In 1948, RCA Victor was marketing black music under the name Blues and Rhythm. In that year, Louis Jordan dominated the top five listings of the R&B charts with three songs, and two of the top five songs were based on the boogie-woogie rhythms that had come to prominence during the 1940s. Jordan's band, the Tympany Five (formed in 1938), consisted of him on saxophone and vocals, along with musicians on trumpet, tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums. Lawrence Cohn described the music as "grittier than his boogie-era jazz-tinged blues". Robert Palmer described it as "urbane, rocking, jazz based music with a heavy, insistent beat". Jordan's cool music, along with that of Big Joe Turner, Roy Brown, Billy Wright, and Wynonie Harris, is now also referred to as jump blues. Also in 1948, Wynonie Harris' remake of Roy Brown's 1947 recording "Good Rockin' Tonight" hit the charts in the #2 spot, following band leader Sonny Thompson's "Long Gone" at #1.
In 1949, the term rhythm and blues replaced the Billboard category Harlem Hit Parade. Also in that year, "The Huckle-Buck", recorded by band leader and saxophonist Paul Williams, was the #1 R&B tune, remaining on top of the charts for nearly the entire year. Written by musician and arranger Andy Gibson, the song was described as a "dirty boogie" because it was risque and raunchy. Paul Williams and His Hucklebuckers' concerts were sweaty riotous affairs that got shut down on more than one occasion. Their lyrics, by Roy Alfred (who later co-wrote the 1955 hit "(The) Rock and Roll Waltz"), were mildly sexually suggestive, and one teenager from Philadelphia said "That Hucklebuck was a very nasty dance." Also in 1949, a new version of a 1920s blues song, "Ain't Nobody's Business" was a #4 hit for Jimmy Witherspoon, and Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five once again made the top 5 with "Saturday Night Fish Fry".
Working with African American musicians, Greek American Johnny Otis, who had signed with the Newark, New Jersey-based Savoy Records, produced many R&B hits in 1951, including: "Double Crossing Blues", "Mistrustin' Blues" and "Cupid's Boogie", all of which hit number one that year. Otis scored ten top ten hits that year. Other hits include: "Gee Baby", "Mambo Boogie" and "All Nite Long". The Clovers, a vocal trio who sang a distinctive sounding combination of blues and gospel, had the #5 hit of the year with "Don't You Know I Love You" on Atlantic Records. Also in July 1951, Cleveland, Ohio DJ Alan Freed started a late-night radio show called "The Moondog Rock Roll House Party" on WJW-AM (850). Freed's show was sponsored by Fred Mintz, whose R&B record store had a primarily African American clientele. Freed began referring to the rhythm and blues music he played as rock and roll.
Ruth Brown, on the Atlantic Records label, placed hits in the top 5 every year from 1951 through 1954: "Teardrops from My Eyes", "Five, Ten, Fifteen Hours", "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean" and "What a Dream". Faye Adams‘s "Shake a Hand" made it to #2 in 1952. In 1953, the R&B record-buying public made Willie Mae Thornton's original recording of Leiber and Stoller's Hound Dog the #3 hit that year. That same year The Orioles, a doo-wop group, had the #4 hit of the year with Crying in the Chapel.
In 1954 The Chords' "Sh-Boom" became the first hit to cross over from the R&B chart to hit the top 10 early in the year. Late in the year, and into 1955, "Hearts of Stone" by The Charms made the top 20.
Fats Domino made the top 30 of the pop charts in 1952 and 1953, then the top 10 with "Ain't That a Shame". R&B was an upfront use of gospel music conventions in an R&B context. Ray Charles came to national prominence in 1955 with "I Got a Woman". Big Bill Broonzy said of Charles' music: "He's mixing the blues with the spirituals... I know that's wrong."
