Alternative R&B

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Not to be confused with Neo soul.

Alternative R&B (also referred to as PBR&B, indie R&B, experimental R&B, and hipster R&B[2][3]) is a term used by music journalists to describe a stylistic alternative to contemporary R&B.[4][5][6][7]


"Alternative R&B" was once used by the music industry during the late 1990s to market neo soul artists, such as D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Maxwell.[8] There has been a variety of discussion about the differing genre terms, with several critics describing the music under the broad category of "alternative R&B" or "indie R&B".[9][10] The term "hipster R&B" has been commonly used, as has the term "PBR&B"—a combination of "PBR" (the abbreviation for Pabst Blue Ribbon, a beer most recently associated with the hipster subculture)[11] and R&B. The first use of "PBR&B" was on Twitter by Sound of the City writer Eric Harvey on a March 22, 2011 post.[12][13][14] Three years later, amazed and distressed at how far the term—meant as a joke—had traveled, Harvey wrote an extensive essay about it for Pitchfork.[15] Slate suggests the name "R-Neg-B".[16] The genre has sometimes been called "noir&B."[17][18] However, the terms are often criticized for "pigeonholing" artists into hipster subculture and being used in a derisive manner.[19][20]


Alternative R&B artist Frank Ocean performing at the Coachella Festival in 2012

Barry Walters of Spin characterizes the unconventional style as an "exchange between EDM, rock, hip hop and R&B's commercial avant-garde," and cites The Weeknd's Beauty Behind the Madness and Thursday, Miguel's Kaleidoscope Dream, Kelela's Hallucinogen, Holy Other's With U, Drake's Take Care and Kenna's Make Sure They See My Face are works associated with alternative R&B.[2]

Brandon Neasman of The Grio observes a "changing of the guard in R&B, from the smooth, cool heartthrobs to these vulnerable, off-kilter personalities" amid the prevalence of social media in society.[21] Neasman finds the subject matter of "these new-wave artists" to be more "relatable" and writes of alternative R&B's characteristics:

[A] lot of the production is echo-laden and lofty, often using a lot of synthesizers and filtered drums—sonically giving a nod to Prince's vintage '80s sound. Additionally, for the most part, it doesn't feel as if these artists are selling sex as their main entrée. Granted, they still sing about the topic, and in explicit detail, but it's in equal proportion to drugs, spirituality and personal philosophies. You don’t get that same diversity in subject matter from the majority of modern R&B singers.[21]

Hermione Hoby of The Guardian writes that "the music is quietly radical" and observes "an ongoing, mutually enriching dialogue between indie and electronic musicians and R&B artists."[11] Gerrick D. Kennedy of the Los Angeles Times feels that "the new movement feels like the most significant stylistic change in R&B since neo soul rolled around in the 1990s."[22] Janet Jackson's sixth studio album The Velvet Rope (1997) is cited as one the genres stylistic origins.[23]


Frank Ocean states that he does not like being called an "R&B" musician and he does not like being confined to one genre.[24][25] How to Dress Well was not offended by the term "PBR&B", but found it "tacky".[26] Miguel has said that he is "comfortable" with the term "indie R&B" because it "insinuates a higher art. Or a deeper or somehow more artistic delivery of rhythm and blues music. It suggests there's more artistry within a genre that has become more of a cliche of itself."[27]

Eric Harvey, the writer who coined the term, wrote a thorough response to its proliferation, at Pitchfork.[15] FKA Twigs does not like the term; she told The Guardian [28] "Fuck alternative R&B!" She finds the term racially charged: "When I first released music and no one knew what I looked like, I would read comments like: 'I've never heard anything like this before, it's not in a genre.' And then my picture came out six months later, now she's an R&B singer..." [28]

