R&B emerged in America during the late 1980s with artists such as Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston. Contemporary R&B artists include artists like Rihanna and Usher.

It is sometimes known as urban R&B. It is not to be confused with earlier R&B (rhythm and blues), a style of African-American music combining jazz and blues which emerged in the 1940s.

R&B singer Rihanna performs
Rihanna is an R&B artist

Urban R&B combines elements of soul and hip-hop.

It often uses these elements:

  • tight drum programming
  • lush disco-influenced string sounds
  • slick production techniques
  • lush vocal arrangements often with close harmonies
  • hip-hop influences

Close harmony is where the notes of a chord are close together rather than spread over a wide range.

R&B is characterised by soul-influenced acrobatic vocals.

The vocals are often:

  • semi-improvised – created according to the mood of the moment
  • melismatic – more than one note per syllable
  • virtuosic – demanding a high level of technical skill


In the song Stay by Eternal they make use of melismatic vocals and the use of programmed drum rhythms.