At the urging of Leonard Chess at Chess Records, Chuck Berry had reworked a fiddle tune with a long history, "Ida Red". The resulting "Maybellene" was not only a #3 hit on the R&B charts 1955, but it also reached into the top 30 on the pop charts. Alan Freed, who had moved to the much larger market of New York City, helped the record become popular with white teenagers. Freed had been given part of the writers' credit by Chess in return for his promotional activities; a common practice at the time. Also at Chess Records in 1955, Bo Diddley's debut record "Bo Diddley"/"I'm A Man" climbed to #2 on the R&B charts and popularized the Bo Diddley beat.
In 1956, an R&B "Top Stars of '56" tour took place. With headliners Al Hibbler, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and Carl Perkins, whose "Blue Suede Shoes" was very popular with R&B music buyers. Some of the performers completing the bill were Chuck Berry, Cathy Carr, Shirley & Lee, Della Reese, the Cleftones, and the Spaniels with Illinois Jacquet's "Big Rockin' Rhythm Nand. Cities visited by the tour included Columbia, SC, Annapolis, MD, Pittsburgh, PA, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo, NY, into Canada, and through the mid Western US ending in Texas. In Columbia the concert ended with a near riot as Perkins began his first song as the closing act. Perkins is quoted as saying, "It was dangerous. Lot of kids got hurt. There was a lot of rioting going on, just crazy, man! The music drove 'em insane." In Annapolis 70,000 to 50,000 people tried to attend a sold out performance with 8,000 seats. Roads were clogged for seven hours.
Film makers took advantage of the popularity of "rhythm and blues" musicians as "rock n roll" musicians beginning in 1956. Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Big Joe Turner, The Treniers, The Platters, The Flamigos, all made it onto the big screen.
Two Elvis Presley records made the R&B top five in 1957: "Jailhouse Rock"/"Treat Me Nice" at #1, and "All Shook Up" at #5, an unprecedented acceptance of a non-African American artist into a music category known for being created by blacks. Nat King Cole, a former jazz pianist who had had #1 and #2 hits on the pop charts in the early 1950s ("Mona Lisa" at #2 in 1950 and "Too Young" at #1 in 1951), had a record in the top 5 in the R&B charts in 1958, "Looking Back"/"Do I Like It".
In 1959, two black-owned record labels, one of which would become hugely successful, made their debut: Sam Cooke's Sar, and Berry Gordy's Motown Records. Brook Benton was at the top of the R&B charts in 1959 and 1960 with one #1 and two #2 hits. Benton had a certain warmth in his voice that attracted a wide variety of listeners, and his ballads led to comparisons with performers such as Cole, Sinatra and Tony Bennett. Lloyd Price, who in 1952 had a #1 hit with "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" regained predominance with a version of "Stagger Lee" at #1 and "Personality" at #5 for in 1959.
Sam Cooke‘s #5 hit "Chain Gang" is indicative of R&B in 1960, as is Chubby Checker's #5 hit "The Twist". By the early 1960s, the music industry category previously known as rhythm and blues was being called soul music, and similar music by white artists was labeled blue eyed soul. Motown Records had its first million-selling single in 1960 with The Miracles' "Shop Around", and in 1961, Stax Records had its first hit with Carla Thomas' "Gee Whiz! (Look at His Eyes)". Stax's next major hit, the Mar-Keys' instrumental "Last Night" (also released in 1961) introduced the rawer Memphis soul sound that Stax became known for. In the 1960s, R&B and soul influenced British bands such as The Animals, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Creation, The Action and The Beatles. In Jamaica, R&B influenced the development of ska.
By the 1970s, the term rhythm and blues was being used as a blanket term to describe soul, funk, and disco.
In the 2000s, the initialism R&B is almost always used instead of the full rhythm and blues, and mainstream use of the term usually refers to contemporary R&B, which is a modern version of soul and funk-influenced pop music that originated as disco faded from popularity.
As the civil rights movement staged bigger and bigger demonstrations and increased African-American pride, soul music became more than party music for young blacks: it became a rallying flag for the black nationalist movement. While never truly political in nature, soul music's ascent in the pop charts came to represent one of the first (and most visible) successes of the civil-rights movement.
