The 80s were an amazing time for R&B. From the explosive fashion, to the new emphasis on contemporary R&B, the decade was stacked with amazing group talents. Moreover, the success of the time helped to ignite an even greater popularity by the time the 90s came around. From New Edition, to the soulful crooners of Atlantic Starr, these are the seven best groups that helped shape R&B in the 80s.
New Edition are a staple of 80s R&B. They initially began as a modern rendition of the superstar group, the Jackson 5. However, it didn't take long for them to establish their own unique sound and look. In fact, many people consider them to be the “original boy band.” The group, which is still active today, consists of Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Bobby Brown, Ronnie DeVoe, Johnny Gill, and Ralph Tresvant. Some of their most iconic songs include “Mr. Telephone Man” and “Candy Girl.” New Edition is arguably the most popular R&B group of the 80s, and have since been inducted into the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame.
The Gap Band
The Gap Band was named after the Greenwood, Archer, and Pine streets in Tulsa Oklahoma. Formed by the Wilson brothers: Charlie, Ronnie, and Robert, the Gap Band was known for their dance beats and high-energy songs. This was best exemplified in songs such as “Outstanding” and “You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” becoming quick staples of the 80s R&B scene.
DeBarge initially started with just three of the DeBarge brothers. However, in the decade that they were active, different members of the family joined the band. As a result, they evolved into creating fuller sounds and melodies, garnering a booming fanbase. At the height of their fame, they released their fourth album, Rhythm Of The Night. The title track went on to become their most popular song to date, hitting the third spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
Despite a rotating roster of band members, Atlantic Starr was one of the dominant R&B groups of the 80s with hit after hit. They are most known for their immaculate single, “Always,” which peaked atop the Billboard Hot 100. Furthermore, their catalog of hits also includes songs like “Secret Lovers,” which made the top 10 in both the US and UK, and “Masterpiece.” Overall, their romantic and soulful R&B won them a diverse fanbase, during the 80s, and beyond.
Mary Jane Girls
The Mary Jane Girls were a girl group formed by Rick James in 1983. Though their career only lasted five years, they were able to make a big impact in a little time. Songs like “In My House“ and “All Night Long” became fan favorites. Beyond the music, Mary Jane Girls was also known for the unique individual styles of its members. Rick James famously cast each member of the group as a character archetype, including: the street girl, the model, the cheerleader, and the dominatrix.
Read More: 7 Of The Best '90s R&B Groups
Lisa Lisa And Cult Jam
Lisa Velez’s booming vocals and general mystique were at the front and center of the success of Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam. The band was put together by Full Force after Velez auditioned for them and they realized that they couldn’t let her talent go. Throughout the 80s, they released R&B hit after hit. This includes their debut single “I Wonder If I Take You Home,” which was an instant chart-topper, to later hits like “Head To Toe,” and "Lost In Emotion.”
Cameo’s music incorporated sounds of funk, disco, Hip Hop and R&B, setting them apart from their peers. They found mainstream success in the late 70s with tracks like “I Just Want To Be,” and rode that success into the 1980s. Cameosis, their fifth album, topped the R&B charts and was their second album to be certified Gold. After the success of the album, they began to churn out Gold-certified albums like no man’s business. They have continued to refine their sound through the years.