As streaming opened the door for hip-hop to dominate the music industry in the past few years, many executives and artists worried that R&B was getting left behind. This year, they have reasons to be hopeful.
R&B is still not nearly as big as hip-hop: It has a market share of 7.43% of overall album consumption units so far in 2020, compared with 19.17% for hip-hop, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. Yet it’s growing — by 4.64% in market share compared with this time last year. (Hip-hop’s market share grew less than 1% in the same period.) And as the genre catches up commercially, it’s having a renaissance artistically — one that’s largely powered by female singer-songwriters who are reimagining and reinterpreting its sounds for a new generation of listeners. Of the 14 releases that have reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart in 2020, nine of them have been from women.
Among them are the four cover stars of Billboard’s annual R&B/Hip-Hop Power Players issue. With her confessional relationship anthems, the casually cool Kehlani, 25, scored a career-high No. 2 debut on the Billboard 200 in May with It Was Good Until It Wasn’t. The introspective Jhené Aiko, 32, pushed her atmospheric sound to experimental places on Chilombo, which in March also had a career-best No. 2 debut. Triple threat Teyana Taylor, 29, showcased her straight-shooting modern soul on this year’s statement-making Juneteenth release The Album, which marked her first top 10 entry on the Billboard 200. And reserved newcomer Summer Walker, 24, set records with her debut LP, Over It, which scored the biggest streaming week for an R&B album by a woman last fall.