Soul music was born thanks to the innovations of a generation of post-war musicians who, essentially, turned gospel music into a secular form of art.
Brown and Charles (the two sound stylists) were raised in the South, whereas Cooke and Wilson (the two vocal virtuosi) were fully urban.
Another of the soul pioneers, Detroit-based vocalist "Little Willie John" Woods introduced the quavering gospel falsetto (that James Brown learned from him). The melancholy of Need Your Love So Bad (1956), perhaps his most intense performance, and Sufferin' With The Blues (1956) established the quintessential soul mood, while his versions of Otis Blackwell's Fever (1956) and of Titus Turner's All Around The World (1958) created an even more passionate style of singing.
New York gospel singer Roy Hamilton, who had achieved stardom status with his interpretation of Alex North's Unchained Melody (1955), created a gospel-tinged pop style, best epitomized by later material such as Don't Let Go (1958), that was influential on soul
Chuck Wills was a delicate and evocative singer from Atlanta, who penned his own My Story (1952), You're Still My Baby (1954), I Feel So Bad (1954) and It's Too Late (1956), before striking gold with CC Rider (1957), an adaptation of Ma Rainey's standard from the 1920s.
South Carolina-born baritone Brook Benton (Benjamin Peay), a former member of the Golden Gate Quartet, was the main songwriter of this generation, dishing out A Lover's Question (1958), a hit for Clyde McPhatter, It's Just A Matter of Time (1959), Thank You Pretty Baby (1959), So Many Ways (1959), The Ties that Bind (1960), The Same One (1960), Kiddio (1960), etc.
Another South Caroliner, Don Covay moved away from his dance novelties Bip Bop Bip (1959) and Pony Time (1961) to pen soul ballads such as You Can Run (1962) for Jerry Butler, Letter Full Of Tears (1962) for Gladys Knight, his two classics Mercy Mercy (1964) and See Saw (1965), and the mega-hit Chain Of Fools (1967) for Aretha Franklin.
Bobby Womack, Sam Cooke's guitarist, wrote Lookin' For A Love (1962) and It's All Over Now (1964) that crossed over into rock'n'roll, and later would reinvent his career as a romantic soul balladeer with That's the Way I Feel About 'Cha (1971) and Woman's Gotta Have It (1972).
Nina Simone (Eunice Waymon), the "high priestess of soul", an eclectic interpreter of both blues, jazz and pop classics, composed My Baby Just Cares For Me (1958), Mississippi Goddam (1963), Four Women (1966), and Young Gifted And Black (1969). Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood (1964) was written for her by songwriters Bennie Benjamin and Sol Marcus. As the controversial lyrics of these songs prove, the angry young woman of soul music also represented the link with the folksingers of the "Movement".
Chicago's soul music was dominated by the artistic persona of guitarist, songwriter, arranger and vocalist Curtis Mayfield (1), whose Impressions created a smooth, majestic, orchestral, jazzy style with carefully crafted vocal and horns arrangements to accompany his allegorical messages: For Your Precious Love (1958), one of the candidates to first soul record, Gypsy Woman (1961), the rumba-like It's All Right (1963) the anthemic Keep On Pushin' (1964) and People Get Ready (1965), the baroque Choice of Colors (1969). As a solo artist, Mayfield pioneered the format of the extended message-oriented psychedelic funk-pop shuffle on his concept albums Curtis (1971) and Roots (1972), and then applied the idea to the danceable soundtrack for the film Superfly (1972).
This mutation took place mainly in four places: New York, Memphis, Detroit, Philadelphia. And it corresponded with four independent labels, respectively: Atlantic (founded in 1947 by white songwriter Ahmet Ertegun), Stax (founded in 1959 by white country fiddler Jim Stewart), Tamla Motown (founded in 1959 by black enterpreneur Berry Gordy), and, much later, International (founded in 1971 by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff).
The sound of Atlantic was largely the invention of producer (and former critic) Jerry Wexler, hired in 1953. The peak of Atlantic's reign on soul music came when (1967) Wexler started working with arranger Arif Mardin and engineer Tom Dowd.
