Contemporary R&B

Contemporary R&B
Stylistic origins
Cultural origins
Typical instruments
Synthesizers - Keyboard - Drum machine - vocals (sometimes rapping)
Mainstream popularity Moderate since 1980s worldwide, especially in recent years in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Quiet storm
Fusion genres
New jack swing – Hip hop soul – Neo soul – 2-step – R&B Punk
Other topics

Contemporary R&B (also known as R&B, urban pop) is a music genre of western popular music. Although the acronym "R&B" originates from its association with traditional rhythm and blues music, the term R&B is today most often used to define a style of African American music originating after the demise of disco in the 1980s. This newer style combines elements of soul, funk, dance, and, from 1986 on with the advent of New Jack Swing branded R&B, hip hop.

The abbreviation R&B is almost always used instead of the full rhythm and blues term, although some sources refer to the style as urban contemporary (the name of the radio format that plays hip hop and contemporary R&B).

Contemporary R&B has a slick, electronic record production style, drum machine-backed rhythms, the occasional guitar riff to give the song a rock feel, the occasional saxophone solo to give a jazz feel (mostly common in R&B songs prior to the year 1993), and a smooth, lush style of vocal arrangement. Uses of hip hop-inspired beats are typical, although the roughness and grit inherent in hip hop is usually reduced and smoothed out. R&B vocalists are often known for their use of melisma.




With the transition from soul and disco to R&B in the early to mid 1980s, new stars such as Prince and Michael Jackson rose in pop. Jackson's Thriller re-popularized black music with pop audiences after a post-disco backlash among United States mainstream audiences.

Female R&B singers such as Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson became very popular during the second half of the 1980s, and Tina Turner came back with a series of hits with crossover appeal. Also popular was New Edition, a group of teenagers who served as the prototype for later boy bands.

In 1986, Teddy Riley began producing R&B recordings that included influences from the increasingly popular genre of hip hop. This combination of R&B style and hip hop rhythms was termed new jack swing, and was applied to artists such as Keith Sweat, Guy, Jodeci, Bell Biv DeVoe, and the popular late 1980s/early 1990s work of Michael Jackson. Another popular, but short-lived group (with more pronounced R&B roots) was Levert. Also, H-Bone (Henry O'Sullivan), was one R&B artist who played to the soulful in the back-streets of Chicago.

In the late 1980s, George Michael become one of Britain's best-known Contemporary R&B musicians. His debut album Faith went to the top of the R&B album chart in the US, making him the first white artist to achieve this honor. Faith produced an amazing chart-topping singles, including a U.S. R&B number-one hit. The album also won several music award including the Grammy Award for Album of the Year.


During the early 1990s, new jack swing/R&B group Boyz II Men, the most successful R&B male vocal group of all time, re-popularized classic soul-inspired vocal harmonies. Several similar groups (such as Shai, Soul for Real, Az Yet, All-4-One, and Dru Hill) followed in their footsteps. Boyz II Men and several of their competitors benefited from producers such as Babyface and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. As a solo artist, Babyface and contemporaries such as Brian McKnight eschewed prominent hip hop influences, and recorded in a smooth, soft style of R&B.

In contrast to the works of Boyz II Men, Babyface and similar artists, other R&B artists from this same period began adding even more of a hip hop sound to their work. The synthesizer-heavy rhythm tracks of new jack swing was replaced by grittier East Coast hip hop-inspired backing tracks, resulting in a genre labeled hip hop soul by producer Sean Combs. Hip hop soul artists such as Mary J. Blige, R. Kelly, Monica, Brandy, Ginuwine, Usher and Aaliyah brought more of hip hop slang, suggestive or explicitly sexual lyrics, style, and attitude to R&B music. This subgenre includes a heavy gospel influence in terms of vocal inflections and sounds. The style became less popular by the end of the 1990s, but later experienced a resurgence.

During the mid 1990s, Mariah Carey, girl groups TLC and SWV and Boyz II Men brought contemporary R&B to the mainstream. Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey recorded several Billboard Hot 100 number-one hits, including "One Sweet Day", a collaboration between both acts which became the longest-running number-one hit in Hot 100 history.

Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men and TLC released albums in 1994 and 1995—Daydream, II , and CrazySexyCool respectively — that sold over ten million copies, earning them diamond RIAA certification. Other top-selling R&B artists from this era included Vanessa L. Williams,Toni Braxton, Ginuwine, Mary J. Blige, Brandy, Monica, Aaliyah, Usher and R. Kelly, and groups En Vogue, BLACKstreet, Salt-N-Pepa, SWV, Jodeci/K-Ci & JoJo and Destiny's Child. In the late 1990s in 1998, R & B singer Aaliyah scored a smash hit with the single Are You That Somebody? off of the Dr Doolittle soundtrack, which many music critics saw the point where she was throned, "The Queen Or Urban Pop"

In the late 1990s, neo soul (which added 1970s soul influences to the hip hop soul blend) arose, led by artists such as D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Maxwell. Artists such as Missy Elliott further blurred the line between R&B and hip hop by recording both styles.


In the United Kingdom, R&B found its way into the UK garage subgenre of 2-step, typified by R&B-style singing accompanied by breakbeat/drum and bass rhythms. Among the most notable 2-step acts are Mis-Teeq, Lisa Maffia and Craig David, who crossed over to American R&B audiences in the early 2000s.

Soulful R&B continues to be popular, with artists such as Mario, Alicia Keys, Lyfe Jennings, Tyrese, Anthony Hamilton, and John Legend showcasing classic influences in their work. Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige remain the most influential modern R&B artists to date, leaving their mark on young contemporary R&B artists including Keyshia Cole, Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, Ciara, Ashanti, Cherish, Omarion, Colby O'Donis, 112, Day 26, The Bruthas, Cassie, Akon, and Rihanna. With her successful comeback single "We Belong Together" in 2005, singer Mariah Carey, was crowned the Queen of Pop/R&B.

Top selling female solo singers

Artist WW Sales US Sales Studio Albums Active since
1. Mariah Carey 130 million 62 million 11 1990
2. Whitney Houston 125 million million 54 million 5 1985
3. Janet Jackson 100 million 26 million 10 1980
4. Mary J. Blige 45 million 18 million 8 1992
5. Toni Braxton 40 million 19.5 million 5 1993
6. Aaliyah 32 million 9 million 4 1994
7. Alicia Keys 28 million 13 million 3 2001
8. Brandy Norwood 25 million 10 million 4 1994
9. Monica 20 million 6.5 million 4 1995
10. Beyoncé 17 million 7 million 3 2003

Top selling male singers

Artist WW Sales US Sales Studio Albums Active since
1. R. Kelly 100 million 33 million 8 1992
2. Usher 35 million 19.5 million 5 1994
3. Keith Sweat 25 million 13.5 million 9 1987
4. Ginuwine 20 million 5.5 million 5 1996
5. Babyface 15 million 7 million 9 1986
5. Brian McKnight 15 million 7.5 million 8 1996
7. Sisqó 12 million 6 million 3 1999
8. Joe 10 million 5 million 5 1992
9. Ne-Yo 10 million 2.5 million 3 2005
10. Chris Brown 10 million 3 million 2 2005

Top selling groups

Group Sales Albums Members Years Active
1. Boyz II Men

Wanyá · Shawn · Nathan · Michael · Marc

85 million+ [1] 5 3 - 5 1990 - pres.
2. Destiny's Child

Kelly · Beyoncé · LeToya · LaTavia · Michelle · Farrah

80 million [2][3] 7 3 - 4 1997 - 2005
3. TLC

Left-Eye · T-Boz · Chilli

45 Million [4] 5 2 - 3 1992 - 2005
4. New Edition

Ronnie · Bobby · Ricky · Michael · Johnny · Ralph

30 Million+ 6 5 1983 - pres.
5. OutKast

André 3000 · Big Boi

25 million+ [5] 7 2 1993 - pres.
6. En Vogue

Terry · Cindy · Maxine · Dawn · Rhona

20 million [6] 6 3 - 4 1990 - 2004
6. Black Eyed Peas · · Taboo · Fergie

20 million [7] 4 3 - 4 1998 - pres.
8. Salt-N-Pepa

Pepa · Salt · DJ Spinderella

15 million [8] 5 3 1986 - 1996


  1. 85 million sales
  2. BBC News. R&B stars Destiny's Child split. quote They have sold more than 50 million CDs worldwide, including solo releases.
  3. Benson, John (2005-08-01). "Destiny's Child Prepping DVD, Hits Set", Billboard, 2008 Nielsen Business Media, Inc. Retrieved on 2008-09-01. 
  4. The Red |-Room: Little Something About Girl Groups in the 90's
  5. [1]
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  7. [3]
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9. Terence Mas aka T-Money

See also