By: Jason Clark

Spoiler alert…. Right from the jump we’ll let you know, it was pretty bad; as in practically historically bad.

And I know what you are going to say, R&B isn’t dead. The 2010s brought us Lemonade, channel ORANGE, Ego Death, Reality Show, House of Balloons and A Seat at the Table, just to name a couple, so how could R&B be dead?

New artists broke through like Daniel Caesar, SZA, PartyNextDoor and HER so how could R&B be dead?

Chris Brown dropped an album every year it seems with 60 songs and Beyonce literally changed the game so how could R&B be dead?

Dead or alive, that is the question that has been facing many over the past few years as with all things on social media the question constantly pops up with regularity about the state of R&B.

Most of the arguments/points being made towards either side have to do a lot with the quality of the songs being produced themselves around singing, production and writing. And let’s be frank, either side can be right because all of those things are pretty subjective.

So we decided to take an analytical view of it, lets get out of the subjective and look at R&B’s performance in the mainstream for the 2010s. To do this we are looking at its performance on the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard 200 charts, it doesn’t really get much more mainstream than that. Yes we are aware of chart issues throughout history but unfortunately it is really the only data source we have to present a comparable “mainstream” portrait.

Here’s what we found:

Looking at the Top 40 of the Hot 100 R&B across the 2010s (2010 – 2019) maintained an average share of the Top 40 at 10.74%. When looking at the Top 10 of the Hot 100 R&B maintained an average share of 12.3%. And for the top spot of the chart the decade averaged 15.3%. In an album perspective on the Top 200 chart the 2010s averaged a 7.93% share.

So you may be asking what’s so bad about those numbers… well pretty much everything. Those averages are the lowest mainstream performance averages for R&B in any decade since the 1960s. R&B in a mainstream sense hadn’t performed this badly since the rock & roll days of civil rights, the space race, and the original Woodstock festival. In the 60s the average R&B share of the Top 10 was 13.92% and of the Top 10 15.98%. Let that sink in. We are talking about an era with Jim Crow, payola & dances and concerts that were heavily segregated depending on where you lived. And while today has its own issues I’m sure we can all agree it was a different era then and yet arguably R&B had a greater impact in that era than lately.

But wait… There’s more!

Forget looking at the decade as a whole, let us look at each year individually. When we look at the 10 worst years for R&B performance on the top spot of the chart 5 of them come from the 2010s, 1 comes from the 80s, 2 come from the 60s, and one each from the 00s and 20s. The 10 worst individual years for R&B in the Top 10 features 4 years from each of the 10s & the 60s with 2 years from the 20s rounding it out. The 2010s makes up 8 of the worst years for Top 40 performance and Top 200 albums performance. Overall 8 years from the 2010s make up the
worst years for R&B performance in the mainstream.

But wait… there’s more… (hopefully you caught this reference)

Hopefully you’ve asked yourself “well what are these guys at You Know I Got Soul considering R&B?”

Very valid question as we know the lines are getting blurred more so now than ever. That started in the 2000s but certainly became more of an issue in the 2010s. Here is the answer to that question; we tried to count as much as possible as R&B. We really tried to set the table/stack the deck and give the 2010s as much favor and grace as possible to produce its best results. So for our purposes that included some songs and projects from the likes of Ariana Grande, Bruno Mars, & Justin Timberlake. We didn’t count everything en masse from these
artists but some certain selections like JTs 20/20 Experience or Bruno’s 24K Magic. Certainly there are some who wouldn’t count these as R&B under any circumstance, which is fine. Just know that because we took such a wide approach when gathering the data that if you choose to ignore these projects or artists that the numbers for the 2010s get even worse.

Heck there are some even here (looking at you Tom) who don’t want to count Rihanna’s contributions during the decade (which would devastate the numbers as she was carrying things for a bit). Add on top of that because of how the Hot 100 began to incorporate streaming numbers during the 2010s all we have to do is look at a chart to tell you when we lost Prince, Michael, Whitney or that it is the Christmas season. This brings up a question of do we count older work reappearing on the chart (we did) but lets just say you don’t think it should… yup you
guessed it, the 2010s gets even darker.

So just how bad was the 2010s for R&B, well as we told you in the beginning it was historically bad and it could actually be a lot worse. I’m sure some are still balking at that statement despite all the data. But it’s ok, please do prove us wrong with something other than an opinion, we are always here for good discussion.

R&B as a genre is very much alive (wait but you just said things are bad) yes we did but two things can be true at the same time. The amount of music released during the last 3-4 years almost equals the amount of music released from say 1960 to 2018ish (based on Spotify’s data of daily song uploads to the platform). That’s lowkey insane that a 3-4 year output has equaled almost 60 years worth. Certainly as fans are aware or unaware (that’s a discussion in itself) there is a lot of R&B being released for people to listen to but it is certainly not making the impact some of us are used to the genre having. So while the genre is very much alive…. As far as the mainstream is concerned and its impact there R&B is certainly in the grave (RIP).

This isn’t just an R&B problem though, “mainstream culture” in itself has taken some big hits in this streaming and personalized experience era (again that’s a discussion for another day).

But for those of us who have lived and experienced the days when R&B had actual impact beyond one’s own personal experiences with the music… it just aint the same.