R&B Subgenres: Neo-Soul, Contemporary R&B

R&B music is a vast genre with many subgenres, isn’t it? As an avid R&B fan myself, I’ve often grappled with understanding the distinct nuances between Neo-Soul and Contemporary R&B.

Having delved into thorough research, I discovered some captivating details about these musical genres that can seem elusive to decode. This blog will serve as your reliable guide to understand their origins, influences, and distinguishable characteristics.

Ready for your deep dive into the soulful world of R&B?

Key Takeaways

  • R&B is a vast genre with various subgenres, including neo – soul and contemporary R&B.
  • Neo-soul combines classic soul sounds with grooves from other genres like hip-hop and funk. while contemporary R&B incorporates elements from pop music, jazz fusion, funk, and hip-hop soul.
  • Notable artists in the neo – soul genre include Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, and Maxwell.
  • Popular contemporary R&B artists include Beyoncé, Rihanna, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Miguel

The History of R&B

R&B music has a rich and diverse history, evolving from its roots in jazz and blues to become a genre that encompasses various subgenres, such as neo-soul and contemporary R&B.

1920s – 1940s: Jazz and Blues

The birth of R&B music traces back to the 1920s -1940s, deeply rooted in African American communities and focused on jazz and blues. This era had a significant impact on shaping what we know as rhythm and blues.

Unlike rock music, which split later, these early tunes were often driven by strong bass lines and incorporated elements like funk. A distinctive characteristic was their deep connection with human emotions, woven through poetic lyricism that appealed to everyday experiences.

The profound influence of this period is still profoundly resonant in today’s catchy R&B tracks.

1950s and 60s: The Golden Age of R&B

During the 1950s and 60s, R&B experienced its Golden Age. This era was marked by a surge in African-American artists making their mark on the music industry. The genre incorporated elements of jazz, gospel, and blues to create a distinctive sound that captivated audiences.

Iconic artists such as Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and Aretha Franklin emerged during this time, leaving an indelible mark on the history of R&B. Their soulful voices and heartfelt lyrics resonated with listeners across racial boundaries, bringing people together through the power of music.

This period also saw the rise of Motown Records, which became synonymous with R&B music thanks to its roster of talented artists like Stevie Wonder and The Supremes. The Golden Age of R&B laid the foundation for future generations to build upon, setting the stage for new subgenres like neo-soul and contemporary R&B to emerge in later decades.

1970s and 80s: Funk, Disco, and New Jack Swing

During the 1970s and 80s, R&B saw significant shifts in its sound with the rise of funk, disco, and New Jack Swing. Funk music emerged as a genre that emphasized groove and rhythm, often characterized by infectious bass lines and syncopated rhythms.

Artists like James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic became iconic figures during this era. Disco, on the other hand, took R&B into a more dance-oriented direction with its pulsating beats and glamorous aesthetic.

This period also saw the emergence of New Jack Swing, which blended R&B with hip-hop influences to create a fresh sound. Artists such as Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson heavily influenced this subgenre with their innovative use of synthesizers and electronic sounds.

The 1990s: Mainstream Contemporary R&B, Hip Hop Soul, and Neo-Soul

In the 1990s, R&B experienced a significant shift with the emergence of mainstream contemporary R&B, hip-hop soul, and neo-soul. This period saw artists infusing traditional R&B sounds with elements from other genres such as hip-hop and funk.

Contemporary R&B became more commercially successful, incorporating digital production techniques and catchy melodies. Simultaneously, hip-hop soul combined the rhythmic beats of hip-hop with soulful vocals to create a unique sound that resonated with audiences.

Neo-soul emerged as a subgenre of contemporary R&B, fusing classic soul sounds with grooves from genres like rock and electronic music. Artists like Jill Scott took listeners on a musical journey through their deep messages and poetic lyricism.

Understanding Neo-Soul

Neo-soul, a modern subgenre of contemporary R&B, combines classic soul sounds with grooves from other genres like hip-hop and funk. Discover the origins, characteristics, and popular artists of this unique and influential genre.

Read more to explore the mesmerizing world of neo-soul music.

Origins and Influences

R&B, which stands for rhythm and blues, has a rich history with origins rooted in jazz and blues music of the 1920s and 1940s. These genres heavily influenced the development of R&B, incorporating elements such as soulful vocals and catchy melodies.

As time went on, R&B began to evolve, embracing new sounds and styles from different eras like funk, disco, and new jack swing. In the 1990s, contemporary R&B emerged as a mainstream genre that combined traditional soul with elements of hip-hop.

This led to the rise of subgenres like hip-hop soul and neo-soul, which added their own unique influences to the mix. Neo-soul takes inspiration from classic soul music but also incorporates grooves from other genres like hip-hop, rock, funk, and electronic music.