Former Philadelphia preacher Solomon Burke transferred the fervor of his sermons into the stirring rhythms of black dance music. Needless to say, his live shows became legendary for their delirious intensity, second only to James Brown. His material ranged from Virgil Stewart's Just Out Of Reach (1961), possibly the first country crossover by a soul artist, to Bert Berns' Cry To Me (1961), Gene Pitney's If You Need Me (1963), Alain Toussaint's Got To Get You Off My Mind (1964), Bert Berns' Everybody Needs Somebody To Love (1964), his own The Price (1964), perhaps his vocal masterpiece, and Don Covay's Tonight's The Night (1965).
Vocalists of other big cities shared the same spirit.
Fontella Bass was perhaps the most vibrant soul singer of the Chicago area, breathing life into Oliver Sain's Don't Mess Up A Good Thing (1965) and Raynard Miner's Rescue Me (1965), with the young Maurice White on drums, before joining the jazz avantgarde (the Art Ensemble Of Chicago). Predating Franklin, her touch was bluesier and less poppy.
Los Angeles-based vocalist Dobie Gray (Leonard Ainsworth) recorded in a sandpaper voice Billy Page's The In Crowd (1965), the quintessential mod anthem, Out On The Floor (1966), and Mentor Williams' Drift Away (1973).
Among the classics crafted by this "team" were: Carla Thomas' Gee Whiz (1961), produced by Chips Moman, and B-A-B-Y (1966), written by Isaac Hayes, songwriter William Bell's You Don't Miss Your Water (1962), Rufus Thomas' dance novelties, such as Walking The Dog (1963) and Do The Funky Chicken (1970), Eddie Floyd's Knock On Wood (1966), a Cropper composition, Arthur Conley's Sweet Soul Music (1967), an Otis Redding rewrite of Sam Cooke's Yeah Man that sounded like the label's aesthetic manifesto, Albert "King" Nelson's Born Under A Bad Sign (1967), a William Bell song that crystallized the Stax ensemble sound, the hits for Johnnie Taylor (another ex-Soul Stirrers), such as Isaac Hayes' I Had A Dream (1967) and Who's Making Love (1968), and those for Sam (Moore) and Dave (Prater), Hold On (1966) and Soul Man (1967), both composed by Isaac Hayes, etc.
The Memphis sound was epitomized by Wexler's productions for Wilson Pickett, setting the singer's wicked and visceral delivery against Steve Cropper's lean/mean guitar and against the house band's majestic explosions of sound (frantic horns, gospel choir, fearsome drums). Steve Cropper composed his classics In The Midnight Hour (1964) and 634-5789 (1966). Then came equally invigorating performances for Chris Kenner's Land Of 1000 Dances (1966), and Bonnie "Mack" Rice's Mustang Sally (1967). Funky Broadway (1967) was the cover of a genre-defining song, already written and performed n James Brown's vein by Arlester "Dyke" Christian, the voice and the brain behind Dyke & The Blazers.
The moving voice of Georgia-born Otis Redding, who died at 26, created a new emotional standard for southern soul. Equally important were the tight arrangements of guitarist Steve Cropper, in which the instrumental backing de facto replaced the gospel choir, turning the traditional call-and-response structure into a dialogue between voice and horns, and between voice and guitar. His own These Arms Of Mine (october 1962) and Pain In My Heart (september 1963), which was a cover of Irma Thomas' Ruler of My Heart (1962), Steve Cropper's Mr Pitiful (december 1964), his own Respect (july 1965), a metaphorical declaration of black pride camouflaged as a sexual plea, opened an almost metaphysical dimension to soul music, backed by one of the greatest rhythm sections of the time (Cropper on guitar, Booker T. Jones on piano, Donald Dunn on bass, Al Jackson on drums, and occasionally Isaac Hayes on organ). His version of Jerry Butler's I've Been Lovin' You Too Long (april 1965) became the quintessential seduction song. The last two gems that he composed with Cropper, Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa (august 1966) and Dock Of The Bay (december 1967), were increasingly tender, ethereal and extraterrestrial.
