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The Reinvention Of R&B | Meet The Artists Who Are Redefining The Movement

A new R&B era is upon us. Diddy’s fifth album, Off the Grid, is coming out on 24 September 2021. What will this mean for todays R&B music?

It’s no secret that Sean Combs is back. Oh and he changed his name, again.

“I decided to change my name again, I’m just not who I am before. I’m something different. So my new name is ‘Love’ a.k.a. ‘Brother Love.’ I will not be answering to Puffy, Diddy, Puff Daddy, or any of my other monikers but ‘Love,’ or ‘Brother Love.’” – Sean Combs

The 51-year-old opened up about his professional plans and personal life. One thing he announced is the creation of a brand new label for R&B artists only.

The upcoming record will mark his first release since 2015’s MMM, a mixtape project saturated with collaborations from the likes of Lil’ Kim, Future, Travis Scott, Big Sean, Ty Dolla $ign, Wiz Khalifa and more.

“I feel like R&B was abandoned and it’s a part of our African American culture, and I’m not signing any artists. Because if you know better, you do better. I’m doing 50–50 partnerships with pure transparency.”

Sean Combs

Combs explained that he’s doing things differently this time. He is joining the new wave of R&B by reinventing the genre.

Back when he was known to the world as Diddy, Sean Combs defined the hip-hop of the ’90s. But now R&B has adapted to accept multiple styles and voices. 

The return of R&B as an influential force brings with it a refocus on vibrant voices. The genre will always be defined by innovation and singers who can make you feel. But nowadays it seems as though the upcoming rising stars of 2021 are redefining the genre in order to create something different.

No matter how fragmented the genre may get, however, as long as a song has a soulful rhythm and a singer with something to say, there will always be a place for R&B.

EVOLUTION OF THE SOUND

Since the 80s, it’s probably fair to say there’s been more focus on the ‘rhythm’, rather than the ‘blues’ aspect of the genre. But the genre has not held back. 

It has fervently continued to evolve. R&B today expresses itself through a range of contemporary-influenced sounds, whilst still pulling from the tradition and sound of Soul. 

Just like Hip-hop artists used to adhere to an unwritten code of conduct that valued hyper-aggressive behaviour, the lavish world of R&B was no different. 

Many of the R&B household names gave listeners a guided tour into a world that seemed unattainable. 

R&B as we knew it was spearheaded by figures like Michael Jackson, Alexandra O Neil, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown. 

Throwing it back to the 90s 

For so many of us 90’s babies, these are some of the greats that raised us. The era is often referenced as the foundation of R&B. 

It certainly existed before, but the ’90s is definitely the height of R&B’s mainstream music and chart domination. 

Generally, the ‘90s gave us a love for downtempo ‘slow jam’ type songs. From Toni Braxton to Mariah Carey. But there were also some very present Hip-Hop influences in the genre. 

Mary J Blige’s Real Love is the example here with its booming beats and Mary’s iconic dance moves.

Making our way to the NOW

Swiftly moving on to the next decade, the ‘00s, saw an introduction of more funk, disco and faster tempo elements used more frequently in R&B. 

These use much more upbeat rhythms and signifies a notable shift in the genre. Artists like Chris Brown and Ciara launched their careers, bringing in a new wave, more up-tempo sound with pop and Hip Hop influences. 

Artists introduced to us in the ’90s, like Mariah Carey and Usher continued to release music. And they too embraced the new wave. 

But, nonetheless, the essence of Soul music stayed alive. Alicia Keys and John Legend are just a few of the names who stayed in the lane. Not to mention Usher.

We’ll leave that debate to the streets, but the point is the 00’s were certainly an R&B highpoint, with R&B dominating the charts.

While early R&B was driven by guitars, most contemporary R&B is based around keyboards, synthesizers, and drum machines. Some R&B singers, like Alicia Keys, favour acoustic piano, but many others embrace electronic keyboards and software loops

In recent years, the line between hip hop and R&B has blurred

A genre is not a static, immovable idea but a reflection of an audience’s assumptions and wants at a certain point in time.

R&B received a similar misdiagnosis at the turn of the 21st Century. The reality, however, is that it just took a backseat to hip-hop and melodic rap. 

Over recent decades, R&B has transformed from a genre with one distinct soulful sound into one with many divergent offshoots based on evolving vocal techniques, star power, and musical fusions.

The realm of future R&B and soul continues to expand, with a diverse cast of voices and styles pulling it in all directions.

NOW IN 2021, THESE CONTEMPORARY R&B ACTS ARE LIFTING THE GENRE TO NEW HEIGHTS by incorporating THE SOUNDS OF JAZZ, FUNK, HIP-HOP, POP, AND SOUL…


FROM THE NORTH…

Ragz Originale 

  • From: North London
  • Age: Late 20’s (He’s secretive about it)

“It was always gonna happen, we weren’t always going to hang around making the same genre of music forever.”

Ragz Originale

Truly one of British Soul’s most exciting voices, Ragz Originale, serves as one of the best examples of the versatility and originality of the scene. 

Once a personal producer working for the R&B artist, Skepta, (an artist who once was in the studio with Kanye West) the rapper-producer and singer stepped out from behind the MacBook and into the limelight in 2018. 

Ragz started off 2021 strong, with ‘brush u,’ the first single off his new mixtape ‘WOAH’. Its calm, laid back beats could put anyone in a trance. The music video shows his monarchal status among London’s frivolous underground scene.

Ragz’ smooth beats is changing the R&B game. His style shows off his way with catchy melodies and hooks. His music involves a combination of soft echoes combined with an array of afrobeats that meet Hip Hop. 


TO THE SOUTH…

Enny 

  • From: South London
  • Age: 26

“Before Cardi B and Nicki Minaj, it was Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliott, like you could pinpoint specific moments, but now you’ve got hundreds of lady rappers.”

Enny

As far as impact goes, South London based rapper/singer, Enitan Adepitan  (Enny) had this in the bag.

Her single, Peng Black Girls, released last year, was a letter to womanhood and a huge lockdown hit. However, thanks to a December remix, it snowballed into a viral sensation that served as an antidote to lockdown gloom.

The song has seen the artist thrust into the limelight: she has been heralded as the future of rap by Vogue and GQ, while Norton Magazine called her “one of the most exciting figures in the current UK music scene”.

Meanwhile, ‘Peng Black Girls’ has been shared by the likes of Skepta and Summer Walker, with both the original and remix cumulatively amassing more than 12 million views.

The type of track that the music scene needed was delivered with her witty wordplay fully shining through.

She changes R&B by merging rapping with singing effortlessly well. A trait that has been showcased on all of the singles she released in 2020. 

ENNY has a canny way of touching on everyday subjects in a way that resonates. Her all-around vibe sonically just screams of an artist that can only get better and better. 

Having recently signed to FAMM music group, the same label as Jorja Smith, 2021 is looking to be a big one for the beauty.


FROM THE WEST…

BLXST 

  • From: Los Angeles
  • Age: 25

“I feel like that era had a sense of pride, and again the word I can stand on is integrity. We gotta bridge that with the generation now. I feel like what we lack nowadays is integrity. I try to keep that in the music as much as possible. Always making sure the lyrics are comin’ from a pure place.”

Blxst

Matthew Burdette, known professionally as Blxst (pronounced “blast”), is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, and record producer. 

Blxst rocketed to success when fans unwrapped his eight-track project No Love Lost. His record label Evgle partnered with Red Bull Records for the release of his debut EP on September 4, 2020. 

With features including Lil Nas and Jayson Cash, Tyga and Ty Dolla the star doesn’t shy away from messy topics, working through heartbreak and relationship woes with elastic ease. 

Blxst grew up listening to west coast hip hop with influences from Ryan Leslie, Pharrell Williams and Kanye West. 

His musical style has been compared to West Coast rapping and singing hybrids such as Nate Dogg. His topics are all personal poetic plays on the story of his life.

TO THE EAST…

ZYA

  • From: Miami, Florida
  • Age: 24

Steffany Perez, professionally known as ZYA is an emerging R&B/Soul singer. Influenced by jazz and her Cuban heritage, ZYA is replicating that nostalgic feel of classic R&B while cultivating a rare sound of her own. 

Like many of her idols, ZYA listeners and fans will discover love, peace, and clarity within her lyrics. Her debut single Change marks ZYA’s first single to ever be released.

Born in the late ‘90s, ZYA’s musical influences include the likes of Mariah Carey, Lauryn Hill, and the late great Aaliyah. 

Zya’s proprietary music engine and voice technology have been awarded 40 multi-national patents. Her team is lead by Matt Serletic, a Grammy-award-winning record producer, songwriter and former Chairman and CEO of Virgin Records.

She embodies a blend of late ’90s aesthetics mixed with modern flavours that give way to her own unique sound. Her hypnotic and tender vocals curate seduction with ease.

…Big salute to these young artists who are defining & redefining the sound.

We can conclude that in many ways, the traditional R&B / Soul of the ’90s & ’00s has given way to a multi-genre with several sub-genres that draw from the richness of the traditional sound. 

It is much richer in diversity, but the sweet melodies, rhythm and indescribable essence of Soul still remain at its core. 

All modern forms of R&B and Soul music need to be heard. From the ‘90s all the way up till this present day.

From Hip-Hop Soul, Electronic Soul, Contemporary Jazz, Contemporary Neo-Soul / R&B and other sounds inspiring the artists under these categories. 

Let us embrace the full tapestry of modern R&B and Soul.

Who knows where it will branch into next.

Let us know what you think of Sean Combs’ new and redefined album!

SEE MORE: Billboard Music Awards 2021: The Highlights, The Winners & More