Billboard Launches R&B Music Chart: Will It Promote Division?

R&B as a genre may be gaining ground in a world where many have said the genre is faltering in recent years.

Billboard has launched a chart solely for R&B songs, which will separate the genre from the previous R&B/Hip-Hop chart, and will follow the same filing as the Hot 100 List, which tallies radio play, physical, and digital sales. (The previous R&B/Hip-Hop chart was based solely on radio play when physical singles became obsolete.)

Billboard Director of Charts Silvio Pietroluongo said in a statement, “We’re proud to be offering updated genre charts that better reflect the current music landscape as well as a new R&B Songs chart that finally shines a spotlight solely on core R&B acts like Frank Ocean, John Legend and Anthony Hamilton.”

However, the change has been met unhappily by many music lovers who say that the change leaves out true R&B/soul artists by grouping them with other black or urban artists who make pop music (Rihanna, Flo-Rida for Hip-Hop). For example, Rihanna’s “Diamonds” shot to #1 on the R&B chart this week, when the song isn’t being played on R&B/urban radio, yet Brandy’s “Put It Down” went from #3 on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart to #16 on the R&B chart after the changes.

The debate stems all the way back to when “R&B” was a new name given to what was called “race music,” which were records intended for distribution in African-American communities only because it was defined as African-American pop music; a sound developed by African-Americans that combines blues and jazz, characterized by a strong backbeat and repeated variations of musical phrases. Billboard Magazine writer Jerry Wexler coined the term “R&B” in 1949 as a name for the black music chart, so the racial grouping of music is ingrained in the history of recorded music distributions and Billboard traditions, and has always been a subject of controversy and debate.

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