Justin Timberlake, Miguel and Frank Ocean Bring R&B Back Home

March 19th, 2013

(Photos: From Left to right: John Ricard/BET, Phil McCarten/Landov, John Ricard/BET)

(Photos: From Left to right: John Ricard/BET, Phil McCarten/Landov, John Ricard/BET)

By Jacob Rohn

When Eminem said, “it’s over. Nobody listens to techno,” on his 2003 hit song “Without Me,” it was not far from the truth. For three decades electronic has been to music what soccer is to sports: Marginal in America, massive everywhere else. That all changed right around two years ago when artists like Calvin Harris, Deadmau5 and David Guetta began a rapid infiltration of pop radio that quickly made its way into the realm of hip hop and R&B.

Combining with American pop stars proved wise for many DJs, who have become household names. Now they are filling stadiums and branding themselves as artists to a culture that once viewed them as nothing more than faceless people that hosted raves. Flo-Rida was the first rapper to truly embrace the trend, releasing a slew of hit songs that monopolize radio airwaves by simply adding rap verses to already released electronic hits. Though electronic music continues to dominate on Top 40 radio, R&B looks to be done with it.

Albums like Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream, Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience and Frank Ocean’s Grammy-winning Channel Orange, R&B look to be moving back into a direction reminiscent of its glory days, the ’70s, when the likes of Marvin Gaye, Al Green and Donny Hathaway had the ladies going crazy and the fellas in awe. Some of the crossover artists like Usher and Chris Brown continue to ride the electronic wave. Both have continued to enjoy massive success with record sales and live shows, but they often get categorized as pop rather than R&B.

For the record this is not an attempt to slam electronic music, which requires serious talent to create and has developed an unprecedented following in the United States. Unlike Autotune, dance music does not look to be going away all together anytime soon. The DJs create a full, interactive show that brings legions of loyal followers out, dressed in full costume, ready to party until the sun comes up. For R&B fans however, the return to soulful singing and sensual sound is a welcome relief from the teenybopper sound that gets lumped in with the Top 40.

Whether people like it or not, R&B artists will always have moments where they will crossover, whether it’s a hook on a hip hop song or a full-on dance track, but at its core R&B has remained one of the more unchanged genres in music, whose popularity stands the test of time in a way that few others have matched. Even people who weren’t yet born when Marvin Gaye died often know a number of his songs.

The bottom line is good music is good music. While R&B has constantly reinvented itself, crossing over with every new genre of music, it will always circle back to what made it popular in the first place. What makes this time different is it now has the talented artists to make sure it stays put until the next time a global phenomenon sweeps the country.

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