First of all, Happy Black History Month! What better way to commemorate than to pay homage to one of the greatest things Black people created: R&B. Sad to say it’s not appreciated by the masses like it used to be. Nothing illustrated a longing to fill the void present in R&B culture than a great Black Twitter debate at the top of the year.
What started as a back and forth over the top R&B boy groups — it’s still Dru Hill over 112 by a landslide for me — continued into an even longer conversation about what’s happened to R&B culture in general. But really what happened to it?
Some say that it isn’t the same anymore and usually point to one decade that it was much better. But I don’t believe there was one golden era of R&B. I think there have been several. For decades, R&B music was pop music. From the Motown days to disco to New Jack Swing and hip-hop soul, there were multiple superstars birthed out of those movements.
The difference between now and then was that radio and DJs were playing the music in heavier rotation. In my opinion, this is how music infiltrated our culture, entered our souls and made us attach memory to it. Songs that come with thoughts of falling in love and breaking up, riding in the car or dancing at family reunions, will always have a special feeling to it.
Additionally, the days of waiting for a new music video to premiere on TV are dead and gone. Music channels primarily air scripted and reality TV shows now. The only artist who could get away with this is Beyoncé. Why watch them there, when you can pull it up on YouTube, TIDAL or Facebook on demand? There isn’t a reason to gather around the television to celebrate this music as much as before.
Networks like VH1 (TLC movie), Lifetime(Whitney Houston and Toni Braxton) and BET (New Edition) are capitalizing on musical nostalgia by producing music biopics, especially for black acts. With high ratings from these movies, I expect to see more rolled out in the next decade.
There was also a time when popular R&B artists were hopping on EDM tracks and it seemed like soul music was on life support for the most part. I get it, because international money is another league of income but many of us fans had missed the days you can regularly hear a dancey bop or a weeping slow jam on the radio like it was nothing.
As of this current decade though, it’s been back on it’s game in my opinion. But unless you’re a music head that’s going to search up and down regularly for new tunes, it may take longer for you to find the music. And most people aren’t going to do that.
So I wanted to list a few platforms that I feel are doing some creative executions with R&B these days. By no means is this the ultimate list, in fact I invite folks to make recommendations for platforms and creatives that put them on to new quality R&B consistently in my comment section.
But I PERSONALLY look to the following below for updates.
Here are seven creatives and platforms keeping R&B alive and some words from the voices behind them!
Solange Knowles is the brainchild behind Saint Heron, her label and online music hub. The mission of Saint Heron is to “feature, highlight and align a new movement of contemporary, genre-defying R&B visionaries,” the site explains.
“Working within a space that is dedicated to the culture of not only R&B but musical and creative diversity is truly inspiring, especially today,” Asia Burris, Saint Heron’s content manager, told me via e-mail.
On Saint Heron, you will find features from BJ the Chicago Kid and Cardi B and new song postings from the latest emerging R&B talent like Tay Walker and Keiya. Solange has created something that has taken on a life of it’s own.
“I believe that Saint Heron serves as an innovative space that glorifies not only mainstream artists, but creatives who would not be given a platform otherwise. In my opinion, Saint Heron is a genuine cultural hub that doesn’t speculate based off of industry politics. I think that’s what makes us most unique.”
There was a time I used to listen to everything on Soul Bounce everyday. I still follow the blog and appreciate that they keep it 100 percent R&B and show love to singers past and present in addition to giving out concert freebies. The site is nearing a 10-year anniversary in August.
I consider VIBE a legacy brand. If you grew up on VIBE, you know that there many iconic covers and the magazine gave many black writers an opportunity to write about the culture. Reading the magazine inspired me to go into journalism. In 2009, the print edition folded. However the website is still pumping out digital covers and interviews that still celebrate today’s R&B artists along with hip-hop artists.
Colors R&B Only Party
Last summer, I had a blast at Colors: R&B Only party in Brooklyn. The DJs who played that night took us through decades of R&B that I rarely get to hear banging out of massive speakers. Colors throws several events, including a comedy show and a 90s party, but the R&B Only party seems to be a standout.
— COLORS (@colorsworldinc) January 18, 2017
Never been and its still on my bucket list, but Essence doesn’t fails to put together the ultimate R&B showcase. This is a staple for the culture for young auntie (proud to be) and OG auntie. Everyone who is anyone in R&B has performed during the annual event held every Fourth of July weekend in New Orleans.
NVRSleep: R&B Edition
NVRSleep has been on my radar this year and it’s hosted at Kinfolk in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Occasionally they host a R&B Edition of the party.
“What inspired us to create this event is that New York City has always needed a night that speaks to the many cultures that span across different genres,” NVR Sleep’s DJ Rodney Hazard said to me, via e-mail.
“I’ve grown really weary of strictly contemporary DJs that only play one type of music because it still only applies to a certain taste. Music is has an abundance of flavor and I want people to feel that when they come out to NVRSleep. Furthermore that NVRSleep is a safe space where you can hear the new, the old, and the original and most of all become fully immersed into your own form of expression.”
— Rodney Hazard (@RodneyHazard) January 29, 2017
Artists, Creatives, Etc.
Producer and DJ, Kaytranada is having an amazing year, headlining major music festivals and with a solid debut album last spring.
But before he broke out and made end-of-year lists, Kay rose to Soundcloud fame releasing mixes to several classic R&B cuts from Teedra Moses, Amerie and TLC.
Currently Soulection is my primary source of what’s coming next. Soulection is many things: a label, a a digital podcast, a sound, a movement.
They’re on the new wave of R&B, but mix in vintage soul and 90s jams into their mixes to give you a timeless sound that just flows beyond decade or time period. Last summer, the crew hosted a stage at AfroPunk and I had a chance to interview them about their signature blends.
“We try to be true to ourselves and be transparent and honest with each other and what we curate. We love real raw deep, culture, but we try to keep it real sexy,” The Whooligan of Soulection told me at the festival.
Social Media Memes
Social media and dance challenges have brought back several old school R&B songs in the past few years including Ghost Town DJ’s “My Boo,” (1996); Kid The Wiz’s “Love Come Down Remix” which samples Evelyn Champagne’s 1982 song; Next’s “Too Close,” which was parodied in “Why You Always Lyin“; and Sounds of Blackness’ “Optimistic” recently brought back by meme gawd Jay Versace.