Stereogum described the genre as a "fad" that reached its saturation point in early 2014.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Indie Rock's R&B Movement Reaches Its Saturation Point". Stereogum. 
  2. ^ a b Walters, Barry (August 22, 2012). "Frank Ocean, Miguel, and Holy Other Usher in PBR&B 2.0". Spin. New York. Retrieved October 27, 2012. 
  3. ^ Phull, Hardeep (November 25, 2012). "What's that Racket?". New York Post. Retrieved January 19, 2013. 
  4. ^ Abebe, Nitsuh (August 14, 2011). "R&B Records With an Indie Affect - New York Magazine". Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  5. ^ Murray, Nick (December 21, 2011). "Underwhelmed And Overstimulated, Part IV: The Joys Of Nicola Roberts And The Problem With Odd Future - New York - Music - Sound of the City". Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  6. ^ Beasley, Corey. "The Best Producers of 2011". PopMatters. Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  7. ^ Asaph, Katherine St (December 23, 2011). "Underwhelmed And Overstimulated, Part Seven: The Sorrows (And Fantastic Sound System) Of Young Drake - New York". Sound of the City. Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  8. ^ Mitchell, Gail (June 3, 2000). "Reinventing the Real: R&B Gets Its Groove". Billboard. p. 42. 
  9. ^ "10 Unconventional R&B Acts You Should Listen To". Vibe. 
  10. ^ "Discussion: Hipster R&B Or Alternative R&B – Should The Genre Exist?". April 6, 2011. Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  11. ^ a b Hoby, Hermione (November 8, 2012). "The Weeknd: Sounds and sensibility". The Guardian. Lonkdon. section G2, p. 12. Retrieved November 8, 2012. 
  12. ^ Fennessey, Sean (March 23, 2011). "Love vs. Money: The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, and R&B's Future Shock - New York - Music - Sound of the City". Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Twitter / marathonpacks: Okay, so out of the nascent". Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  14. ^ Barshad, Amos. "Hilarious New Subgenre Alert!". Vulture. Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  15. ^ a b "I Started a Joke: "PBR&B" and What Genres Mean Now". October 7, 2013. Retrieved October 12, 2014. 
  16. ^ Voorhees, Josh. "Best music 2011: Bon Iver is unlistenable. - Slate Magazine". Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  17. ^ Merchand, Francois. "Weekend Extra: On the road again to B.C.'s summer music festivals". The Vancouver Sun. 
  18. ^ Hudson, Alex. "The Weeknd 'Beauty Behind the Madness' (album stream)". Exclaim!. 
  19. ^ Jozen Cummings (March 30, 2011). "You Say Hipster R&B, I Say Nappy-Headed Pop. Either Way, It's Offensive.". The Awl. Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  20. ^ Macpherson, Alex (March 29, 2011). "Ready for the Weeknd? Most R&B fans have better things to listen to | Music |". London: Guardian. Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  21. ^ a b Neasman, Brandon (October 4, 2012). "Changing of the guard: How Frank Ocean, Miguel and more helped R&B find its soul again". The Grio. NBC News. Archived from the original on October 26, 2012. Retrieved October 25, 2012. 
  22. ^ Kennedy, Gerrick D. (November 11, 2012). "Miguel helps lead the charge for an edgier kind of R&B artist". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 10, 2012. 
  23. ^ DJ Louie XIV (2015-06-16). "Can Janet Get a Hit?". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2016-02-25. 
  24. ^ "'The Quietus – Features – Imagery, And A Little Bit Of Satire': An Interview With Frank Ocean". November 22, 2011. Retrieved April 14, 2012. 
  25. ^ "Genre Boundaries — Who Is Frank Ocean?". Complex. Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  26. ^ Diep, Eric (September 18, 2012). "His Thoughts on the Term "PBR&B" — Who is How To Dress Well?". Complex. Retrieved September 15, 2013. 
  27. ^ Jonze, Tim (February 8, 2013). "Miguel: the slow-burn success of a new R&B superstar". The Guardian. London. The Guide section, p. 10. Archived from the original on February 9, 2013. Retrieved February 9, 2013. 
  28. ^ a b Beaumont-Thomas, Ben. "FKA twigs: 'Weird things can be sexy'". the Guardian. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 

Further reading[edit]