What happened to R&B Music?

By Kelly Harris

I rarely listen to music on the radio. Black radio programming in particular is predictable. It’s the same 5-7 songs in rotation. When I try to escape one song on one station, the same song pops up on another. I don’t want to feel like I’m going to the club every minute of the day. Yes, there are old school jam stations, the songs are better quality, but the rotation is equally the same. If I hear Johnny Gill’s “My My My” one more time (and I like JG) but I digress. There’s no in between. It’s either beats and hooks with low vocals that often sound more spoken word-ish than singing or like the last three songs I just heard.. How many sexual promises do we hear over and over? Yet with all this pleasure and sexual swag one has to ask, where is the love?
What happened to R&B?
During Essence Festival weekend, the Grammy’s hosted a panel asking some of these same questions. Panelists Myisha Brooks (VP, Creative Relations & Marketing, Motown Records), Carl Chery (Head of Hip-Hop/R&B Programming at Beats Music), Raheem DeVaughn (GRAMMY-nominee), Tank (GRAMMY-nominee) and Johnnie Walker (Executive Director Memphis and Shelby Country Music Commission- Formerly DefJam) offered a candid conversation on the music industry.

Only the host had a microphone. The sound isn’t as good as I would have liked for posting but it’s still worth sharing.


The blues echoes right through into soul, R&B and hip hop. It’s part of the make-up of modern music. You can’t turn your back on the blues.
Ronnie Wood

Tank said that listeners have more power than they think. They determine what songs are salable and ultimately land on the radio. “If we say we want to see positive images of ourselves, we have to support those artists who affirm our communities and relationships.”


I feel like R&B as a genre has become a caricature of itself.


Raheem DeVaughn cautioned the audience to remember that the business industry is a corporation and anything capitalistic will be tainted. Intentions in the music industry vary and so being committed to your own musical principles and artistry is critical to not falling into trends that sacrifice who you are as an artist and human being.

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The panel event was held during Essence Fest weekend. I hope these conversations continue beyond the festival because I believe they are important to the future of the music industry and black artist sustainability in a very difficult industry.


Kelly Harris is the founder and Editor of BrassyBrown.com. She’s a poet and the owner of KHD Communications LLC. Contact her at brassybrown@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram: @BrassyBrownnola