Is R&B A ‘Major Player’ Anymore?


Charlie Wilson, Forever Charlie © RCA
Charlie Wilson, Forever Charlie © RCA

With each and every year, R&B seemingly continues to lose footing – yeah it’s the same old sermon preach year after year. Once a preeminent genre that was dominating radio, album sales, and overall market impact, R&B as a whole seems to have lost its way. While R&B has been cooling off for years, the genre was still hot in the 00s with gargantuan albums from Usher, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, and Mary J. Blige to name a few. Now, even those big-named artists who were dominating the scene back-when are struggling to remain relevant in a larger, more ugly music industry.

Usher, Confessions © La Face
Gargantuan R&B albums like Usher’s Confessions seem to be a thing of the past.

R&B is not alone in its struggle for relevancy, but for a number of minorities, aside from hip-hop, it is the go-to genre – the musical preference. Personally, there has always been a soft spot for R&B, despite the fact that as a music journalist, blogger, and educator, naturally there is a love and appreciation for numerous styles. In other words, seeing R&B underperform as horrifically as it is in 2015 feels personal.

So exactly how slippery is the slope where the stability of R&B is in 2015? It’s absolutely terrible. Sure, there have been some respectable albums released, but to merely state that the sales are the only problem would be inaccurate. The total package is in a bad place and if its not fixed you have to question what’s going to happen with a major genre where black musicians were the innovators; an integral part of musical history as a whole. Another thing’s for certain too – R&B can’t merely cling to the golden age of the 60s and 70s as a propelling force for 2015 and beyond.

Jazmine Sullivan, Reality Show © RCA
Jazmine Sullivan, Reality Show © RCA

Several R&B releases dropped in January 2015. After a five-year hiatus, Jazmine Sullivan, one of contemporary R&B’s brightest spots returned with her third album, Reality Show. Unfortunately for the gifted dramatic contralto, the “reality” was that the album practically tanked before it even had a shot. It debuted relatively unimpressively at #12 and ultimately has spent just seven weeks on the Billboard 200.

Besides Sullivan, Ne-Yo and Charlie Wilson also dropped new albums in January – Non-Fiction and Forever Charlie respectively. Little was expected of Charlie Wilson’s album given the fact he’s past his prime musically by industry standards and he generally just isn’t a profound seller. Expectedly, Forever Charlie settled for a #17 start on the Billboard 200. Ne-Yo’s Non-Fiction gained the contemporary R&B singer another top-five bow (#5), but everyone knows that new-Ne-Yo doesn’t sell nearly as impressively as old-Ne-Yo. Similarly, including yours truly, Non-Fiction was met with mixed reviews.

Mark Ronson, Uptown Special © RCA
Mark Ronson, Uptown Special © RCA

January arguably had one bit of good news, but purists may call it a stretch. The general makeup of Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special is R&B, and “Uptown Funk!” itself is retro-R&B. The album debuted within the top 10, and has remained on the Billboard 200 since its debut.

Use January as a snapshot of the bigger picture of the R&B industry. Who’s talking about Sullivan, Ne-Yo, or Wilson? No one. The same could be said of the other new R&B albums that have come out to total obscurity. Jamie Foxx’s promotional campaign for Hollywood: A Story Of A Dozen Roses totally sucked. Unsurprisingly, the album was so-so at best, and the sales matched the effort that seemed to be put into the album.Ciara’s Jackie certainly takes honors as one of the year’s biggest flops, barely hitting the top 20 when it debuted at #17. Is there any need to continue further?

Tamia, Love Life © Def Jam
Tamia, Love Life © Def Jam

It could be argued that aside from Ne-Yo, no big-time R&B artists have released albums. BUT, would/will they sell? The sales trends as of late suggests no. So again, where does R&B go from here? Must R&B artists “sell out” becoming pop artists to keep the genre “half-alive” to quote Christina Perri? Can R&B reinvent itself, maintaining the sanctity of the genre, but also reenergizing its base? How do R&B artists get the record labels to give a flying flip and actually promote their albums aggressively? It’s not happening – too many under the radar releases. June 2015 has the perfect example of an under promoted album that the record label probably “doesn’t believe in” – Tamia’s Love Life.

If something does not change, R&B is doomed. It’s not dead, but it seems to get closer year after year. IT SHOULDN’T BE THIS WAY!

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One comment

  1. r.kelly still their.. thing is acts are still around its the industry that has whitewashed and narrowed it down along with the acts. cross over, making R&B adopt Rap, and then you got white acts like thicke and timberlake getting bigger budgets and being puled into R&B though its more a cliche than long lasting.it seems like the industry wants to kill off a certain aspect of black music period and it is racial. why you hear folks say R&B is dead? rap is dead? or Jazz is dead? never hear rockk is dead,country or pop though you easily good as well for they are watered down as well

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