R&B: The Fourth Stream

The Fourth Stream

Rhythm and Blues is a genre that is so iconic to Black history. There are many aspects and factors to R&B and each period of time has its unique qualities. The First Stream of R&B, which took place during from the 1940 to the mid 1950s, is centered around regional sound and styles. The Second Stream took place from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. This “era” of R&B introduced the Sound of New Orleans, the Sounds of Chicago, etc. The Third Stream took place from the 1960s to the 1970s and introduced to the world many sections like The Motown Sound. The Fifth Stream, from the 1990s into the New Millennium, features many elements like the spoken word style of R&B.  However, in my opinion, the Fourth Stream of R&B is the most iconic and engaging. 

The Fourth Stream of Rhythm and Blues took place from the 1970s to 1980s. I’ll Be There by Jackson 5, Sweet Love by Anita Baker, Truly by Lionel Richie, and You Make Me Feel Brand New by The Stylistics are just four songs of a plethora of songs that were released during this era of R&B. Another important aspect of this period of R&B is the transitions that took place. During the 1970s, there was an evident mixture of genres. R&B generally began to “fade” from the spotlight while the emphasis was placed more on funk and disco. The themes of Rhythm and Blues were almost centered completely around love, romance and relationships. 

The transition into the 1980s incorporated Gospel-styled vocals and performances into Rhythm and Blues where artists would bend and shout along with other expressions of strong emotions. During this time, there were many blurred lines in regards to the structure of musical genres. Funk was evolving into other hybrid forms, and hip-hop and electronic dance became a major influencer of music in the Black community. During this period, the Crossover aesthetic, also known as Black Pop, was also very popular in R&B. We see this in songs such as If You’re Ever In My Arms Again by Peabo Bryson and Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston.

Other important elements of Rhythm and Blues in the 1970s and 1980s include Urban contemporary and Groove. Urban contemporary is the term used to describe songs playing on the radio station that included hip-hop, R&B, electronic dance, contemporary Black music or hybrids of these genres. Groove, however, is simply a “syncopated and repetitive rhythm foundation” made by the bass and drum. These aspects are very noticeable in songs such as I Really Didn’t Mean It by Luther Vandross.

In conclusion, although every stream of R&B is special and important, the Fourth Stream of Rhythm and Blues proves to be the most interesting era due to the many different transitions and elements introduced during this time.

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