R&B vs Hip Hop – Similarities and Differences We Love

When it comes to R&B vs Hip Hop, what are the key similarities and differences?  Let's find out today!

R&B and hip hop have been around for decades, and while the two genres of music have similarities (and even feature artists that blend both genres quite well), each genre is highly unique unto itself.  But what are the notable differences between these two genres?  And in a battle between R&B vs Hip Hop, which one is better and why?  Well, I’m going to answer all of these questions right now.

What’s Considered R&B?

This photo was taken by Michael for Devoted to Vinyl

The name for this music style (R&B) is an abbreviation of the phrase “Rhythm and Blues.” These two elements alone have existed for decades. The “rhythm” part of R&B is where it can be hard to tell the difference from hip hop or rap music, as contemporary R&B often has elements of modern hip hop, such as heavy bass, drumbeats, and synthesizers. Listen to The Weeknd’s song “Ordinary Life,” for example, and you’ll hear a thumping bass driving the beat—something you’d expect to hear in hip hop.  

Nevertheless, when you listen to R&B music, you’re likely listening for its melody and the artist’s singing voice. R&B has evolved with the times, like most other types of music. Some iconic R&B artists range from old school singers like Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross to more contemporary singers like Brandy or Lauryn Hill or Aaliyah (you can check out my unboxing of an Aaliyah album on vinyl below). 

Contemporary R&B songs consistently reach the charts amongst pop hits. One contemporary R&B artist that comes to mind is The Weeknd. He’s known for having an impressive vocal range and has collaborated with many other famous artists. His instrumentals could be considered psychedelic with good bass. While he may dabble in rap at times, fans listen to him for the melodies he comes up with.

The History of R&B

The genre of blues music has been around for nearly a century, and was a combination of gospel music, ragtime, and music that was popular amongst white people. The origin of blues is largely accredited to Black men in the southern United States, as is R&B. R&B as a genre has existed since the 1940s, in some of the most influential American cities, like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York.

All of these cities gained a larger population of Black Americans during the ‘40s, due to the Great Migration. The furthest roots of R&B are tied to gospel music (someone like Aretha Franklin, for example, has her roots firmly planted in gospel music). In the 1950s, Rock ‘n’ Roll became the hottest genre anywhere, so many artists started combining styles to stay relevant. In the next decade, R&B separated into its own distinct style, and has been evolving ever since. 

It should also be noted that there are a lot of white male R&B singers and white female R&B singers that have made a huge name for themselves as well (from Dusty Springfield in the 60s, Teena Marie in the 80s, and even Allen Stone in present day).

My R&B Recommendations

One of my favorite contemporary R&B artists is Frank Ocean. He’s extremely talented in songwriting, producing, and singing. His vocals and lyrics are emotionally moving and thought-provoking. His music is versatile, and he has songs that could be easily enjoyable for large parties or simply vibing out at home alone.

Jhene Aiko is another contemporary artist; her music is best described as psychedelic. In fact, psychedelics have aided her along her musical journey and life. Some other R&B artists that I would recommend are Jessie Reyez, 6lack, and SZA (whose recent album SOS earned the title of being the first female album to spend 40 days at number one on US Apple Music). 

What’s Considered Hip Hop?

Is Hip Hop or R&B better?

While R&B is known for its melodic style, hip hop is typically known for being fast-paced and intense. Many people turn to hip hop music when doing activities of high intensity, like working out or getting ready for a big event. In hip hop music, writers are incredibly creative with how they get their message across. 

Hip hop songs often have colorful wordplay, and it can take a couple listens to entirely understand references, symbolism, and commentary on the state of the world. Like R&B, hip hop music also exists thanks to Black people. 

The History of Hip Hop

The roots of hip hop go back to the 1970s in New York City, and quickly grew to become a genre of music that the world has heard, and many people enjoy. What started out in the DJ and party scene in the ‘70s soon transitioned to becoming a symbol of black empowerment in the 80s thanks to artists like Queen Latifah (above) and groups like Public Enemy. 

Hip hop is always evolving, and shifted once again come the 1990s.  By then, groups like NWA were huge (and ruffling political feathers in Washington), and some were concerned that “gangsta rap” was taking over the mainstream hip hop.  And despite more “fun” artists like Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer selling tons of records, hip hop’s focus really began shifting to the likes of Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.  

By the 2000s, many sub-genres of hip hop came to life. Since its creation, hip hop has been on the rise. Many rappers have found a way to make the genre their own, like Kanye West, MF Doom, Outkast, Eminem and Kendrick Lamar. 

