10 Years On: The Legacy of R&B after the death of Aaliyah

Aaliyah was believed to be the sole person responsible for aiding the rise and resilient popularity of R&B in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Today marks the 10 year anniversary since the passing of the American R&B singer who was tragically taken away from us in a horrific plane crash.

From her death in 2001, to 2003, Aaliyah continued to receive posthumous awards as well as sustained recognition from peers and fans regarding her self-titled final album. In the category of R&B artist, Aaliyah was nominated for Grammy Awards, Billboard Music Awards, MOBO Awards, BET Awards, Soul Train Awards, Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, American Music Awards, World Music Awards and MTV Europe Music Awards.

Since Aaliyah’s untimely departure, the world of rhythm and blues as we know it has dramatically altered. Although R&B is typically associated with hip-hop, it has been a long time since the two synonymous genres have raised to prominence.

While artists, such as Alicia Keys, enjoyed tremendous success for her debut album, Songs in A Minor, in 2001 and her subsequent releases The Diary of Alicia Keys, As I Am and The Element of Freedom, she was named by Billboard Magazine as the Top R&B Recording Artist from 2000-2009. However, over the years, Alicia Keys has progressed to blending R&B with hints of pop, soul, jazz and adult contemporary.

Although it wasn’t as much of an impact in the music industry, veteran Mary J. Blige has also maintained a significant stature in the world of R&B during the noughties era, as well as other US singers such as Amerie, Brandy, Monica, Keyshia Cole, Faith Evans, Tamia and more recently, Janelle Monae.

However, an artist that I failed to mention until now is Beyoncé. Although she may be regarded as an “R&B” artist, she is placed along the established likes of Janet Jackson, Toni Braxton, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston as they border between the fields of pop, adult contemporary and R&B.

After watching “The Year of 4”, a 20 minute documentary based on Beyoncé which delves into her personal journey from her year-long break from the music industry to the making of her upcoming album, 4, we see (and hear) that she is a changed woman. With songs, such as “The Best Thing I Never Had,” being more of a pop song and “Run the World (Girls)” being potentially and arguably mistaken for a dance number, it’s hard to pinpoint whether Beyoncé still remains wholly under the genre of R&B – especially when she was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 2011 Grammy Awards for her live version of “Halo”.

As a new generation of female R&B artists begin to emerge, starting with 23-year-old Rihanna, who is technically classified under the category of R&B, she is considered to be likened to the musical style of Beyoncé, in the way they prefer to experiment with various types of musical genres, including urban pop, reggae, and dance.

With the public in favour of pop music (see: Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Kesha), it begs the question of whether the genre of R&B is in danger of losing its popularity, along with its authenticity, demonstrated by Beyoncé and Rihanna.

Has the rise of gimmicky music overshadowed the origins of R&B and loosely determined what makes an artist from the R&B genre? Has R&B died along with Aaliyah?

Only time will tell…