Rhythm and Blues genre trajectory from the perspective of a Philadelphia recording studio with a passion for RnB music recording.
The Evolution Into Today’s RnB Music
Throughout Philadelphia’s music history, our city continues to have strong roots in RnB music. From the 1970s, acts like Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes and The Stylistics sent shockwaves across America that drew people to visit the humble city of brotherly love. Today, RnB has adapted and blended with modern hip-hop and electronic elements. As the genre moves away from RnB groups towards the solo vocalist, where will the genre end up next?
Modern RnB Music Production
With modern computers and music applications, anyone with a phone can call themselves a music producer. It is much faster and simpler to combine premade melodies, that are automatically in the correct key, with programs like GarageBand - free to install on any Apple phone or laptop. Heavy sampling of older melodies, riffs, and RnB lyrics from classics of old are becoming commonplace, and bring back a nostalgic feel with a modern twist. Synthesizers and beat sampling techniques are still growing and creeping into every genre, so it is no surprise that we hear them in today’s modern RnB music.
Some argue that classic RnB recordings of past generations have a certain swing and soulful emotion in the live instrumentation. Live bands and backup players clearly contributed to the final production. Today we have computer generated, highly repetitive, and autotuned melodies that sound, well… different. I will let you, dear reader, decide who wins the new-school vs old-school competition as I don’t believe it is fair for anyone to gate keep what good RnB music is, even if the genre has changed to feature much stronger hip-hop, rap-singing, and electronic elements.
Rhythm, Blues, and Soul
The RnB band remained the standard up to the 1980s and was absorbing further elements from funk music and, to a lesser extent, rock music. As psychedelic rock was a major influence on the development of funk music, bands like Sly & The Family Stone were considered among the forerunners for starting the trend of funk being blended into RnB and soul. This was immediately adopted by groups like The Isley Brothers, Ohio Players, Earth Wind & Fire, Gladys Knight, Womack & Womack, and The Commodores, whose interpretation of the genres served as the foundation for the 70s era of RnB and soul music.
The Transition From Bands to Solo RnB Vocal Artists
Disco music gained popularity and later developed into electronic and hip-hop music. With the influence of punk rock, new wave music was created. By the 1980s, the foundation for modern RnB had been set.
Synthesizers, drum machines, sequencers, electronic keyboards, and samplers were widely used in 80s music. With the various band members choosing to include these new electronic music gadgets into their conventional band configuration, the RnB band continued to be the expected standard.
Kool & The Gang, DeBarge, Lionel Richie, The Jacksons, Cameo, Chic, Sade, New Edition, and some of the most important performers, Michael Jackson, and Prince, were among the outfits and artists who embodied this adaptation. By favoring session musicians and producers over regular band members, Prince, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, and Michael Jackson set the foundation for modern R&B.
Consider the role of people like Quincy Jones and Niles Rodgers in the music created during this period. With many bands and groups already performing in solo settings with varying degrees of success, this cleared the way for new solo performers to dominate the soul and RnB scene. This is also valid for the members of New Edition, who later achieved chart-topping success as solo artists, with a specific, Bobby Brown, taking the lead.
RnB singing groups began to be favored over the band structure that groups like Mint Condition and Atlantic Starr retained. Unfortunately, by the 1990s, RnB and soul bands were relics of the past; Mint Condition was the only RnB group still carrying the flame. Boyz II Men, TLC, Destiny’s Child, Eternal, and All 4 One all scored chart-topping songs while working with various hip-hop producers and rappers, ensuring the sustained success of R&B singing groups.
An RnB Renaissance
The RnB and soul genre, however, would experience a renaissance in the form of neo-soul music, which was a revival of RnB and soul from the 1960s and 1970s but mixed with jazz, funk, jazz-fusion, rock, electronic house, African folk, and hip-hop music, all while emphasizing live instrumentation.
The 2000s into today’s RnB
By the late 2000s, even the RnB genre had been phased out or diluted into pop, and the only RnB bands left were either the veteran acts that had long ago passed their prime or new acts that had emerged under the idea of a resurgence.
Modern RnB is a blend of hip-hop studio production with a significant influence from electronic dance music, and trap music, and frequently includes ‘singing rap’ or just plain rap vocals. While topics such as finding love, relationships, and having fun are still common, today’s lyrical content tends to lean explicit with more intimate details on similar topics.
While we can all agree music is not what it used to be, I, for one, love the new creative horizon I see before me. New artists like SZA and H.E.R. clearly have extraordinary talent and know how to draw enormous crowds. Learning about the past only helps me to appreciate how far music has come, and I am sure in another decade or 2, the genre will continue breaking into new territories.
Soulful Rhythm and Blues
Here at Sounds Like Soma recording studios, our team works with all genres of music. One of my personal favorites to work with is RnB because of the feelings it evokes, and the smooth vocal tones accompanying rich melodic instrumentation.
We recently showcased our artist, Juice Elliott, on Instagram, who masterfully combines rap, RnB, and indie pop in his latest releases. Check out his music on Apple Music and Spotify if you appreciate today’s modern twist on RnB
Written by Zachary Hanni on December 7th 2022
Get your next RnB project recorded and mixed with the professionals at Sounds Like Soma! Contact us to let us know what kind of project you have in mind!