WTF is R&B? What Rhythm and Blues is and Where it Came From


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Reggae and Beats? Nope, sorry not even close.

R&B stands for Rhythm and Blues, but the sounds the genre is associated with have seen more than one dramatic shift throughout the years.

With a legacy spanning multiple acts and a number of obviously different styles, it can be tough to pin down the actual meaning without understanding where it first originated as well as where it may be headed.

Omit the history behind it and we're left wondering just how bands and musicians like the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Animals, R. Kelly, Stevie Wonder and Prince can all have qualified as R&B acts at one time or another.


The Original Rhythm and Blues

Rhythm and Blues began as "black music;" marketed as "Blues and Rhythm" in 1948.

Boogie-woogie, at the time, not only a real word, but a respectable music genre, had begun to mesh with grittier vibes and sounds.

The Tympany Five helped bring this new style into existance by dominating the emerging genre's charts in the late 40's.

Think jazz meets heavy, lively beats. It was a start, but the term would soon leave this style in a league of its own (now referred to as "Jump Blues").

It wasn't until the 50's that white listeners caught the bug, though. We can mostly thank teens for that.

Soon, this era's version of R&B would come to be known as "soul" music.

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The 60's ushered in the next iteration of R&B with hits like "The Twist" and "Chain Gang" by Chubby Checker and Sam Cooke, respectively, serving as solid demonstrations of R&B's evolved sound.

Motown Records stormed the scene in the 60's, to the lasting delight of music lovers everywhere. Their release "Shop Around" by the Miracles set the stage for their lasting influence on the industry.

Stax Records also came to life in this era with the monumental success "Gee Whiz! (Look at His Eyes)" by Carla Thomas.

Gee whiz indeed.

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Modern R&B

Late 80's and all of the 90's brought forth yet another transformation of R&B. This time, a fusion of the original sounds with the urbane debauchery we now call hip-hop.


Cue the arrival of Usher, TLC, SWV, Destiny's Child, Jagged Edge, Boys 2 Men, Mary J. Blige and many more prominent acts. R&B found new footing and an entirely new image to revamp and extend its influence on a more modern youth culture.

With a new push in hip-hop towards jazzier, more laid-back sounds, yet another era of R&B - fit with a fresh transformation of the genre - may be in order.

But what will become of today's contemporary R&B when it changes shape?


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