Overton Wright cried and sobbed in That's How Strong My Love Is (1964), You're Gonna Make Me Cry (1965), and Eight Men Four Women (1967), three of the most melodramatic performances of southern soul, as well as wailing in the intense and haunting Willie Mitchell productions of Ace Of Spades (1970), A Nickel and a Nail (1971), and I'd Rather Be Blind Crippled and Crazy (1973).
Another influential Memphis singer, James Carr recorded Baker and McCormick's Pouring Water On A Drowning Man (1966) and especially Chips Moman's poignant Dark End of the Street (1967), as well as two Obie McClinton compositions, You've Got My Mind Messed Up (1966) and A Man Needs A Woman (1968).
If Memphis was the epicenter, it certainly wasn't the only source of southern soul.
The queen of New Orleans soul was Irma Thomas, who penned three self-written gems such as Don't Mess With My Man (1961), Ruler Of My Heart (1962) and Wish Someone Would Care (1964), as well as premiering Jerry Ragavoy's Time Is On My Side (1964).
Joe Tex (Joseph Arrington), from Texas, sang witty stories in a rather limited falsetto against Memphis-style arrangements, alternating his singing with sermon-style raps. Hold What You've Got (1964) was the first southern soul song to become a national hit, followed by The Love You Save (1965), the dance novelty Skinny Legs And All (1967) and I Gotcha (1972). His album From the Roots Came the Rapper (1971) was one of the first instances that a street poet was called a "rapper", and included extended versions of Burt Bacharach's I'll Never Fall In Love Again and Jim Doris' Oh Me Oh My.
The purest phrasing was Percy Sledge's, the devoted Alabama tenor of When A Man Loves A Woman (1966), composed by Jimmy Hughes' organist Andrew Wright and bassist Calvin Lewis, and featuring "church" organ by Dewey Oldham, who composed Sledge's other two jewels, It Tears Me Up (1966) and Out Of Left Field (1967). Another impeccable demonstration of his country-soul style was Take Time To Know Her (1968).
The next big thing to happen to southern soul was Isaac Hayes' extended orchestral raps, that debuted on Presenting (1967) with a lengthy cover of Erroll Garner's Misty, and that matured on the four-song album Hot Buttered Soul (1969), including colossal covers of Jimmy Webb's By The Time I Get To Phoenix and Burt Bacharach's Walk On By. This style of subdued singing and lavish production was further revolutionized by the soundtrack to the film Shaft (1971), that added a strong funky undercurrent, setting the stage for disco-music.
Willie Mitchell organized another artistic colony in Memphis by hiring veterans of Booker T. And The Mg's and producing the mellow hits of singer-songwriter Ann Peebles, notably Slipped Stumbled and Fell In Love (1971), I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down (1973) and I Can't Stand The Rain (1974).
Mitchell's southern-soul productions also propelled the erotic hymns of Al Green: Green's own Tired Of Being Alone (1971) and Mitchell's Let's Stay Together (1971), Look What You Done To Me (1972), I'm Still In Love With You (1972), as well as Green's own Take Me To The River (1974). These productions expressed the ultimate contradiction of soul music, the tension between sex and God.
Gordy borrowed the concept from the assembly lines of Detroit's car industry: Tamla's hits were manufactured on industrial scale by a team of skilled professionals. Composers and producers included the trio of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland (alias H-D-H), the duo of Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, as well as Norman Whitfield and Smokey Robinson. Session musicians (the Funk Brothers) included bassist James Jamerson (one of the most influential bassists of all times), drummer Benny Benjamin, saxophonist Hank Crosby, trombonist Paul Riser, trumpet player Herbie Williams, guitarists Robert White, keyboardists Joe Hunter and Earl VanDyke.