Basic Characteristics of Neo-Soul Music

Neo-soul music is a subgenre of contemporary R&B that emerged in the 1990s and gained popularity in the early 2000s. It combines elements of classic soul with influences from other genres like hip-hop, rock, funk, and electronic music.

One of the key characteristics of neo-soul is its focus on deep messages and meaningful lyrics. Artists often explore personal experiences, social issues, and emotional connections through their music.

Neo-soul also has a unique sound characterized by laid-back grooves, melodic instrumentation, and smooth vocals. It infuses traditional soul elements with modern production techniques to create a fresh and innovative sound that appeals to a wide audience.

Notable neo-soul artists include Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, and Maxwell.

Popular Neo-Soul Artists

Exploring Contemporary R&B

Contemporary R&B is a genre characterized by its modern sound, driven by keyboards, synthesizers, and strong bass lines.

Basic Characteristics of Contemporary R&B

Contemporary R&B, also known as urban contemporary or simply R&B, is a subgenre of rhythm and blues that emerged in the 1980s. It incorporates elements from various genres such as pop music, jazz fusion, funk, and hip-hop soul.

The defining characteristics of contemporary R&B include catchy melodies, strong bass lines, and intricate vocal harmonies. This genre often features smooth and polished production techniques using keyboards, synthesizers, and drum machines.

Additionally, it embraces modern technology to create a sleek sound that appeals to mainstream audiences. Some popular contemporary R&B artists include Beyoncé, Rihanna, Chris Brown, and Bruno Mars.

Popular Contemporary R&B Artists

When it comes to contemporary R&B, there are several talented artists who have made a significant impact on the genre. Here are some of the most popular contemporary R&B artists:

  1. Beyoncé: Known as the Queen Bey, Beyoncé has achieved global success with her powerful vocals and empowering lyrics. She has consistently pushed boundaries within the genre and is recognized as one of the greatest R&B artists of all time.
  2. Rihanna: With her unique blend of R&B, pop, and dancehall influences, Rihanna has become a household name in the music industry. Her diverse discography showcases her versatility and undeniable talent.
  3. Frank Ocean: As a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter, Frank Ocean has gained recognition for his introspective lyrics and soulful voice. He has been praised for his ability to masterfully blend R&B with elements of alternative music.
  4. The Weeknd: With his distinct falsetto voice and dark lyrical themes, The Weeknd has captivated audiences around the world. His fusion of contemporary R&B with elements of electronic music has garnered him numerous accolades and chart-topping hits.
  5. Miguel: Known for his smooth vocals and sensuous songwriting, Miguel has made a name for himself in the contemporary R&B scene. His soulful sound and charismatic stage presence have earned him a dedicated fan base.
  6. Jhene Aiko: Jhene Aiko’s soothing voice combined with her introspective lyrics make her stand out in the contemporary R&B landscape. She effortlessly blends elements of hip hop and alternative R&B to create her signature sound.
  7. Anderson .Paak: Bringing a fresh perspective to contemporary R&B, Anderson .Paak combines soulful vocals with infectious grooves. His energetic live performances have solidified his status as one of today’s most exciting R&B acts.
  8. H.E.R.: With her emotive lyrics and soulful voice, H.E.R. has quickly become a rising star in the contemporary R&B scene. Her music showcases vulnerability and authenticity, resonating with audiences worldwide.
  9. Daniel Caesar: Known for his smooth, velvety voice, Daniel Caesar has gained recognition for his soulful blend of R&B and gospel influences. His heartfelt lyrics and captivating melodies have earned him critical acclaim.
  10. SZA: SZA’s unique sound and honest storytelling have garnered her widespread acclaim within the contemporary R&B genre. Her music effortlessly combines elements of neo-soul, alternative R&B, and pop.

The Differences Between Neo Soul and Contemporary R&B

The musical style and influences of Neo Soul and Contemporary R&B set them apart from each other.

Musical Style and Influences

The musical style and influences of Neo-Soul and contemporary R&B are what truly set these subgenres apart. Contemporary R&B is typically characterized by its smooth melodies, soulful vocals, and catchy hooks.

It often incorporates elements from various genres such as pop music, jazz fusion, funk, and hip-hop soul. On the other hand, Neo-Soul takes a more eclectic approach by blending classic soul sounds with grooves from other genres like hip-hop, rock, funk, and electronic music.

This unique fusion creates a distinct sound that is both nostalgic and cutting-edge. Some notable influences on contemporary R&B include artists like Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, and Beyoncé while Neo-Soul draws inspiration from legends like Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Jill Scott, and Maxwell. A deep understanding of these subgenres allows for an appreciation of their evolution within the broader landscape of R&B music.

Evolution and Impact

As R&B music evolved throughout the years, it made a significant impact on the music industry and popular culture. In the 1990s, contemporary R&B emerged as a mainstream genre, combining elements of soul, funk, and hip-hop.

This evolution allowed for a broader audience to connect with R&B music, leading to its commercial success and continued relevance in today’s music landscape.

