw a 29.6 percent decline. Digital sales also took a serious hit and dropped more than 20 percent since 2013.


R&B and Hip-Hop Have Coalesced Into a Single Genre

While the two genres were long independent styles, each with their own unique sound and melody that explored and discussed different subject matters, today’s hip-hop and R&B are practically the same genre. Almost every R&B track has a rap verse and many rappers have incorporated singing into their style. The once romantic, sentimental ballads of yesteryear’s R&B have been replaced by club-styled tracks that are nearly indistinguishable from hip-hop.

Mint Condition
Mint Condition

Computerized Production

Between the 1960s and ’80s, the R&B genre had a plethora of bands like Earth, Wind and FireSly and the Family StoneRose RoyceParliament, Funkadelic and the Gap Band, just to name a few. All of these acts made their own music with live instruments. The last true band in R&B history was the ’90s band Mint Condition. Since then, virtually all instruments played on albums now are digitized. In fact, there are probably more pop acts using live instruments today than there are R&B acts. There are also more pop bands these days than R&B bands, which have disappeared from mainstream music. How can the genre even call itself R&B without real bands?


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Reader's opinions
    • Andrew Smith   On   June 3, 2017 at 11:52 pm

      I agree with you 100 percent. The R&B Flavor has vanished. The sad part of it all is, It might not come Back.

    • DAVINCHIO   On   June 4, 2017 at 5:50 am


    • Michael McGill   On   June 4, 2017 at 11:32 am

      Shipped across the waters to The UK,
      to study and try and Duplicate. Send back here to the States, and
      put in The Market place. The American Vocal Groups are not allowed
      to record basic R&B, so they’ve given up, and have become ‘Followers,
      instead of Innovators. The Mighty Dells & O’Jays have survived, because
      they have recorded so much product, that they cannot be denied, and
      their royalties are growing ….. because they are ICONS.

    • kandice   On   June 4, 2017 at 7:58 pm

      mainstream media trivialises them by calling black vocal groups them boy and girlbands. i find this facile and disrespectful to black artists who see it as an serious artform.

  1. Dorthy Stevens   On   May 27, 2017 at 4:13 am

    I do miss R&B. I loved the groups, OJays , Dramatics, Original Lakeside, New Birth and etc. I could go on and on. That was real music. I miss live band music. We are losing this and no one seems to care. L miss the live Concerts. Bring back our music!!!!

  2. Richelle   On   June 1, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    …and at the same time we’ve got Ebony with their annual cover story celebrating blacks in A&R…

  3. Ty Stephens   On   June 1, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    Parris Lane, I am with you! Same here. We artists who are cut from the more classic R&B cloth, promoting tender love and spirituality, like our heroes EWF, Stevie, Marvin, Chaka, Aretha and the likes, are shut out of the minds and hearts of whole generations of people who can only hear music one way and it’s synthesization has numbed their minds and souls. I am even suspect of the digital signal they they are enslaved to. The SOUL that was R&B is gone. The tender connection has been removed. We are now portrayed as wanton sexual and material whores. Sound familiar? Think Slavery propaganda.

    We must stay the course as artists and as listeners and consumers. Do it for ourselves and our legacy of Black Music! Keep making it, keep buying it, keep listening to it, keep talking about it! Keep LOVING it!! Keep loving US!!

    • Andrew Smith   On   June 4, 2017 at 12:16 am

      Your point is very valid, This generation of artists don’t seem to have a clue about real music. I also wonder about our Jazz heritage. I do a daily Jazz show and I’m getting more electronic and digitalized music to play. Personally I don’t like it. For the most part I stay with my Quincy’s, Grover’s and Stanley’s. If we as Radio Announcers don’t keep old school alive nobody else will.

  4. Al   On   June 2, 2017 at 2:50 am

    As a Musician and singer myself of over 35 years. This is very, very sad, and no one is doing anything to help it. There is money for all of us to make. Whites have always taken something from us and we sit back and let it happen
    PLEASE WAKE UP PEOPLE, if you got talent, it shouldn’t be determined of how you look.