Gordy's "Motown sound" was the least "black" and most "white" of the various soul styles. His hits were catchy and elementary. Arrangements overflew with strings and other orchestral instruments. Rhythms were driving and infectious. The vocals and the instrumental backdrop had little of the psychological sophistication of southern soul: Tamla's hits were emphatic and epic. The "call-and-response" structure was largely abandoned, and the new center of the song became the melodic "hook". The lyrics targeted the lifestyle of teenagers.
The first hits were, actually, plain party music: Barrett Strong's Money (1960), written by Berry Gordy, the Miracles' Shoparound (1960), written by Smokey Robinson, the Contours' Do You Love Me (1962), written by Berry Gordy, Martha (Reeves) & The Vandellas' Dancing In The Street (1964), written by William Stevenson, pianist Frederick "Shorty" Long's Devil With A Blue Dress On (1964), and saxophonist Junior Walker's instrumental Shotgun/ Hot Cha (1965).
H-D-H, the greatest tunesmiths of the era, also wrote Heat Wave (1963) and Nowhere To Run (1965), whose booming arrangement was an exercise in excessive rapture, for Martha & The Vandellas, Please Mr Postman (1961) for the Marvelettes, Can I Get A Witness (1963) and How Sweet It Is To Be Loved by You (1964) for Marvin Gaye, and virtually all the hits for the Supremes, a female trio (the most commercially successful in history), and for the Four Tops, a male quartet.
The simple, infectious melodies of the Supremes embodied the romantic exuberance of the Sixties: Where Did Our Love Go (1964), Baby Love (1964), Stop In The Name Of Love (1965), I Hear A Symphony (1965), My World Is Empty Without You (1965), You Can't Hurry Love (1965). On her own, Diana Ross indulged in vocal tours de force for Ashford's and Simpson's Ain't No Mountain High Enough (1970), Gerry Goffin's pathetic Do You Know Where Are You Going To (1975), and Pam Sawyer's and Marilyn McLeod's erotic disco monolith Love Hangover (1976).
The Four Tops excelled both at melodrama, as in Baby I Need Your Loving (1964) and Reach Out I'll Be There (1966), both marked by Levi Stubbs' blues lament and highly emotional harmonies, besides H-D-H's cataclysmic arrangement (the latter a concerto for piano and strings), and at sprightly party dance music, such as I Can't Help Myself (1965) and Same Old Song (1965). With the mystical overtones and morbid introversion of Standing In The Shadows Of Love (1966) and Bernadette (1967) they transcended passion and ghetto.
The H-D-H trio rank among the greatest pop phenomenon of all times. Their songs were a simplified form of soul music, but these were the kind of black music that white radio stations had no problem broadcasting. They were meant to inspire dances at private parties, they complied with the conventions of the romantic ballad, they were sung by polite singers, and they implied no more than the usual stories of falling in love and heartbreak. There were none of the controversial elements of the Afro-American culture that had alarmed white American parents when their children were listening to rhythm'n'blues.
Norman Whitfield penned some of the most dramatic and creative productions, from the epochal I Heard It Through The Grapevine (1967), a concentrate of anxiety (largely packed by the instrumental choreography of piano, guitar, drums, strings and horns), sung by Marvin Gaye and later Gladys Knight And The Pips, to most of the Temptations' classics, from Edwin Starr's War (1970) to Rare Earth's I Just Want To Celebrate (1971).
The Temptations, featuring baritone David Ruffin and tenor Eddie Kendricks, were more stylish than the Four Tops thanks first to the baroque productions of Smokey Robinson's My Girl (1965) and Since I Lost My Baby (1965), and then to the psychedelic visions of Norman Whitfield: Cloud Nine (1968), Runaway Child (1969), I Can't Get Next To You (1969), Psychedelic Shack (1970), Ball Of Confusion (1970), and the suite Masterpiece (1973), ever more bizarre despite lighter fare such as the ballad Just My Imagination (1971) and the funky Papa Was A Rolling Stone (1972).
