As the evolution of Hip-Hop continues to ascend into higher heights in the music industry, it seems that R&B is slowly but surely losing its soulful edge and assimilating more into the Hip-Hop genre. These days the rappers are "singing", and the singers are trying to rap. The question is, what happened along the way? We do some digging to answer that question.
In the '90s the rap and R&B scenes had really emerged in to their own distinctiveness. The R&B scene was dominated by acts like Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, Aaliyah, SWV, Ginuwine, Mariah Carey, Brandy and Monica and many many more. Although frequently featured on hip-hop records singing the hook, artists of this genre were still able to maintain their soulful sound and be acknowledged as bonafide R&B acts. The general theme of R&B songs back then were the painful ups and downs of breakups, as well as the need for love. Same goes with hip-hop artists of that era. Rappers like 'Pac, Biggie, Nas, Jay-Z, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep and DMX were usually releasing gritty, hard-core street anthems that related to the struggles of surviving out of the hood. As the new millennium arrived, the first clear integration of hip-hop and R&B surfaced. Rappers were beginning to "sing" the hooks on their own records, then eventually singing throughout the entire record. Who was the breakout artist to popularize this trend in hip-hop? None other than Murder Inc's own Ja Rule.
Remember when Ja had hood anthems like "Holla Holla", "It's Murda" and "Murda 4 Life" off of his debut album Venni Vetti Vecci? If not, you have some research to do. However, when his sophomore album Rule 3:36 was released Ja Rule switched the game up with a new style of hip-hop. His singles "Between Me and You" featuring Christina Milian and "Put It On Me" featuring Lil' Mo & Vita clearly demonstrated Ja Rule's crossover appeal. Ja was singing right alongside these women, and singing quite well. The success of these two singles allowed Rule 3:36 to be certified 3x platinum by the RIAA. Ja had a winning formula on his hands. From that point on Ja continued to collaborate with more R&B singers on his records, as well as singing on tracks all by himself. His third album Pain is Love was also certified 3x platinum by the RIAA. This album featured more of Ja's vocal ability. Records that his vocals are featured on include: "Livin' It Up" featuring Case, "Always On Time" featuring Ashanti, "Down Ass Bitch" featuring Charli Baltimore, and "I'm Real" featuring Jennifer Lopez. Ja had the game on lock with his sing/rap formula in the early 2000s. In spite of his success, he definitely had some critics who weren't feeling his style...at first. It was no secret that 50 Cent and Ja weren't the best of friends during that time. Their beef had to be one of the most publicized beefs in hip-hop history. During their feud, 50 criticized Ja for singing on tracks instead of rapping. Ironically, later on 50 went on to do the same exact thing when his career jumped off. 50 must have conveniently forgotten his remarks on Ja Rule because his tracks "Many Men", "Candy Shop", "Window Shopper", "Best Friend", "If I Can't", and of course "21 Questions" feature 50 clearly singing on the hook.
The singing/rapping trend continued to flourish with the lines becoming even more blurred in the mid-2000s with the new use of auto-tune. Auto-tune had been used in the past by some artists, but it became extremely popular when T-Pain made his debut in 2005. T-Pain originally started out as a rapper, but chose to go the singing route when he got put on. Hence the title of his debut album: Rappa Ternt Sanga. Even though T-Pain primarily sang on a lot of his records, he was good for a rhyme or two on his own tracks and tracks that he was featured on. Due to his popularity and success from his auto-tuned tracks, many artists began to follow suit, with more rappers trying their hand at the "singing" game, including 50 Cent & G-Unit (Rider), Ron Browz, Young Berg, Lil' Wayne and Kanye West. Kanye was one who really embraced the whole auto-tune revolution. Almost every song on his fourth studio album 808s & Heartbreak featured the use of auto-tune. 808s is probably the first time we heard Kanye's vulnerable side through his vocals. Although 808s received mixed reviews at the time of its release, many can agree that this album heightened the sing/rap genre, and is now considered one of his best efforts. Some Hip-Hop enthusiasts even attribute Drake's mixtape So Far Gone as being influenced by 808s & Heartbreak (Drake himself has stated to MTV News that Kanye West was "the most influential person" in shaping his sound).
You can't speak about the blurred lines between hip-hop and r&b without mentioning the Canadian superstar Drizzy. Although he starred in the teen show "Degrassi", the world can say that they truly gained a fondness to Drake when he released his So Far Gone mixtape in 2009. The single "Best I Ever Had" featured both of his singing and rap skills, which set the format for a great amount of his songs. Today, you can hear Drake both singing the hook and having a rap verse as a feature on many of the top hip-hop songs that are charting ("that's why every song sound like Drake featuring Drake"). Signed to the Young Money Entertainment label, Drake's style seemed to have influenced a few of his label mates' sound as well. The most note-worthy being Lil Waye and Nicki Minaj, who have also graced the charts with records featuring the singing/rapping phenomenon.
Although many rappers have gone the singing route on their records, some singers in the game have tried their hand at rapping too. Remember Black-Ty? If you're not familiar with the name, it was R&B singer Tyrese's alter-ego when rapping. In 2006 he released a double album entitled Alter Ego, which was a double-disc album. One disc featured him singing, while the other showcased his rapping skills. Trey Songz is another singer who raps from time to time. His rap name is (perhaps unofficially) "Trigga Trey", and he is arguably not that bad of a rapper. What many don't know is that Trey was originally a rapper before choosing to sing. He has released mixtapes such as #LemmeHolDatBeat and #LemmeHolDatBeat2 that definitely showcase his bars. Chris Brown has also displayed some rapping ability. A lot of his bars an be heard on his Boy In Detention mixtape. Chris Brown has stated that he's not a rapper, and none of his raps should be taken seriously; but it's still interesting to know that he can both sing and rap should he so desire.
Presently the lines between Hop-Hop and R&B are extremely blurred. Some of the songs released are hard to distinguish whether it is a rap record or an R&B song. With that being said, some rap songs are more emotional these days while some R&B songs are hardcore and gritty to the max. With the emergence of artists like August Alsina, Rico Love and Future, the lines between the two genres are continuing to be unclear. A few years from now will the merge between the genres be a sub category of Hip-Hop and/or R&B, or will it all fall under one umbrella making both genres obsolete? No one can be certain, but the days when rap was rap and R&B was R&B may be missed by many music aficionados. Are you one such aficionado, or are you enjoying the blurred lines?