R & B Styles Detail

Contemporary R&B Styles

Contemporary R&B developed after years of urban R&B. Like urban, contemporary R&B is slickly produced, but many of the musicians — Maxwell, Rhythm and Blues HOF 6D’Angelo, Terence Trent D’Arby — are obsessed with bringing the grit, spirit, and ambitiousness of classic soul (Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding) back to contemporary soul and R&B.

  • Neo-Soul

Early R & B  

Evolving out of jump blues in the late ’40s, R&B laid the groundwork for rock & roll. R&B kept the tempo and the drive of jump blues, but its instrumentation was sparer and the emphasis was on the song, not improvisation. It was blues chord changes played with an insistent backbeat. During the ’50s, R&B was dominated by vocalists like Ray Charles and Ruth Brown, as well as vocal groups like the Drifters and the Coasters. Eventually, R&B metamorphosed into soul, which was funkier and looser than the pile-driving rhythms of R&B.

  • Doo Wop
  • New Orleans R&B
  • Swamp Pop

Funk

Named after a slang word for “stink,” funk was indeed the rawest, most primal form of R&B, surpassing even Southern soul in terms of earthiness. It was also the least structured, often stretching out into extended jams, and the most Africanized, built on dynamic, highly syncopated polyrhythms. As such, it originally appealed only to hardcore R&B audiences. The groove was the most important musical element of funk — all the instruments of the ensemble played off of one another to create it, and worked it over and over. Deep electric bass lines often served as main riffs, with an interlocking web of short, scratchy guitar chords and blaring horns over the top. Unlike nearly every form of R&B that had come before it, funk didn’t confine itself to the 45-rpm single format and the classic verse/chorus song structure. Funk bands were just as likely to repeat a catchy chant or hook out of the blue, and to give different song sections equal weight, so as not to disrupt the groove by building to a chorus-type climax. In essence, funk allowed for more freedom and improvisation, and in that respect it was similar to what was happening around the same time in blues-rock, psychedelia, and hard rock (in fact, Jimi Hendrix was a major inspiration for funk guitar soloists). The roots of funk lay in James Brown’s post-1965 soul hits, particularly “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” (1965) and “Cold Sweat” (1967). Sly & the Family Stone, who started out as a soul band influenced by rock and psychedelia, became a full-fledged (albeit pop-savvy) funk outfit with 1969’s Stand!. However, the record that officially ushered in the funk era was James Brown’s epochal “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine.” The arrangement was spare, the groove hard-hitting, and Brown’s lyrics were either stream-of-consciousness slogans or wordless noises. Brown followed it with more records over the course of 1970 that revolutionized R&B, and paved the way for the third artist of funk’s holy trinity, George Clinton. Clinton’s Parliament and Funkadelic outfits made funk the ultimate party music, not just with their bizarre conceptual humor, but their sheer excess — huge ensembles of musicians and dancers, all jamming on the same groove as long as they possibly could. Thanks to Sly, Brown, and Clinton, many new and veteran R&B acts adopted funk as a central style during the ’70s. Funk gradually became smoother as disco came to prominence in the mid- to late ’70s, and lost much of its distinguishing earthiness. However, it had a major impact on jazz (both fusion and soul-jazz), and became the musical foundation of hip-hop. Thanks to the latter, funk enjoyed a renaissance during the ’90s, especially among white audiences who rushed to explore its original classics.

  • Deep Funk

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