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4 Reasons Why R&B Music Is Dying

Updated on August 14, 2010

"Why don't they make music like this anymore?"

Cherrelle and Alexander O' Neal's 80s classic "Saturday Love"
Cherrelle and Alexander O' Neal's 80s classic "Saturday Love"

Today’s R&B music is lying in critical condition. If you research any true R&B song between the 60s and 80s on Youtube, you will read many comments of individuals lamenting on how “they don’t make music like that anymore.” What has happen in the last 20 years to cause many to proclaim R&B music as “dead” or “dying”? Here are 4 reasons why R&B music is in the process of dying out:

1. Computerized Production- Between the 60s and 80s, the R&B genre had a plethora of bands: Earth, Wind and Fire, Sly and the Family Stone, Rose Royce, Parliament, Funkadelic and Kool and the Gang just to name a few. All of these acts made their own music with live instruments. There were some bands that did use computer synthesizers, but even then they also incorporated live instruments. The last true band in R&B history was the 90s band Mint Condition. Since then, virtually all instruments played on a given album these days are digitized. While some pop acts are also using digitized instrumentation, there are more pop acts using live instruments today than there are R&B acts. There are also more pop bands these days than R&B bands. R&B bands are virtually dead in mainstream music.

2. Too Much Focus on Physical Attributes and Not Talent-Again, looking at most R&B acts between the 60s and 80s, much of them would not be considered “lookers” today. But the industry then was focused mainly on the quality of the music, as that was the selling point. Today, there are too many R&B artists that are eye candy with not much talent or average talent, and the truly talented artists are not signed or promoted because of the way they look. A perfect example of this was back in the 90s with a heavy set Martha Wash singing on C and C’s Music Factory song “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now) being replaced by a slender woman lip synching her part in the music video.

3. Producer Focused-Now there were well known R&B producers through the 60s and 80s like Norman Whitfield, Quincy Jones, Leon Sylver, Jam and Lewis, L.a. and Babyface and Teddy Riley. But somewhere in the late 80s and early 90s, R&B began to focus a lot of attention on the producers. Artists wanted to work with the “in” producer at the time. The problem with that was everyone songs started sounding the same. A certain producer would have a particular signature style, but everyone he worked with would have that same sounding style, and it became more of a producer’s song than it was an artist’s song. Earth, Wind and Fire songs sound like Earth, Wind and Fire songs. They did not sound like Kool in the Gang songs. They had there own styles that could not be duplicated by anyone but them because they only worked with their own team. With producers working with everyone they can, R&B music started sounding the same from one act to the other.

4. Too Much Sex-While there were sexual content in R&B music between the 60s and 80s, There weren’t as many as there are in R&B music today. Earth, Wind and Fire often sung songs with positive messages as well as Stevie Wonder, and while many know Marvin Gaye for “Sexual Healing”, he also devoted an entire album to social issue with “What’s Going On”. The O’ Jays sung about the love of money and also sung a song called “Brandy” about a missing dog. There were love songs, but they spoke on the many aspects of love. Today’s R&B music is mostly laden with sexual themes that are too suggestive for young ones to listen to. And while sex sells, there’s an over-saturation of it that’s causing R&B music to lose its substance.

Whether or not R&B music can be revived and become the force it once was remains to be seen. Artists as well as music producers maybe concern about making money, but someone has to make a stand for quality over quantity (making hits) and take hold of a once powerful genre that’s on the verge of dying.


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    • trusouldj profile image

      trusouldj 4 years ago from Indiana

      Unless it is a neo-soul type artist, I'm not easily impressed by most of today's R&B.

    • KiandraRutledge profile image

      KiandraRutledge 5 years ago from Nashville, TN

      James, I agree with you about electronics being used in music. Even Stevie Wonder was himself a pioneer in introducing it. However the difference between him, Jam and Lewis as well as Babyface and L.A. Reid and a number of producers today is that they not only produced, they composed. When you have a background in music using electronic instruments sound lush and indepth. Take one of the top R&B songs today, listen to an instrumental, and you'll hear a song that pretty much sounds stripped: beats, a few keys, maybe a bass and some sound effects, and most of them are on loopback.

    • profile image

      James Reeno 5 years ago

      I agree with most of this synopsis, but the prevelance of electronics in soul music did not kill it.

      If you recall, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and Babyface were mostly electronic, yet wrote/produced some amazing and memorable music. (some of which is my favorite even to this day).

      furthermore, your comments about soul music being producer driven is correct, but understand that it's ALWAYS been the case, so why pick on it now?

      Personally, I buy soul and funk records sometimes more for the producer than for the artist.

    • profile image

      isho 5 years ago

      I hav no prob wth the artists its the poeople that want loud hip hop

    • KiandraRutledge profile image

      KiandraRutledge 6 years ago from Nashville, TN

      Thanks Alecia, you're correct. There's more hip hop/r&b or pop/r&b then just straight, unadulterated r&b music now.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I would also venture to say that so many artists now focus on having crossover or mass appeal by including a rapper or a pop singer or their records rather than focusing on musical integrity. Great hub, well-written.

    • KiandraRutledge profile image

      KiandraRutledge 6 years ago from Nashville, TN

      I agree L. Spikes, and as a result the majority of it sounds very generic now.

    • L. Spikes profile image

      L. Spikes 6 years ago from Florida

      Nice Hub. A lot of this seems to coincide with technological innovations. In the 80s, you had the rise of the music video, and that was followed by all of the digital production and media up until now. It's so easy to make and distribute songs now that there's no real filter for talent. The focus has been taken off of the personal investment that went into a lot of the earlier music because everything and everyone is there to "help" you now. I think we're feeling that personal detachment more than anything.

    • KiandraRutledge profile image

      KiandraRutledge 6 years ago from Nashville, TN

      Thank you Passionformusic. I do miss the R&B from back in the day. So much better.

    • Passionformusic profile image

      Passionformusic 6 years ago from Ohio

      Great content! I agree 100 percent about the physical attributes vs the talent...It is disappointing to see people would rather have someone look good over good music....