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|Cultural origins||Early 1980s, North America;|
The genre features a distinctive record production style, drum machine-backed rhythms, an occasional saxophone-laced beat to give a jazz feel (mostly common in contemporary R&B songs prior to the year 1995) and a smooth, lush style of vocal arrangement. Electronic influences are becoming an increasing trend and the use of hip hop or dance-inspired beats are typical, although the roughness and grit inherent in hip hop may be reduced and smoothed out. Contemporary R&B vocalists are often known for their use of melisma, popularized by vocalists such as Michael Jackson, R. Kelly, Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.
Contemporary R&B originated at the end of the disco era, in the late 1970s, when Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones added more electronics elements to the black music sound of the time to create a smoother dancefloor-friendly sound. The first result was Off the Wall (1979), that according to Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic, "was a visionary album, that found a way to break disco wide open into a new world where the beat was undeniable, but not the primary focus – it was part of a colorful tapestry of lush ballads and strings, smooth soul and pop, soft rock, and alluring funk".
Richard J. Ripani wrote that Janet Jackson's Control (1986) was "important to the development of R&B for a number of reasons", as she and her producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, "crafted a new sound that fuses the rhythmic elements of funk and disco, along with heavy doses of synthesizers, percussion, sound effects, and a rap music sensibility." Ripani wrote that "the success of Control led to the incorporation of stylistic traits of rap over the next few years, and Janet Jackson was to continue to be one of the leaders in that development." That same year, Teddy Riley began producing R&B recordings that included hip hop influences. This combination of R&B style and hip hop rhythms was termed new jack swing and was applied to artists such as Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat, Al B. Sure!, Guy, Jodeci and Bell Biv DeVoe.
In contrast to the works of Boyz II Men, Babyface and similar artists, other R&B artists and groups from this same period began adding even more of a hip-hop sound to their work, like the innovative group Jodeci. The synthesizer-heavy rhythm tracks of new jack swing were replaced by grittier East Coast hip hop-inspired backing tracks, resulting in a genre labeled hip hop soul by Mary J. Blige and producer Sean Combs who also had mentored group Jodeci in the beginning and helped them with their unique look. The style became less popular by the end of the 1990s, but later experienced a resurgence.
In 1990 Mariah Carey released Vision of Love as her debut single. It was immensely popular peaking at number 1 in many world wide charts including the Billboard Hot 100, and it propelled Mariah's carrier. The song is usually said to have popularized the use of melisma and brought it in to mainstream R&B.
During the mid-1990s, Whitney Houston's The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack Album sold over 40 million copies worldwide becoming the best-selling soundtrack of all time. Janet Jackson's self-titled fifth studio album janet. (1993), which came after her historic multimillion-dollar contract with Virgin Records, sold over twenty million copies worldwide. Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey recorded several Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hits, including "One Sweet Day", a collaboration between both acts, which became the longest-running No. 1 hit in Hot 100 history. Carey also released a remix of her 1995 single "Fantasy", with Ol' Dirty Bastard as a feature, a collaboration format that was unheard of at this point. Carey, Boyz II Men and TLC released albums in 1994 and 1995—Daydream, II and CrazySexyCool.
In the late 1990s, neo soul, which added 1970s soul influences to the hip hop soul blend, arose, led by artists such as D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and Maxwell. Hill and Missy Elliott further blurred the line between R&B and hip hop by recording both styles. Beginning in 1995, the Grammy Awards enacted the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album, with II by Boyz II Men becoming the first recipient. The award was later received by TLC for CrazySexyCool in 1996, Tony Rich for Words in 1997, Erykah Badu for Baduizm in 1998 and Lauryn Hill for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1999. At the end of 1999, Billboard magazine ranked Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson as the first and second most successful artists of the 1990s.
Following periods of fluctuating success, urban music attained commercial dominance during the early 2000s, which featured massive crossover success on the Billboard charts by R&B and hip hop artists. In 2004, all 12 songs that topped Billboard Hot 100 were African-American recording artists and accounted for 80% of the number-one R&B hits that year. Along with Usher's streak of singles, Top 40 radio and both pop and R&B charts were topped by OutKast's "Hey Ya!", Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot", Terror Squad's "Lean Back" and Ciara's "Goodies". Chris Molanphy of The Village Voice later remarked that "by the early 2000s, urban music was pop music."
Continuing from the 1990s and early 2000s, R&B, like many other genres, drew influences from the technical innovations of the time and began to incorporate more electronic and machine-made sounds and instruments. The use of effects such as Auto-Tune and new computerized synths have given R&B a more futuristic feel while still attempting to incorporate many of the genre's common themes such as love and relationships. The evolutions of the genre's production and instrumentation have spurred the successes of performers such as Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Usher, John Legend, Frank Ocean, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, Miguel, Janelle Monáe, Chris Brown, Jennifer Lopez, Tamar Braxton, The Weeknd, Tinashe, Ne-Yo, Rihanna, Brandy and K. Michelle, who have embraced new electronic influences and kept R&B's original feel. As this electronic element continues to grow apparent throughout the genre, many of these more contemporary artists are gaining popularity outside of R&B and continue to collaborate with non-R&B artists. For example, singer Miguel is popular in mainstream hip-hop for his many collaborations with rappers such as Wale and Rick Ross. Today's R&B is far more diverse and incorporates more sonic elements than before, as it expands its appeal and commercial viability.
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