Friday, February 17, 2017

Modern R&B has nothing to do with the old R&B (Rhythm & Blues)

So, I got to wondering why most American pop music these days is referred to as R&B.
Now, I'm an old fogey, so R&B, to me, stands for Rhythm & Blues, which is what it did stand for for the best part of 50 years. Originally, this referred to blues music produced predominantly by African American artists. Then, much of rock'n'roll became subsumed under the label, as well as more gospel and soul-orientated music. So, we are talking here about Fats Domino, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, etc, and then, by the 60s, artists of the ilk of Sam Cooke, Chubby Checker, James Brown, and even white British artists like The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Animals. By the 70s, R&B had morphed a little, and was being used as a kind of blanket term for black music in general, incorporating soul, funk and disco. All of which is more than a little confusing.
Things got even more confusing, though, when the genre of Contemporary R&B appeared in the 1980s, with the more production-forward music of Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones and their successors. Contemporary R&B, or just R&B as it increasingly came to be known (although never Rhythm & Blues), could be any music combining elements of soul, funk, pop and dance music, often with strong electronic influences and high, smooth, production values. 
R&B now has almost nothing to do with the gritty, simplistic music of early Rhythm & Blues, except that it is mainly (although not exclusively) produced by black Americans. It is absolutely ubiquitous, extremely popular, and most of it sounds very, very similar, especially since the advent of AutoTune.
Which raises the question of why the label R&B is being used at all. Couldn't they come up with anything else, anything better? In fact, can't we just call it Pop Music, a label that has been applied to popular mainstream music since the 1960s? Works for me.

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