R&B has had a broad history of reinventing itself for commercial benefit. Several music industry executives, producers and song writers are now criticising R&B’s overall role and value in the current mainstream music industry.
Within academia, there are few published papers that focus on the identity of R&B therefore it is difficult to define and navigate through the genre. However, through several online articles, certain aspects of the issues regarding the area are covered.
One of the main areas of concern is the way that club pop sounds have penetrated the genre and changed it from being what it used to be. “So-called R&B radio stations play music that, save for tracks from the likes of Trey Songz or Mary J. Blige, aren’t actually R&B—yet get labeled as such because black artists are singing on them”. (M. Arceneaux. 2012). In 2012, well established musician Erykah Badu turned off her radio and shared a message via twitter, complaining about the ‘Electro Pop’ influence on R&B recently. Trey Songz, who is one of few artists that can actually be classed as a successful R&B artist emphasised Badu’s views in an interview on a radio show stating that many of his peers had started their careers with soulful music and have now changed their sounds to fit a bigger mainstream market which he claims is giving R&B a bad name and that it’s just not cool to be an R&B singer anymore. Even though artists such as Usher and Beyoncé started their careers in R&B, they are now releasing hip-hop and electronic dance music records and still being labelled as R&B artists.
Another main concern within the genre revolves around the aspect of race. “One of the most significant discussions related to R&B’s identity crisis focuses on its continuous name changes since the invention of the term “race music” by Jerry Wexler in 1949” (Burnim & Maultsby, 2006). The music industry is far from colour-blind, the race of an artist will affect how artists are labelled and promoted within the industry. In a recent interview, FKA Twigs expressed her frustrations over being placed within the R&B genre stating, “When I first released music and no one knew what I looked like, I would read comments like: ‘I’ve never heard anything like this before, it’s not in a genre,’” she continued, “And then my picture came out six months later, now she’s an R&B singer.” (Cliff, 2014) However, it seems that many white artists have been able to create R&B records without being stamped to the genre. Singers such as Justin Bieber and Robin Thicke seem to be free to hop between genre to genre contaminating the image of what the genre should sound like. “In 2013, for the first time since 1958, no black artist recorded a Billboard chart-topping single whereas Robin Thicke, Justin Timberlake, and Macklemore all topped the Rap & R&B charts that year” (J. Henry. N.d.)
Burnim, M. V., & Maultsby, P. K. (2006). African American music: An introduction. New York: Routledge.
Cliff, A. (2014, September 12). FKA Twigs is right, “Alternative R&B” must die | The Fader. Retrieved from http://www.thefader.com/2014/09/12/popping-off-fka-twigs-beyonce-altr-and-b
Jasmine Henry. (n.d). Realizing R&B’s Identity Crisis. Available: https://www.academia.edu/21506327/Realizing_R_and_Bs_Identity_Crisis_An_Analytical_Research_Paper. Last accessed 12/12/16.
MICHAEL ARCENEAUX. (2012). Is R&B Having an Identity Crisis? Available: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/04/is-r-b-having-an-identity-crisis/255310/. Last accessed 12/12/16.