R&B is on a respirator. Once a celebrated genre that has given the music industry some of its most praised acts (see Luther, Whitney, Aretha, Marvin), the musical styling has unquestionably lost its identity to hip hop and now Electro-Pop.
The question at hand: is R&B on its last breath or is revival in its future? In a three part series, That Grape Juice will analyze three sectors of the fallen genre: ladies (songstresses), males (crooners), and groups (both male and female) to determine if resurrection is in its future or if it will find permanent rest in the history books
Recently browsing a Billboard chart, I was tempted to do an R&B roll call. Single ladies? (spare, but here). Fellas? (few but still there). Groups? (*insert cricket sound*). Let’s face it, the R&B group is extinct. Gone are the glory days of Motown where The Temptations and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles dominated airwaves and The Supremes reigned supremely on radio and charts alike. The Motown movement paved a precedent by which the 70s (Isley Brothers, O’Jays, too many to mention) and 80s (Levert, Debarge, Guy, New Edition) eased on down the road to chart success. Assisting R&B’s lead solo acts in solidifying the African American presence on Billboard, they effortlessly constructed the soundtrack to this generation (and its parents’) ‘old school’.
But, while the groups of yesteryear provided launching pads for some of R&B’s brightest stars (The Supremes – Diana Ross, Levert – Gerald Levert, Labelle – Patti Labelle, Jackson 5 – Michael Jackson), the 90s saw a new brand of R&B group. While Boyz II Men and En Vogue led the pack and were arguably the greatest grandchildren of their R&B forefathers (in terms of comparability), many other 90s groups unveiled an unparalleled blend of sass, attitude, and sex appeal. TLC, SWV, and Jodeci, later followed by Dru Hill, 112, and Jagged Edge are just a few of the groups from that era who helped redefine R&B while fusing with other popular genres of the era. And with the late 90s and early 2000s being dominated by Destiny’s Child, R&B groups were still proving that they were truly ‘survivors’.
Oh, how the times change. With Destiny’s Child’s subsequent disbanding, rebanding, then re-disbanding, no other R&B groups have risen to such pop prominence since. The mid-2000s saw B2K and later Danity Kane be sole representatives of the genre on the Pop charts. That, however, was surely short-lived.
Where, oh where, did the groups go?
We’ve seen many-a-90s group reband (SWV, Jodeci, TLC, Dru Hill), while some never left. But even collectively, their presence on Pop charts is nondescript. And with no noteworthy new class in waiting to take the reins:
That Grape Juice wants to know: