R&B is one of the most important genres in music. The term Rhythm and Blues was coined by music journalist turned music producer, Jerry Wexler. He is an integral part of signing and/or producing acts such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and many more. From then, R&B has evolved to subgenres such as contemporary R&B, new jack swing, neo-soul, alternative R&B, etc. So many different artists have come from the genre, but very few have been able to impact. Whether they had a classic album, timeless song, incredible choreography, or an influential taste in fashion. These R&B legends deserve all the recognition and praise for being influential in the game. I asked four good friends of mine to give their list of artists who deserve their flowers. In this first edition, I ask music journalist, Wongo, to give me his five most influential R&B artists of all time.
She is the blueprint for much of the sound that we have in R&B today. She’s an easy pick for me because when you ask a lot of the newer R&B acts what their influences are; you’re going to hear her name.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the way that album is constructed, and how it has lived through generations of music puts her up there for me. No matter when you were born or the first time you listened to it, once you pick it up and press play, it gets ranked as one of the best albums you’ve heard. The same goes for me. Also, it’s undeniable once you throw in her work with the Fugees and her Unplugged album. Her debut album is a beautiful and flawless body of work.
Brown Sugar is one of my favorite R&B albums. It’s super well-composed and the same goes for Voodoo. Unfortunately, D’Angelo is another one of those acts who didn’t put out music at a consistent rate. However, the impact of his first two albums is still seen and you can see it in artists who are stylistically, whether it’s sonically or aesthetically, like him. Also, when I say stylistically or sonically, the first person who comes to mind is Phabo. He’s a new and fresh act out of San Diego. When you just look at him, you can just see the D’Angelo influence there and it’s even more obvious when you listen to the music. You can go further than that with someone like Pink Sweat$ who is a more acoustic and stripped-down version of him. There’s just so much more in that Neo Soul world and when you make that family tree, you know there’s a lot of branches under D’Angelo.
Janet is someone I slept on when I was young. However, once I finally dived into her catalog, studied it, and saw her live, her influence was a lot more clear to me. One of the biggest ways for me to know if someone is very influential is how their music is used throughout generations. When I mentioned Aaliyah, we’ve seen her music sampled and interpolated through several artists so the influence and legacy are there. The same goes for Janet when it comes to being sampled and interpolated. However, even her music itself is phenomenal. Velvet Rope, Control, Janet, and All For You are prime examples of that. Janet also really played a big role in making R&B music naughty. You can see that influence in today’s R&B, especially with women. She is very much slept on in terms of what she’s contributed to R&B. She deserves a lot more praise for it, but if you know you know and once you know it, it’s very obvious.
Mary J. Blige
Mary J. is one of the most amazing vocalists we have. She’s put out amazing bodies of work that have dove into love and heartbreak in unique and phenomenal ways. You look at her album, My Life, and there’s no question that you have to rank her music and contributions very high. She was putting out music that was turning heads. She has a longevity that I wish some of the other acts that I mentioned would’ve had. What’s the 411?, My Life, and Share My World are classics. There’s no doubt about Mary J. for me.
Check out all of his work on his website