So, if you haven’t been living under a rock you would have noticed an interesting debate starting on social media. After a very confident comment from singer Jacquees stating his opinion on how he thinks he should be crowned the King of R&B, a flurry of rebuttals came as the week continued from some of our favourite artists including Tank and Tory Lanez. But it got us thinking, is R&B even a thing in the UK anymore?
Don’t get me wrong, the US keep the R&B flag waving high and strong with the likes of H.E.R, 6lack, SZA and Bryson Tiller holding down the fort, making it fairly obvious that the genre is yet to go anywhere anytime soon. But within the UK, it appears that our musical laws are slightly different, what was once deemed as urban music is now a part of popular culture and is getting tons of support from mainstream radio stations nationwide. This is an amazing progression as many of these artists are young, passionate and have extremely promising careers ahead, but is there any room for the traditional sense of R&B?
It is also key to note that R&B has been and always will be a very important part of music and has launched the careers of many icons including Beyonce, Brandy, Justin Timberlake, Aaliyah and the list could go on and on. But, the real question of the hour is where is the R&B influence currently in the UK compared to the US?
Let’s think about it; within the US all of our favourite typically R&B swaying artists fall into the pop musician category also. It’s almost as if they used R&B as a stepping stone to progress into the world of popular culture. For example lets look at queen Bey, originally part of a dynamically life-changing group called Destiny’s Child, they made incredible albums full of proper car journey R&B belters. The definition of a pop artist is an artist who happens to make music that appeals to the masses, Destiny’s Child and Beyonce soon crossed over to that category, leaving Beyonce being one of the most popular women on the planet. It could be argued that it was a different time and music was in a different place and the differences between urban music and pop were far more drastic than today. But even artists from a more recent period, such as Rihanna, had a similar journey minus the late 90’s girl-group aspect. Her first album “Music of the Sun” was filled with reggae infused R&B tunes and over the years, especially the “Loud” album, her music became more and more pop.
Most music nerds will admit that there’s nothing more exciting than a birth of a new genre. When R&B first came around it was an exciting combination of the romantic soul aspect that the greats such as Barry White or Aretha Franklin began, with slightly more attitude. Kind of like putting an extra ingredient into a traditional family recipe that made you wonder why you never thought of adding it before. R&B made love and heartbreak easier to understand, especially for the younger generation. Artists like Mary J Blige and Usher put the complexities of feelings into songs that we could not only dance to but relate to also.
Within the UK we have had some R&B gems swing our way, with Craig David and Lemar from the early 2000’s, to more recent incredible artists such as Jorja Smith and NAO taking the baton- but it seems as though R&B music has taken a slight decline within popular culture and I couldn’t help but wonder why. Possibly because the UK Grime and Afroswing culture has taken such a spike that it may have not left enough space for some real R&B lovin’. Ella Mai sparked something with her extremely old school take on her music that hasn’t been done lately. Most of the newer R&B musicians have swung towards the “Drake generation” of rapping and singing rather than just creating songs that we can cry in the corner to.
It’s an interesting question that, as a music fanatic, I’ve been searching for answers for. Yes, it is important to take into consideration the huge differences between the UK and the US, including the culture, the music industry even more technical parts such as radio stations and networks. It just feels as though majority of the R&B appreciation is coming from across the pond. Will 2019 be any different? Will we see a huge rise of brilliant British R&B icons or will we go a completely separate direction all together?