  5. Wayne Edwards   On   June 2, 2017 at 7:51 am

    Interesting but oversimplified editorial. First of all, R&B, like all art forms before it, is subject to the changing attitudes of new generations with new points of view. So to think R&B should somehow remain static is to deny the history of all music forms. Secondly, to have this discussion without touching on the changing economics of the music industry in general and Black radio in particular brought on by technological changes that have impacted consumer listening and purchasing habits. This editorial is an OK start to an important discourse, but its point of view is a bit too limited in scope.

    • Andrew Smith   On   June 4, 2017 at 12:26 am

      There’s nothing wrong with change. Remember the more things change the more they stay the same. My point is are today’s artists really maximizing their talents.

  6. jack   On   June 2, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    The white Jew nigger hating devil stole it and replaced it with homosexual jibberish. That’s also the money chasing coons fault too. Look what the fuck BLACK EYE PEA did. They use to be pretty good then they went to some sort of robotic techno bullshit.

  7. Ron Anthony   On   June 2, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    I am an artist and I consider myself a true artist with the highest respect and regard for artistry. I have an undying Allegiance to my fellow true artists, and what we are witnessing in the music industry today is very sad but if one diligently seeks to find the real reasons why music has become a remedial form rather than the Supreme form it was intended to be deals much with the labels intention and their economic bottom line. It’s much less expensive in terms of production costs to create what is being heard today because real musicians are not necessary in order to create a song that will sell a million copies. Technology isn’t the sole blame for this because Stevie Wonder used some of the most technologically advanced synthesized keyboards of their time. Yet they will coupled with magnificent melodies inspiring lyrics and a back line of musicians that were unbelievably talented. This however was very expensive to achieve. I go back now to the first part of my statement dealing with the record labels intentions. If their intention was to truly present to the public and to the listening audience musical masterpieces, the scrutiny of artists would be a lot more stringent and a lot of what we here today would absolutely not exist. That however is not their intention they are concentrated on their bottom line. How do we make something as cheaply as possible, that would be appealing to the consumer without them really knowing what it is or really Isn’t! Phrases like old-school don’t help matters either because it labels the music as something that is no longer valuable or viable. That word old negates!!
    The Evolution of Music to a trained ear or an informed listener scream remedial approach! Yet the new audience seems to gravitate to it for its simplicity, it’s catchy phrases and the fact that it’s very provocative. Thus the popularity of some of these silly reality shows. Controversy sells because the minds of those who consume this can only relate to things on a very basic level because they haven’t been exposed to the art form when it was presented full of sophistication. Elements of sophisticated music were used in samples, and then immediately dumbed down with the content that was put on and around it. The present of real music elements in such short lengths and short bursts are not enough to educate the the unschooled new school audience of today. The record label is fine with that because once again their bottom line is affected positively in two ways. Number one; Its cheaper to manufacture in terms of materials. A CD cost much less to manufacture than a vinyl record. A digital download requires no material just a frequency. Number two; it’s much less expensive to record a project that dosen’t require a group of musicians in a room, just a kid with the MPC 4000 a bottle of Hennessy and some naked hoes running around. Producer driven yes the industry has become and unfortunately some of the producers are limited in the variety of their styles and display extreme limits in the musical capability present in the music of yesterday . The musicality, the vocabulary, and the sheer virtuosity of some of the artists that we remember fondly has been virtually ignored in a lot of what we here today. I will however state that there are a few new artists who have taken their creativity to a point that Garners respect because the presence of true music elements, but sadly those artists aren’t receiving the accolades of their less talented counterparts for whatever reason. The answer lies in the protest! do not buy listen to or be entertained to substandard content call your radio station and demand that they play music you can relate to or you will stop listening kold call the record labels and tell them there’s an audience you’re ignoring do whatever you want to do for the young people but don’t forget about the audience that established who you are even as a label. In the words of Frederick Douglass agitate agitate agitate. To my fellow true artists I simply say continue to create Beauty for the world is getting so ugly that at some point they going to be looking for something real pretty and we got it!! God bless.
    Ron Anthony !!!
    The Vintage Soul experience!!!