Neo-soul also played a vital role in shaping the evolution of R&B. With its unique blend of classic soul sounds and influences from other genres like hip-hop and electronic music, neo-soul brought a fresh perspective to contemporary R&B.

Artists like Jill Scott embraced this subgenre’s poetic lyricism and deep messages, creating songs that resonated with listeners on a profound level.

The impact of both contemporary R&B and neo-soul cannot be understated. These subgenres not only pushed musical boundaries but also paved the way for future artists to experiment with their sound.

Their influence can still be felt in modern-day R&B as artists continue to draw inspiration from their innovative styles.

Notable Artists from Each Subgenre

When it comes to R&B subgenres, there are many notable artists who have made their mark in the music industry. Here are some standout artists from each subgenre:

  • Jill Scott: Known for her soulful voice and poetic lyricism, Jill Scott has become a prominent figure in the neo-soul movement. Her albums, such as “Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1,” have received critical acclaim for their deep messages and meaningful lyrics.
  • D’Angelo: With his smooth vocals and unique sound, D’Angelo has been praised as one of the pioneers of neo-soul. His album “Voodoo” is often regarded as a classic in the genre, blending elements of funk, soul, and R&B.
  • Erykah Badu: Erykah Badu’s soulful voice and conscious lyrics have resonated with audiences worldwide. Her debut album “Baduizm” introduced her distinctive style and earned her multiple Grammy Awards.
  • Beyoncé: One of the biggest names in contemporary R&B, Beyoncé has continuously pushed boundaries with her music. From her early hits like “Crazy in Love” to her more recent releases like “Formation,” she has showcased her versatility and powerful vocal range.
  • The Weeknd: With his atmospheric sound and introspective lyrics, The Weeknd has made a significant impact on contemporary R&B. His album “Beauty Behind the Madness” propelled him to mainstream success with chart-topping hits like “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills.”
  • Rihanna: While Rihanna is known for crossing genres throughout her career, she has had a notable influence on contemporary R&B with songs like “Diamonds” and “Work.” Her smooth vocals combined with infectious beats have made her a staple in the genre.


In conclusion, exploring the subgenres of R&B is a fascinating journey through the rich history and evolution of this influential genre. From its Jazz and Blues roots to the emergence of Neo-Soul and Contemporary R&B, each subgenre has its unique sound and impact on the music industry.

Whether you appreciate the poetic lyricism of Neo-Soul or the catchy melodies of Contemporary R&B, these subgenres continue to shape and redefine soulful music for generations to come.


What is the difference between neo-soul and contemporary R&B?

Neo-soul is a subgenre of R&B that emerged in the 1990s, characterized by its fusion of soul, jazz, funk, and hip-hop elements. It often features live instrumentation and introspective lyrics. Contemporary R&B, on the other hand, refers to modern R&B music that incorporates elements of pop, hip-hop, electronic music, and other genres.

Are there any other subgenres within the realm of R&B?

Yes, there are several other subgenres within R&B including funk/soul (which emphasizes groove-based rhythms), quiet storm (a smooth and sensual style influenced by jazz), trap soul (a fusion of contemporary R&B with trap music), alternative R&B (an experimental and genre-blending approach to R&B music), among others.

Who are some notable artists in the neo-soul genre?

Some notable artists in the neo-soul genre include Erykah Badu, D'Angelo, Jill Scott, Maxwell, Lauryn Hill, and India.Arie. These artists have had a significant impact on shaping the sound and popularity of neo-soul through their unique styles and musical contributions.

How has technology influenced contemporary R&B music?

Technology has greatly influenced contemporary R&B music by enabling producers to incorporate electronic sounds and effects into their productions. Auto-Tune became popular in contemporary R&B as well for vocal enhancements or stylistic choices. The rise of social media platforms like YouTube and SoundCloud has also allowed aspiring musicians to gain exposure without traditional record label support, resulting in more diverse voices being heard within the genre

General Facts

  1. R&B notably diverged from rock music in later decades.
  2. Contemporary R&B is often driven by keyboards, synthesizers, strong bass lines, and more.
  3. Neo-soul is a modern subgenre of contemporary R&B that combines classic soul sounds with grooves from other genres like hip-hop, rock, funk, and electronic music.
  4. Neo-soul is characterized by an unconventional sound compared to contemporary R&B and incorporates elements ranging from funk to soul music.
  5. Soul music is a bit more traditional, while R&B can be heavily influenced by dance and hip-hop, neo-soul provides a balance between the two.
  6. Some related searches include R&B artists, contemporary R&B artists, and a timeline of R&B history.
  7. Neo-soul artists are also a popular search topic.
  8. R&B music was most popular during certain periods, but it originated and evolved over time.
  9. Neo-soul is often considered a subgenre of R&B, showcasing its influence and development over the years.
  10. R&B has distinct characteristics that set it apart from other genres.

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