William "Smokey" Robinson was both a gifted melodic composer, a fluent vocalist, a consummate poet and a creative arranger. He composed the Miracles' Shoparound (1960), Mary Wells' My Guy (1964), the Temptations' My Girl (1965) and Since I Lost My Baby (1965), Marvin Gaye's Ain't That Peculiar (1965), One More Heartache ((1966), and I'll Be Doggone (1965). The Miracles were his own group, and they delivered his best material: You Really Got A Hold On Me (1963), The Tracks Of My Tears (1965), I Second That Emotion (1967) and the baroque, breathtaking The Tears Of A Clown (1970). Robinson did not merely create catchy refrains, he created mini-dramas or mini-symphonies. He also became the epitome of the romantic soul vocalist of the post-Cooke era.
One of the most expressive male vocalists of the era, Marvin Gaye (1), capable of impersonating both the party dancer, the romantic lover, the hostile mod/punk and the political activist, breathed life into H-D-H's Can I Get A Witness (1963) and How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You (1964), Smokey Robinson's I'll Be Doggone (1965), One More Heartache ((1966) and Ain't That Peculiar (1965), Norman Whitfield's I Heard It Through The Grapevine (1967), Ashford's and Simpson's Ain't No Mountain High Enough (1967). Gaye the songwriter exploded in 1971, with the socially aware and orchestrally-arranged concept album What's Going On (1971), one of the albums that shifted the emphasis from the "song" to the ambience. The less intense and dense Let's Get It On (1973) was more sound-oriented and returned to his erotic persona, a transition towards the abstract melodic fantasies of I Want You (1976), co-written with Leon Ware.
Stevie "Wonder" Judkins/Morris (3), the blind multi-instrumentalist enfant prodige of Henry Cosby's Fingertips (1963), Henry Cosby's and Sylvia Moy's Uptight (1966) and My Cherie Amour (1969), Ron Miller's and Bryan Wells' A Place In The Sun (1966) and Yester-me Yester-day (1969), grew up to become an adventurous composer and arranger. Wonder crafted concept albums that moved from the format of the extended song towards the format of the electronic-funk-jazz-pop jam via production tours de force: Music Of My Mind (1972), a collaboration with electronic musicians Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil of the Tonto's Expanding Head Band, the first collection written, produced and played (mostly) by himself (already a veteran at the age of 22); Talking Book (1972), with the funky work-out Superstition and the romantic You Are The Sunshine Of My Heart; Innervisions (1973), a social fresco of symphonic proportions; the monumental and ambitious Songs In The Key Of Life (1976); and the mostly instrumental Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants (1979). Till the end, his artistic life was schizophrenic in its attempt to please both the masses, with catchy tunes such as I Just Called To Say I Love You (1984) and Part-time Lover (1985), and his spiritual alter-ego.
In 1973 Motown moved from Detroit to Los Angeles, a sign that an era had finished.
The importance of soul music
A typical product of the era was Los Angeles' multi-instrumentalist Shuggie Otis, the son of Johnny Otis, who embraced the aesthetics of Sly Stone and Marvin Gaye on his fourth album, Inspiration Information (1975), a work that he composed, played and produced on his own, a stylistic tour de force, heavy on drum-machine and keyboards as well as strings and horns, that concocted an orchestral and sometimes electronic blend of funk, soul and psychedelic-rock.
However, the 1970s were a decade of steady decline for soul music. First it was funk music that reduced the market for soul musicians (and, in fact, many of them simply adopted the funky beat). Then it was disco music that made soul music sound antiquated as party music. Finally, hip-hop music introduced a completely new paradigm (both vocal and rhythmic) for black music.
Generally speaking, the rule for hip-hop music of the 1990s was that behind every successful rap act there is a producer. Rap music was born as a "do it yourself" art in which the "message" was more important than the music. During the 1990s, interest in the lyrics declined rapidly, while interest in the soundscape that those lyrics roamed increased exponentially. The rapping itself became less clownish, less stereotyped, less macho, and much more psychological and subtle. In fact, rappers often crossed over into singing. Hip-hop music became sophisticated, and wed jazz, soul and pop. Instrumental hip-hop became a genre of its own, and one of the most experimental outside of classical music.
