DISCUSSION: HIPSTER R&B or ALTERNATIVE R&B – SHOULD THE GENRE EXIST?

I’ve been having this discussion with myself for about 2 years now, and with the emergence of some new talents this year, fuel has been added to the fire. I was inspired by this recent piece on The AWL by blogger/writer Jozen Cummings that specifically narrowed in on Frank Ocean and The Weeknd (two emerging artists we featured this year). It basically discusses their artistry and asks the question, should they be considered R&B, and or, are they R&B artists at all?


A new term “hipster R&B” has begun to float around, and this really annoys me. Just as the term “hipster rap” did when that started being used. Hell, the word “hipster” irks me in general!

I’m becoming sick of simple genres, and the segregation fans and critics put on music. In 2011, when there is nothing new under the sun, except what is being devised in Apple’s secret labs, do we still need to put a defining label on our avant-garde artists?

I’m also sick of all the consistent talk of “bringing the real R&B back” or “getting back to when music had feelings”. Who are you people?? This is now the exact same closed-minded nonsense that was brought up about Hip-Hop when every 80’s and 90’s raised kid was going around saying Hip-Hop is dead, and we gotta get back to the “real hip-hop”. Everything is cyclical, and the same goes for music. Not to get to far into the Hip-Hop discussion but the same facts apply to these ideas for R&B! Everything has been done! The genres are so large now they need sub-genres. If a form of expression doesn’t evolve it will die. If you want to remain close-minded go right ahead, you will end up angry and bored. There is a reason we are so attached to the music we grew up on. Music affects us deeply; we attach emotion and experience to it. Whether good or bad, these experiences connected us to the music we were listening to, or heard first, during those times. So, the best artist, album or music is different to everyone.

Now if some music critic, blogger, DJ or record label exec wants to say, you can’t call this artist R&B, or this artist is R&B, when you don’t feel that way, ask them this, “does it really matter?” Certainly race should have no bearing on it right? Well, it probably does, but it shouldn’t! R&B stands for Rhythm and Blues. In regards to Frank Ocean and The Weeknd, both black, singer/songwriters, clearly they make Rhythm and Blues music, but it isn’t just that. This is where I bring the term “Alternative” up. Specifically they were influenced by Rock, Pop, Soul, Hip-Hop and they incorporate these diverse styles into their own unique works. Frank Ocean’s mixtape/album Nostalgia, ULTRA is like the jambalaya of his Louisiana roots, and The Weeknd hails from Toronto, one of the most diverse cities in the world.

Today’s crop of artists grew up in the era of MTV, and TRL, a platform for all genres of music to be heard. So what if it was considered only mainstream, kids got a taste of the basic spectrum, and then forged their own tastes. When DJ’s like Mark Ronson, AM and Cassidy stormed the scene in the early/mid 2000’s they foreshadowed a changing of music, and fan influences, by their diverse cross-genre sets and self-made mash-ups.

We may be witnessing the formation of new genres of R&B happening, and I applaud this. And it’s not just with Frank Ocean and The Weeknd. If Chris Brown and Taio Cruz are considered only Pop artists, why is R&B their main inspiration? They have absorbed that influence, to create who they are as artists; and it isn’t gone. Same with Robin Thicke and Adele, are they R&B or “blue-eyed soul”? That term is so unnecessary its absurd. How about newcomers, Mateo and Timothy Bloom? Their sound is eclectic, but it’s also very influenced by R&B. Because they don’t make the “typical” form of Rhythm and Blues should we totally cast them out of the genre?

We need change in genres to keep it fresh and exciting. How many times can the same sounds, cords, melody and lyrics be used before we are tired with it? I say listen to it all! Maybe you will be surprised you like something you didn’t expect to. After all, we’ve all shared many of the same experiences. Maybe you will connect to something unexpected.

Now, What do you think?



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  • Sonick

    I think seperation of r&B comes from fans who don’t like particular artist or particular music and try to seperate it. same thing with rap music, when nas came out and said hip hop is dead everybody and their momma started to blame soulja boy because his music didn’t “sound” exactly like nas’s music so that created an issue.. so when you have new artist like frank ocean who delivers music that differs from the current standard it will get seperated till it becomes the norm…. the one thing i learned from frank’s music is it doesn’t contain the overused synth arpeggeos like other rnb songs. its more of a organic feel which right now isn’t being done.

  • kambani

    its all R’n’B, just different takes on it using different sounds..If u carefully listen to The Weeknd, he sounds and sings like Sam Salter(google that), an artist once affiliated to Babyface….

  • http://rnblova.com RnBLova

    It is all R&B. To be honest our generation(25 & older) got spoiled because we came up during the 90’s. Its was the last dominating era of R&B(at least for now). To say theres no good R&B is a slap to the face of Anthony Hamilton, Jill Scott, Maxwell, Ne-Yo, Chris Brown and everyone else. We look at the Temptations and The Supremes as R&B/Soul legends but the poeple of their time considered them pop. R&B is going through the same transition as Rock. If you remember those were the two dominating genres of music. If you notice they are the two largest touring genres right now. What i will say is that there is a severe lack of strong male voices in mainstream R&B. The women are holding it down (J-Hud, Chrisette, J. Sullivan, Jill Scott, etc.). We need the guys to step it up.

  • Wexx

    I totally agree, and I said the same exact thing to Brian today how R&B and Hip-Hop are so much like Rock now in their subcategories. But, it’s almost like the fans don’t want to give the genre a chance to expand. I guess no one likes change, but its gonna happen either way.

  • http://www.tooprettyforporn.com deLUXE ofTooPrettyforPorn

    It’s definitely time to expand the labels… to do away with them completely and start over if you ask me; i know – that will never happen.

    Since words are sign posts, I think new sub-genres will create inroads to new worlds.
    I fall somewhere new, I’m in between, I’m afro-gothic, and have a hard time finding my audience when “R&B”, whether you like it or not, currently conjures up visions of sameness, tired melodies, tired themes, and those awful runs.

    Erykah, Jill, Bilal, Van Hunt and their ilk excluded, of course… but you know I’m not talking about the exceptions. I’m about the auto-tune philistines.

  • http://www.tooprettyforporn.com deLUXE ofTooPrettyforPorn

    …However “HIPSTER R&B” is just stupid.

  • ptrglvr

    the weeknd owns; don’t hate.

  • http://thefedsfiles.blogspot.com/ The Feds Files

    All valid points. All that should remain is good music, and at the end of the day that’s what will survive, at least be happy for.

  • Jambob

    Our music is an eclectic collaboration of all the rhythms and tones that we love as we grow and expand our melodical repertoires, and introduce the world to our own takes on, or interpretations of how we feel.
    There is only stupidity in categorising artists. Only folly in focusing on one element of their characters.
    The beat is our easel, and our inspirations, our pallets.

    Don’t tie anyone down with such nonsensical divulgences. It is merely policing expression, and we all know that the police just spoil our fun :)

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