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Contemporary R&B (also known as simply R&B) is a music genre that combines elements of hip hop, R&B, and soul music.

Although the abbreviation “R&B” originates from traditional rhythm and blues music, today the term R&B is most often used to describe a style of African American music originating after the demise of disco in the 1980s. Some sources refer to the style as urban contemporary (the name of the radio format that plays hip hop and contemporary R&B). R&B has also been used to refer to rhythm & bass although the accuracy of this abbreviation is open to debate seeing that bass forms part of a rhythm along with the drums.

Contemporary R&B has a polished record production style, drum machine-backed rhythms, an occasional saxophone-laced beat to give a jazz feel (mostly common in contemporary R&B songs prior to the year 1993), and a smooth, lush style of vocal arrangement. Electronic influences are becoming an increasing trend in contemporary R&B, and the use of hip hop-inspired beats are typical, although the roughness and grit inherent in hip hop may be reduced and smoothed out. Contemporary R&B vocalists are often known for their use of melisma, popularized by vocalists such as Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.

History

Contemporary R&B originated in the 1980s, when musicians started adding disco-like beats, high-tech production, and elements of hip hop, soul and funk to rhythm and blues, making it more danceable and modern.[6] The top mainstream R&B artists of 1980 included Michael Jackson, Prince, Jermaine Jackson, The Whispers, The S.O.S. Band, Stevie Wonder, Kool & the Gang, Yarbrough and Peoples, Smokey Robinson, Patti Labelle, Rick James, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Earth, Wind & Fire, Dazz Band, Evelyn King, Marvin Gaye, Mtume, DeBarge, Midnight Star, and Freddie Jackson.

In the mid-1980s, many of the recordings by artists Luther Vandross, Freddie Jackson, Anita Baker, Teddy Pendergrass, Peabo Bryson and others became known as quiet storm. The term had originated with Smokey Robinson's 1975 album A Quiet Storm. Quiet storm has been described as "R&B's answer to soft rock and adult contemporary—while it was primarily intended for black audiences, quiet storm had the same understated dynamics, relaxed tempos and rhythms, and romantic sentiment."

Tina Turner made a comeback during the second half of the 1980s, while Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson broke into the pop music charts with a series of hits. Richard J. Ripani wrote that Janet Jackson's third studio album Control (1986) was "important to the development of R&B for a number of reasons", as she and her producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, "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." Ripani wrote that "the success of Control led to the incorporation of stylistic traits of rap over the next few years, and Janet Jackson was to continue to be one of the leaders in that development." That same year, Teddy Riley began producing R&B recordings that included hip hop influences. This combination of R&B style and hip hop rhythms was termed new jack swing, and was applied to artists such as Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat, Guy, Jodeci, and Bell Biv DeVoe.

In the late 1980s, George Michael became one of Britain's best-known contemporary R&B musicians when his debut album Faith (1987) went to the top of the R&B album charts in the United States, making him the first white artist to achieve this honor. Faith featured a number of chart-topping singles, including the U.S. R&B #1 hit "One More Try". The album won several awards, including the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Michael Jackson remained a prominent figure in the genre, following the release of his album Bad (1987) which sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. Janet Jackson's 1989 album Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 continued the development of contemporary R&B into the 1990s, as the album's title track "Rhythm Nation" made "use of elements from across the R&B spectrum, including use of a sample loop, triplet swing, rapped vocal parts and blues notes." Prince wrote and released his smash hit "Sign of the Times", a track that introduced traditional R&B elements with contemporary R&B, adding blues guitar into what is considered a predominantly synthesizer and drum machine driven track. It was and still continues to be critically acclaimed by critics as one of Prince's finest tracks.

1990s
In the 1990s, Mariah Carey's career originated in quiet storm, with hit singles such as "Vision of Love" (1990), and "Love Takes Time" (1990) Also in the early 1990s, Whitney Houston's quiet storm hit included "All the Man That I Need" (1990) and "I Will Always Love You" (1992). Richard J. Ripani wrote that Carey and Houston, "both of whom rely heavily on the gospel music vocal tradition, display an emphasis on melisma that increased in R&B generally over the 1980s and 1990s." Carey's "Vision of Love" is considered to be an extreme example of the use of melisma. Also during the early 1990s, Boyz II Men re-popularized classic soul-inspired vocal harmonies. Michael Jackson incorporated new jack swing into his 1991 album Dangerous, with sales over 32 million.

In contrast to the works of Boyz II Men, Babyface and similar artists, other R&B artists from this same period began adding even more of a hip hop sound to their work. The synthesizer-heavy rhythm tracks of new jack swing was replaced by grittier East Coast hip hop-inspired backing tracks, resulting in a genre labeled hip hop soul by producer Sean Combs. The style became less popular by the end of the 1990s, but later experienced a resurgence.

During the mid 1990s, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, TLC, SWV and Boyz II Men brought contemporary R&B to the mainstream. Jackson's self-titled fifth studio album janet. (1993), which came after her historic multi-million dollar contract with Virgin Records, sold over twenty million copies worldwide. Boyz II Men and Carey recorded several Billboard Hot 100 #1 hits, including "Fantasy", "One Sweet Day", a collaboration between both acts, which became the longest-running #1 hit in Hot 100 history. Carey, Boyz II Men and TLC released albums in 1994 and 1995—Daydream, II , and CrazySexyCool respectively — that sold over ten million copies, earning them diamond and also making them the best selling female R&B group of all time. RIAA certification.

In the late 1990s, neo soul, which added 1970s soul influences to the hip hop soul blend, arose, led by artists such as D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Maxwell. Mariah Carey was well known to incorporate her pop, R&B tunes with hip-hop and rap. Hill and Missy Elliott further blurred the line between R&B and hip hop by recording both styles. Beginning in 1995, the Grammy Awards enacted the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album, with II by Boyz II Men becoming the first recipient. The award was later received by TLC for CrazySexyCool in 1996, Tony Rich for Words in 1997, Erykah Badu for Baduizm in 1998 and Lauryn Hill for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1999. At the end of 1999, Billboard magazine ranked Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson as the first and second most successful artists of the 1990s.

2000s
The continued popularity of contemporary R&B is seen in the global success of established artists such as Beyoncé and Usher, in which the latter's careers began in the late 1990s and continued in the dawn of the new millennium. The year 2001, in particular its summer, has been described as a golden age for contemporary R&B and urban soul music, with artists such as Jill Scott, Jennifer Lopez and Destiny's Child, who paved the way for Alicia Keys, Blu Cantrell, and the revival of Aaliyah. Keys's debut album, Songs in A Minor, earned five Grammy Awards in 2002, including Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, Best R&B Song, Best R&B Album, Best New Artist, and Song of the Year for "Fallin';" while Aaliyah's self-titled third studio album Aaliyah was lauded as "one of the strongest urban soul records of its time." The album has sold over 13 million copies worldwide. Stephen Thomas Erlewine considered the debut of Blu Cantrell, So Blu, to be "a wonderfully fresh recasting of contemporary soul and R&B." Other emerging acts from the early or mid 2000s include Ashanti, Nelly, Rihanna and Ja Rule.