Each of these artists’ music easily fits into the category of hip hop; but also contains elements of other types of music, such as rock, alternative, and electronic. Some of the most recent hip hop artists include 21 Savage, Lil Uzi Vert, and Future, who all also incorporate elements from different genres into their rap music oeuvre. While modern rappers may intertwine genres in their music, the most notable part tends to be their wordplay and flow.

If you’d like to learn more about the history of Hip-Hop and Rap music, check out the recently released Smithsonian Anthology Book on the entire genre (which you can see in my video below):

My Hip Hop Recommendations

A hip hop artist that I really enjoy is Kendrick Lamar. He’s been on the map for over a decade, and much of his music deals with being a Black man in America. He writes from the heart and can make a thought-provoking piece just as well as he can create an energizing number one hit.

And often, like on a song such as “King Kunta,” he does both.  In fact, something I admire a lot about Kendrick is that despite his massive fame, he doesn’t seem to have lost himself. He is definitely a modern day musical genius.

Another hip hop artist I consider to be a genius is Mac Miller. His music has lots of jazz influence, but the focus is often his lyricism. He mainly wrote about his struggles with addiction and mental illnesses, and a common theme in Mac’s music is loneliness, yet hopeful undertones are present, in both the instrumentals and poetry.

R&B vs Hip Hop – Similarities

As mentioned, hip hop and R&B can intertwine—and often do to massive success. They both may have drumbeats, guitar riffs, and electronically produced instruments. Many artists may combine elements of both genres and could be referred to as either a singer or rapper. Both genres also were created by Black people and continue to be dominated by Black artists. Sometimes an artist’s style can seep from one genre to another.

Some R&B songs can contain elements of hip hop, and vice versa, but in the artist’s discography, certain styles are prominent. For example, 21 Savage has done many collaborations with artists who stick to a more melodic style, and has produced melodic pieces himself, but is known for his flow and heavy bass in rap music. Drake is a similar case, as he’s known for his catchy rhythms and singing voice, but has done many collaborations with artists who are more associated with hip hop than R&B. 

Kanye West has done an excellent job at meshing genres too. He is best known as being a rapper, but many of his songs have catchy choruses of singing words rather than rapping. Kanye’s influence can be found on the best Kid Cudi songs, who is a big name in R&B. At the beginning of Cudi’s career, Kanye was his mentor, and the influence is notable in his music as well. 

R&B vs Hip Hop – Differences

I find the biggest difference between these two types of music is how they make me feel. Listening to hip hop music can give you a shot of adrenaline, make you feel fearless, or making you pensive or even deeply contemplative. It’s the perfect music for trying to wake yourself up in the morning, or can be ideal for listening to when you’re working out.

Hip hop is energizing and makes me feel more productive.  You can’t listen to a track like “Self Proclaimed 4” by Dax and not feel motivated to get up and do something significant with your life.  I’d argue no other genre of music is quite this powerful.

On the other hand, R&B tends to be more relaxing, and is a great vibe for unwinding. R&B music is the perfect vibe for late night drives, stretching at the end of the day, or going for a peaceful walk. It’s excellent nighttime music, whether you’re seeking a softer love song, or you’re looking to add some sensuality to the background of your love life.

As a comparison, if R&B is ideal for for a brisk walking or light jog, hip hop is for high intensity exercises like weightlifting or long distance running. R&B is there to comfort you after a stressful time, and hip hop is there to pick you back up after the dust has settled.

Which Genre Is for You?

If you’re the kind of person who can appreciate all music, checking out the charts for either genre would present you with something new you can enjoy. If you like music to be fast-paced and exciting (maybe even to the point where you have to listen a few times to understand all of the words or hidden meanings), hip hop would be the genre best fitting for your taste. 

If you typically listen to music to unwind or escape (or perhaps you simply prefer love songs to the more raw and sometimes violent sensibilities of hip hop), then R&B music might suit you better. I find algorithms on streaming services to be very accurate, so once you find a couple songs or artists that you enjoy, you’ll sail smoothly towards finding even more music that is similar to what you’ve discovered. 

Final Thoughts

The music genres of hip hop and R&B have rich histories and talented artists that produce unique songs. In my opinion, neither is better than the other, but each can thrive for different occasions. For example, if you’re trying to please a crowd at a party, hip hop music should be your go-to.

If it’s a more low-key meet-up with a few friends, R&B music might fit better. In the end, whether you roll with R&B or Hip Hop music, you’ll have a great time because there’s just so many talented artists out there—both past and present.

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