From its advent as a catchall term for African-American secular songs, to its most contemporary form as delivered by the likes of Summer Walker, Giveon, Sza, and others, Rhythm and Blues has always pulled the heartstrings of listeners around the world. The genre is ”characterized by impassioned vocals, relatable lyrics, and a focus on the backbeat.” Although it has historically been used to deliver messages of political injustice and struggle for freedom, contemporary R&B largely focuses on the themes of love and relationship. So profound is this fact that fifteen of the songs on Billboard’s list of the “50 Best Love Songs of the 21st Century”, six in the top ten, are R&B songs, by R&B artists or categorized under derivative genres. This utility as a tool to translate piercing emotions, and the popularity of its artists has boosted its popularity and spread across the world.
During the 2000s, a British version of contemporary R&B garnered increasing acclaim. By the late 2000s, the success of British female acts such as Adele and Amy Winehouse, whose work drew inspiration from soul and R&B, sparked talks of an “R&B British invasion.” The story is similar in Nigeria. R&B is one of the strongest offshoot branches of African-birthed music. From the era of Plantashun Boiz, P-square, and Styl-Plus, through Wande Coal, Banky W, and Darey Art Alade, to the emergence of new-generation stars like Fireboy DML and Oxlade, Rhythm and Blues remains a vital thread in the rich tapestry of Nigeria’s pop sound.
However, with the dominance and massive focus on “Afrobeats” in Nigeria, R&B has momentarily taken a backseat. Artistes are ditching their R&B roots and embracing more mainstream sounds. Successful R&B songs are frequently tagged and marketed as Afrobeats hits. It is against this backdrop that singer-songwriter, RnB Princess and a few other friends started the 234 RnB community. As she recalls it, “A year ago, I was preparing to release my debut EP and I just remembered how hard it was putting that together. It made me realise just how seclusionary the genre was from the rest of the industry. In a conversation with my Co-Founder and some guys, we just decided that we have to take matters into our own hands and create the support system to enable our sound. It’s still so surreal to me that that conversation was the spur of 234RnB.”
234RnB is a community of R&B artists and connoisseurs dedicated to amplifying the music, and culture of the R&B/Soul scene in Nigeria. The community was founded by Princess Okoh (RnB Princess), Osaretin Aigbekaen (Nova), an artiste manager, and Chinedu Anatune (Dooski), a professional in sound engineering, talent management and event curation. It is currently made up of artistes, producers, songwriters, singers, instrumentalists, and RnB lovers. According to the founders, it is a very open, inclusive and collaborative community. “We’re still in our early days, as such we just have interested volunteers handling specific roles or projects, both locally and remotely.” In addition, they ensure that everyone benefits from available opportunities and try to extend the community’s reach to artists and creators of all levels across the country.
The community organizes a monthly event tagged: RnB Night. The event features performances from some of Nigeria’s most exciting RnB artistes. They also, recently, released their first collaborative single as a collective, a Christmas single titled, “Hope We See You This Christmas”, featuring EMK the Genie, RnB Princess, & Givens. The release was a precursor to their Christmas project, “Christmas < U”, released on the 14th of December.
The founders’ decision to establish a community centered around local R&B music was fueled by a combination of personal connection and market awareness. For Princess, “R&B is in her DNA.” As a kid, she bonded with her dad over music by Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Michael Jackson, Anita Baker, Boney M, and Kool & the Gang. She sees R&B as the “most beautiful genre in the world” and noticed that many hit R&B songs were often misclassified as Afrobeats. Nova, on the other hand, identified a market for R&B music through his experience as an artiste manager, and 234RnB serves as the ideal platform connecting these talented artists with eager listeners.
The emergence of the collective is coming at an interesting time for R&B in Africa. Spotify reports that the genre is undergoing a resurgence across the African continent, “with an average year-on-year growth of 133% on the platform.” It further revealed that South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Zambia, and Uganda registered top R&B listenership. Interestingly, most of the R&B streams in SSA were reported to come from Gen Z’s aged between 18-24, followed by 25-29-year-olds. Despite the dominance of Afrobeats and Amapiano, R&B is gathering massive appeal in the continent, especially among its boisterous young population.
While R&B has traditionally been characterized by its soulful melodies and themes of love and relationships, African artists are giving the genre a unique twist by infusing it with their own cultural and musical influences.SPOTIFY
Without doubt, the Afrobeats movement has impacted the R&B scene in Nigeria both positively and negatively. “Negatively in the sense that a lot of great R&B songs and artistes get re-classified as Afrobeats when they enter mainstream. Positively in the sense that the global attention of Afrobeats has definitely began opening ears to some hidden/underground R&B gems,” Princess says.
Given the challenges and opportunities available to the genre, 234 RnB aims to become the hub for all things R&B including artist spotlight, performance placements, songwriting, and sync opportunities. According to Nova, “The goal is to support Nigerian R&B as much as possible and put it on the map. We want to be a place where the next R&B superstar can be discovered. We plan to make RnB music in Nigeria have its own mainstream market through various means – events, radio, brand collaborations and partnerships, and more.”
Artiste within the community have also acknowledged the impact of 234RnB to their growth. Singer Jake Doe expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to meet and perform with other talented individuals within the community. He stated, “Communities help you meet like-minded people, and as such, it has been a privilege.” Merry-Lynn, who recently released her sophomore EP, has found 234RnB to be an incredibly supportive community. Members help each other with their content, and she says, “It’s truly heartwarming to have such support. Since 2019, I’ve been creating music as a form of emotional release, and it’s thanks to the help of fellow creatives that my music exists today.”
Things are looking up for R&B in Nigeria and the 234RnB team is optimistic about the future of the genre. Dooski anticipates a heightened mainstream presence in the future because as he has experienced, “the creatives are constantly evolving the sound to better communicate with their target audience”
“The future is definitely bright. There’s currently a lot of attention on the scene and I do believe that the tides will soon turn in our favour.”RnB Princess
As a closer, each founder graciously recommended three R&B songs everyone should be listening to at the moment.