I think growing up I had a major misconception of what R&B meant. At times, I thought it was only Luther Vandross and Quincy Jones slow jams. Then, I heard Prince for the and my perspective on the genre shifted, accordingly. Yet, all the while, my ignorance still brought me to the conclusion that it was a stlye of music which had a devoted following, which solely existed on a niche station somewhere in the XM/Satellite radio-sphere.
Maybe it was D’angelo that finally made realize I had been sorely mistaken. Then came Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Maxwell, and the rest of the neo-soul pantheon, who each left an indelible mark on my heart in the shape of behind-the-beat rhythm sections and make-you-swoon vocals. Whatever it was I was hooked.
Around that time, an album that sort of fell into the genre, but also had elements of hip hop and electronic and everything else music has ever known, fell into my lap. It was Frank Ocean’s, Channel Orange. I’m not sure this was the advent of the elctronic-infused R&B that dominates radio stations and soundcloud homepages, alike. But it was the freshest (both badass and refreshing) style of music I had heard in years. I was not the only one who had this opinion. The album was ranked number one of the year by numerous critics, won a grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album, and went gold in numerous markets around the world.
Whether or not Channel Orange catalyzed the most fashionable trend in music today is a subjective debate, but it is undeniable that since 2012 R&B has become the hottest genre around. The past year has been no exception. A review of iHeartRadio’s monthly playlists revealed that the genre was the most popular of 2015, followed by Pop, Rap, Country, and Latin.
As a lover of the genre, my motherly instinct leads me to believe this overwhelming success, a testament to the artistry of R&B, might actually serve to hamper its progress. Not that success is an inherently bad thing in music, but I feel that in many cases it leads to a diluting of originality–a siphoning out of the elements that made an artists who they were. Since achieving worldwide fame, contemporary R&B superstars such as The Weeknd, Miguel, and, of course, Franck Ocean have put out music that I listen to regularly and really respect. As long as these aforementioned stylistic tastemakers do not succumb to the pressures of stardom, the genre will continue to push musical boundaries for years to come.