The Current State of R&B

By Kalila Farrakhan

What is R&B?

Rhythm and Blues, also known as R&B, is a popular African American music genre that started in the 1950s and is still being listened to today. Artists like Sam Cooke, The Delta Rhythm Boys, and Muddy Waters are the artists that are known for being the first to operate within this genre. Next, Little Richard, James Brown, The Temptations, Earth Wind & Fire, the Jackson 5, and Stevie Wonder all pushed the genre to its infamy, which has been maintained to this day. The iconic artists that I have named have set a standard far beyond anyone can even imagine. Many believe that R&B has lost its way and cannot be found. I, on the other hand, believe that it has simply evolved, like any other genre. Though we love the pioneering giants of R&B, the genre of R&B today is still thriving, mainly due to the female artists. 


Who is Popping in R&B Today?

H.E.R is one of the black female artists holding down the R&B scene today. Her soulful voice matched with her imaginative songwriting skills births a beautiful product every time. Even with a youthful approach, her style remains true to the R&B genre. As seen in the picture, her talents are well-known and recognized, even by the Academy. Her 2017 self-titled debut project, H.E.R., is a constant on my playlists. 

Solana Rowe AKA SZA is an R&B artist who is a current staple in the genre and music in general. Her sophomore album CTRL has been on the US Billboard 200 since its 2017 release. Her melodious distinct singing voice is now identifiable to any up-to-date listener. Her relatable song lyrics allow for anyone to identify with a song and want to sing it loud. Though she has not released another album, “Good Days”, a recently released single has gone platinum within a matter of weeks. CTRL is one of my favorite albums of all time. Her music is consistently amazing and she will be known as one of the best R&B artists of this generation.  

Ari Lennox is one of the newer R&B artists but she came out with something to prove. After being the first woman to sign to J. Cole’s label Dreamville, Lennox dropped a single called “Shea Butter Baby” which guaranteed her success. Her subsequent album named after the single solidified her in the R&B genre. With a vocal tone and rhythm likened to Erykah Badu, Ari Lennox is considered to be one of the top artists out right now. 

Summer Walker is the best new R&B artist out right now. Her vocal range, unique sound, tone, and overall approach to music makes her this way. All three of her albums, Last Day of Summer CLEAR, and Over It, have given R&B lovers a throw back to the older style of R&B, while keeping the lyrics and sound youthful. Summer Walker is my favorite new R&B artist right now. She brings something new to the genre that definitely has made its mark in R&B history. 

Jhené Aiko is one of the top R&B artists of all time. Though she started music as a young girl, she remains a strong force in the R&B community today. Her most recent album, Chilombo, was nominated for 3 Grammys in the 2021 Academy cycle: Best R&B Performance, Best Progressive R&B Album, and Album of the Year. Her songwriting skills, vocal ability, musicality, relatability, vulnerability and sound are all unmatched. She doesn’t have one bad song. Aiko’s music is a clear and honest representation of herself, which makes the music that darn good. Jhené Aiko is also my favorite singer of all time. 

Though many critics diminish the quality of today’s R&B music, these five artists are keeping the R&B genre alive and thriving. 

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