R&B (rhythm and blues) first emerged in the late 1930s and began its sound with distinctive characteristics, including the “stacking of vocal harmonies.” By the 1970s, the term captured a variety of genres, including funk and soul. In contemporary mainstream music, many artists have blended hip-hop and R&B; now they are fairly interchangeable, as they take influences from both genres, while other artists have also chosen to maintain a solely hip-hop or R&B sound. All genres change over time, and with the rise of hip-hop and R&B in North America and around the world, here are some artists contributing to the expansion of the genre.
1. Sam Rui
Sam Rui is a Singaporean alternative R&B artist who has been most active on her SoundCloud. Her style is defined by her smooth, high-pitched voice that effortlessly blends into the lo-fi, synthy beats on her tracks. Rui’s songs are rich, slow and feel like trickling honey. She explores heartbreak and relationships on tracks such as “like my ex” and “just friends.” Rui adds a dimension of electronic production and stylistic vocals to her music and the R&B music scene. Her first release, “Better,” made Spotify’s No. 1 and she’s successfully released a series of official singles, EPs and a full-length album.
2. Joy Crookes
Joy Crookes is an R&B soul artist based in the UK. In songs like “Anyone But Me,” she blends traditional strings with electronic beats and her soothing vocals. Her sound is consistently smooth and slow, like on “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Since I Left You,” which provide melancholy vibes. Though she’s only 21 years old, she sings with the weight of hundreds of years of life experiences. While she has been compared to many renowned vocalists, Crookes stated it’s “dangerous territory” to be compared to other artists, as female artists tend to become “boxed.” She also told Vogue that she hoped “to become a more confident and eloquent writer — going from lyricist to poet.”
A Japanese R&B artist, Awich (Akiko Urasaki) is blending hip-hop, R&B and electro-pop for an ethereal sound. Songs like “Rainbow” and “UMUI” feature aggressive, breathy vocals paired with chill synths. Her discography is versatile, with more tracks leaning toward hip-hop, and others leaning toward a heavier alternative influence; as she takes inspiration from multiple genres, Awich successfully creates her own style.
4. Little Simz
UK-based rapper Little Simz (Simbiatu Abisola Abiola Ajikawo) has been active in the hip-hop and R&B scene since 2010. Her distinctive rap is simultaneously monotonous and heavy, with strong flow. Little Simz’ new EP, “Drop 6,” uses minimal instruments, with only a few electronics to create a bare base for her vocals to stand at the forefront of her sound. The sounds she uses are tasteful and carefully selected for each track to have a stand-alone vibe; her discography is tied together by her distinctive voice.
5. Diverseddie 舵
Chinese Canadian rapper and R&B artist Diverseddie 舵 combines layers of sounds for well-crafted tracks. Songs like “April Blues 郁人节” feature a mix of melancholy vocals and deep, fast-flowing rap on top of a simple synth beat. He switches his verses between Mandarin and English fluidly and alludes to topics like immigration and materialism throughout his discography. Other songs like “Sparkling Clean” use a groovy bass for an upbeat and playful vibe. Diverseddie 舵 uses his bilingualism effortlessly and is breaking boundaries to create a multilingual R&B scene in North America.
6. Gordon Flanders
Gordon Flanders is a rising R&B artist based in Hong Kong. His style is versatile and his songs range from guitar-strumming ballads to hard-hitting political rap. Flanders’ tracks are smooth with gently layered electronic beats to complement his vocals, like on “Stone Cold.” He puts his own twist on covers, like his remix version of Korean R&B artist Kid Milli’s “WHY DO F—BOIS HANGOUT ON THE NET.” Flanders’ version, “WHY DO RAPPERS HANGOUT IN KARAOKE,” features an altered beat, altered sound and fresh lyrics. He’s explored topics like relationships on tracks like “never meant to hurt you” and condemned Hong Kong’s extradition bill with his track “HK69” — which references one of Hong Kong’s anti-extradition bill protests that took place on June 9, 2019.
7. Tiana Major9
UK-based artist Tiana Major9 is a soulful, jazzy, R&B artist. While her name refers to a common jazz chord, she noted that she wanted to “get to a point where [she’s] seemingly genre-less, but would still have that jazz element in all [her] songs.” On tracks like “Think About You,” she fuses grooving beats via brass instruments with her soulful vocals and up-tempo bass for a refreshingly radiant take on the R&B sound. Other songs, like “CAT & MOUSE,” blend strings and layered harmonies for a warm and carefree aura that feels like you’re laying in the sun. On her collaboration track with EARTHGANG, “Collide,” the sound emphasizes acoustics and demonstrates Tiana Major9’s versatility in her ability to suit a variety of genres.
BIBI (Kim Hyung-seo) is an emerging R&B artist from South Korea who entered the music scene by uploading tracks onto SoundCloud. Her sound is distinguished by her rich vocals that complement heavy synths and trap beats for catchy, layered tracks. Upbeat songs like “KAZINO,” “NABI” and “BINU” feature vocal diversity; BIBI switches between smooth verses and drawn-out vocals. Slower tracks, like “Step?” use gentle brassy rises to provide the listener with a romantic atmosphere. BIBI has discussed how she feels like her discography is a record of her ever-changing self, and that she expects to change and continue to evolve in the future.
Many artists around the world are adapting their creative styles to fit within the R&B music scene and take aspects of the R&B genre to diversify their sound. R&B is still steadily growing and will likely continue to evolve in the future. Via globalization, the genre (like many others) is expanding to encompass different cultural influences and is creating a rich soundscape that allows international artists to blend into America’s music scene.