Contemporary R&B is a form of popular music that emerged in the US in the early 1980s. With its own name being a (somewhat misnamed) abbreviation of "contemporary rhythm & blues", contemporary R&B mixes the vocal techniques and mannerisms associated with earlier R&B genres (meaning, genres that are themselves derived, to an extent, from Rhythm & Blues), most notably Soul (Smooth Soul in particular) and Disco (itself derived from soul), with a form of synthesized and smooth production characterized by lush arrangements, electronically programmed rhythms sometimes influenced by Hip Hop, and a more occasional reliance on Funk and Jazz influences. Contemporary R&B has been intrinsically connected to the rise of certain forms of Pop music, and to pop music in general, from the very start of the genre, and it commonly crosses over with or is influenced by Dance-Pop, Pop Soul, Adult Contemporary, Sophisti-Pop, and other pop genres as well. In addition to that, contemporary R&B sticks to typical pop songwriting and is almost universally based in verse-chorus structures. Though lyrically, the genre is nearly always about love, romance, and relationships, many artists have written songs discussing other subjects, from social and political issues to mental health, braggadocio, etc.
The roots of the genre go back to the late disco era towards the end of the 1970s, when producer Quincy Jones, who was producing for Michael Jackson, created a more eclectic and smoother sound that was still derived from disco, but already presented a departure from it. The resulting album was the massively successful and influential Off the Wall, which served as an important early point for the genre. Hip hop became an increasingly prominent influence in the developing contemporary R&B throughout the 1980s, both in production and the later incorporation of rapped vocals. This influence was manifested in New Jack Swing in particular, a late 1980s R&B style that mixed in the said hip hop rhythms with the synth lines of Synth Funk, creating a distinctive, uptempo sound. Bobby Brown (and the rest of New Edition), Babyface, Jodeci, Keith Sweat, and Michael Jackson's work from around that time, helped to popularize the sound, which dominated R&B for a number of years in the early 1990s and left its mark on the genre. Janet Jackson's Control was another important 1980s R&B record whose production deeply influenced the genre, as it "crafted a new sound that fuses the rhythmic elements of funk and disco, along with heavy doses of synthesizers, percussion, sound effects, and a rap music sensibility.", in the words of music historian Richard J. Ripani.
The changing trends in hip hop production around the late 1980s and early 1990s, marked by the shift towards grittier styles like the East Coast Hip Hop-born Boom Bap, led to the emergence of a short-lived style which replaced new jack swing's earlier reliance on synth-heavy production with dominant influence from the aforementioned hip hop styles. This strain was nicknamed "Hip Hop Soul" by producer P. Diddy for Mary J. Blige's debut album What's the 411?. Other popular artists from around the time like Mariah Carey, TLC, R. Kelly, and Boyz II Men were important for the development of the genre throughout the 1990s. Trip Hop grew out of the Bristol underground in the early 1990s, largely taking influence from R&B's vocals, and later continuing to influence it, as in Madonna's Bedtime Stories. Miami Bass was mixed with R&B influences to create Atlanta Bass, a genre that reached its peak success with Ghost Town DJs's "My Boo". Neo-Soul emerged in the mid-to-late 1990s in the US and the UK, characterized by the incorporation of 1970s soul influences and other older Afro American genres onto a palette of hip hop and contemporary R&B production, in addition to a focus on female presence and empowerment and more conscious lyrics. It was popularized and led by artists including Lauryn Hill, Maxwell, D'Angelo, and Erykah Badu, who, along with other artists of the genre, were notable by their more independent, alternative approach that somewhat opposed the industry-driven and digitally produced sound of mainstream R&B. While some of these artists actively sought to distinguish themselves from the overarching, wide R&B scene, neo-soul continued to cross over with the genre and many artists were known for making both.
Contemporary R&B enjoyed a period of massive commercial success and popularity in the 2000s, sometimes under the marketable label of "Urban Music". The genre's global spread increased then, reaching many other countries around the globe and becoming popular in other languages and under the coat of other influences. Alicia Keys, Usher, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Chris Brown, and Justin Timberlake, were among the most successful artists in the world during that decade, and the genre became frequently mixed with Pop Rap, dance-pop, and the newly-popular Electropop, in addition to other forms of popular music. Another short-lived derivative nicknamed "Crunk&B" was characterized by Crunk-derived production, exemplified by Usher's hit "Yeah". The deliberate use of auto-tune, which would become much more widespread in the 2010s, was also introduced then, most notably in the music of T-Pain and Kanye West. Producers like Timbaland and The Neptunes were prominent in both hip hop and R&B production, further blurring the lines between the production associated with each.
The 2010s introduced a number of new prominent influences in R&B production, from the rhythms of Trap and certain post-Dubstep trends to the growing popularity of 2010s Electronic Dance Music genres in mainstream music. The former partially resulted in the emergence of Alternative R&B, a derivative of contemporary R&B that emphasized a hazier, more melancholic sound typified by atmospheric, reverberated, and dreamy Electronic production inspired by Future Garage, trap, and other genres. Artists like The Weeknd, James Blake, Kelela, FKA twigs, and Frank Ocean all helped to develop and popularize this wave, which began as a relatively independent and underground movement before reaching the mainstream. The growing popularity of trap music was further manifested in the music of popular artists like Drake, Kehlani, Khalid, Ariana Grande, Bryson Tiller, and Ty Dolla $ign, who utilized the genre's rhythms for their singing, with many other trap artists creating seamless blends of both genres by using melodic, sing-songy flows that borrow major elements from contemporary R&B. While many artists from the decade attempted to create more futuristic, colorful R&B music with heavier electronic elements, the 2010s also saw a prominent nostalgia wave that brought back renewed 1980s synth funk and post-disco production, as in Bruno Mars's 24K Magic.
Contemporary R&B's global influence has resulted in its sustained influence over many other popular music genres, including the West African-born Afrobeats, Korean K-Pop and Japanese J-Pop, the Jamaican-born Dancehall, the Latin American Reggaeton and even the North African Raï (the blend of the two is sometimes referred to as Raï'n'B). Despite that, the main center where most popular R&B musicians originate from remains firmly rooted in the Anglophone world, most notably the US, Canada, and the UK.
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