  8. BARRY QUINNELL   On   June 3, 2017 at 2:12 am

    I don’t know what “R&B” is anymore. Once a term form for post blues black music, now its pop music. Are these blurred lines created to keep us old farts on our metal?

    • Cam   On   June 4, 2017 at 10:20 am

      As an educator, I see how hip hop is influencing our children. It’s a challenge to find music that they listen to and free of vulgarity and
      misogyny. I agree, it’s all designed to reshape the perception of Black people.

  9. Derfunkmeister   On   June 3, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    It’s funny that back when the cd was introduced almost no soul/funk music was available on that media and the catalogue of R&B still to this day haven’t been re-issued, now that vinyl is coming back none of the R&B, funk or soul music is coming out on vinyl. Look at and U will see a lot of quality music from the likes of Phil Perry, Pieces of a Dream, Melba Moore etc. but not on vinyl, cd’s are cheaper to make than vinyl and back when cd’s came first time cd’s were more expensive to make. I never stopped buying vinyl and it is still my preferred media for music. And I do a lot to support music.

  10. Kyle Christian   On   June 3, 2017 at 11:37 pm

    Great points made here no arguments here except Hip Hop is not a musical Genre if you will and just asking why are Other artists such as Shuggie Otis,Johnny “Guitar”Watson,Millie Jackson,Barry White,Roger Troutman,and Jesse Johnson never recognized for their Contributions to the Musical Land Scape Bands such as The Family Stand,Eye &I, Living Color,Fishbone,Mother’sFinest,
    Frankie Beverley and Maze,and the Extremely underrated Band Follow for Now. I could go on but you get what I’m saying if we payed more attention to our Culture I don’t think we would loose it so Rapidly

  11. Robert Brown   On   June 4, 2017 at 6:32 am

    Very good overview of key factors affecting the music. And I’ve also noticed the lack of social commentary music on issues such as war, social injustice, environment and other major issues affecting black people specifically. Curtis, Marvin, Gil Scott and so many others dealt with societal issues thru their song.

  12. Random Select Podcast   On   June 4, 2017 at 8:58 am

    This is a very interesting topic and I would love to talk about it on my podcast I am the host of the random select podcast and I would love to have some of you guys on

  13. Marcus Smith   On   June 5, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    R&B has gone down due too people not supporting black r&b artist . As a writer of R&B music i have run into things like your not popular so i don’t want to sing your songs. What i also have found out if you do write you get blackballed by the people that knows you. If I can’t do it I’ll make sure you don’t either so I m not gonna work with u. Many times I have tried to help other musicians and find they want fame and money right now and don’t wanna work for it. I work hard to write the music I love and hope people would take a listen but I get listeners from over seas more than the people who knows me but yet they want me to come see them pretend to be a group from the pass I would like to see New acts perform there own creations if you like please check out my music on for the classic R&B we all crave. Thanks for your time.

  14. B. Drews   On   June 9, 2017 at 11:11 pm

    I’m 28 years old and I love me some old school R&B (pre-2000). I knew there was a reason why I couldn’t get into any of this recent stuff. This article is 100% true and it makes me sad to know that much of today’s commercial Black music is just a soulless shell of itself; repetitive, over-sexualized, overly-auto-tuned limited vocabulary drowned in trap music. Why does our music sound like this today? Put it this way… are the record executives at the top even Black? More than likely, no. Are they making money off this particular perception of Black people? Absolutely. They will continue to squeeze as much cash out of the remains of R&B until it’s no longer profitable and disappears altogether. We’re barely hanging onto hip hop as it is, and if that thread breaks, we may no longer have a musical identity at all.

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