In December, the singer Jacquees declared himself the “King of R&B” for his generation, eliciting a string of dismissive reactions from luminaries like P. Diddy and Keith Sweat. The debate was silly: Not long ago, people were declaring R&B dead, and there is no pure singer right now putting up hits consistently enough for royalty status. But the reaction to the debate was important — people cared, a lot, about R&B, in a way they hadn’t for a long time.
That’s also reflected in the new year-end report published on Thursday by BuzzAngle, which tracks music consumption data: There was healthy growth in listening for both R&B songs and albums in 2018.
The genre accounted for 11.2 percent of all track consumption in 2018, up from 9.5 percent in 2017. R&B’s song listenership is expanding rapidly enough — up 19.7 percent between 2016 and 2017 — to outpace fast-growing Latin music and close quickly on rock. In fact, rock songs consumption plummeted from 19.8 percent in 2017 to 11.7 percent in 2018; if this pattern continues, that means that R&B songs may become the third most-popular by 2020, trailing only singles in rap and pop.
But it’s not just a singles market for R&B: The genre also accounted for 10.6 percent of all album consumption in 2018, up from 8.7 percent the year before. Statistics like that help genres achieve wider recognition. It’s probably not a coincidence that two separate R&B albums, H.E.R.’s H.E.R. and Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer, are in the running for Album of the Year at the 2019 Grammys. The genre hasn’t pushed two full-lengths into that category since Usher and Alicia Keys in 2005, back when the genre was a reliable commercial force.
“It’s so crazy how just a year or two ago, all the record companies were saying R&B is finished, encouraging younger artists not to sing R&B anymore,” says Jeff Robinson, who once managed Alicia Keys and now manages H.E.R. “People were telling me that in meetings, but I was going to these R&B shows full of people. And it’s hard to deny when someone has a ton of streams: There’s a market for it. Now it’s R&B’s turn. There’s no talk about it being dead anymore.”
Note: PMC has a controlling share in BuzzAngle.