The most significant event of the early 1990s was probably the advent of Wu-Tang Clan (1), a loose affiliation of rappers, including Gary "Genius/GZA" Grice, Russell "Ol' Dirty Bastard" Jones, Clifford "Method Man" Smith and Dennis "Ghostface Killah" Coles, "conducted" (if the rap equivalent of a classical conductor exists) by Robert "RZA" Diggs, the musical genius behind Enter the Wu-Tang (1993), a diligent tribute to old-school rap. It was RZA's three-dimensional sound experience and his cerebral gutter beats (and occasional philosophical/mystical tone-poems) that gave meaning to the voices of those rappers, although the sumptuous arrangements of Wu-Tang Forever (1997) threatened to take away precisely that meaning. This "clan" (not "gang") spun off a number of successful solo careers. Both Ol' Dirty Bastard's Return to the 36 Chambers (1995), Method Man's Tical (1994), Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995) and GZA/Genius' Liquid Swords (1995), the most dramatic and cinematic of the bunch, were produced by RZA. However, when the Wu-Tang Clan began a rapid artistic decline, it was Ghostface Killah who emerged as the voice of his generation with the brutal, death-obsessed cinematic storytelling of Supreme Clientele (2000) and Fishscale (2006).
The Wu-Tang clan were one of the few East Coast acts that stood up to the past standards of the city's hip-hop. A number of New Jersey acts, in particular, cast a doubt on the future of hip-hop: the duo P.M. Dawn, with Of the Heart of the Soul of the Cross (1991), Naughty By Nature, with Naughty By Nature (1991), Kris Kross (the pre-puberal duo of Chris "Daddy Mack" Smith and Chris "Mack Daddy" Kelly), produced by teenager Jermaine Dupri, with the disco energy of Totally Krossed Out (1992), and the trio of the Lords of the Underground, with Here Come the Lords (1993), produced by Marley Marl. Washington multi-instrumentalist Basehead (Michael Ivey), with Plays With Toys (1992), was also crossing over into pop and soul territory. Trevor "Busta Rhymes" Smith's The Coming (1996) was as bizarre as accessible (basically an extension of the absurdist style of Public Enemy's William "Flavor Flav" Drayton). The nonsensical dialectics of Das Efx (Andre "Dre" Weston and Willie "Skoob" Hines) on Dead Serious (1992) was only functional to creating novelty acts.
Main Source's Breaking Atoms (1991), Poor Righteous Teachers' second album Pure Poverty (1991), permeated by Islamic philosophy, Mecca and the Soul Brother (1992) by producer Pete Rock (Phillips) & rapper C.L. Smooth (Corey Penn), Reggie "Redman" Noble's Whut? Thee Album (1992), Enta Da Stage (1993) by short-lived trio Black Moon, and New Kingdom's tribal-psychedelic Heavy Load (1993) were among the few albums that dared to experiment. East Coast hip-hop was losing to the West Coast. If nothing else, Nasir "Nas" Jones' Illmatic (1994) and Kendrick "Jeru the Damaja" Davis's The Sun Rises in the East (1994) briefly brought back party-rap's original sound.
New York's duo Organized Konfusion (Larry "Prince Poetry" Bakersfield and Troy "Pharoahe Monch" Jammerson) refined the dramatic/poetic skills of rap music, from the ghetto vignettes of Organized Konfusion (1991) to the psychologial hip-hopera The Equinox (1997)
Philadelphia's The Goats (1), led by Oatie Kato (Maxx Stoyanoff-Williams), orchestrated the "hip-hopera" Tricks of the Shade (1992), a concept album built around the evils of the American way of life, with both samples and a live band, deep grooves and a canvas of jazz, funk and rock.
"Prince Paul" Huston (1), the producer of De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising and the equally psychedelic My Field Trip To Planet 9 (1993) by Justin Warfield, penned Gravediggaz's gothic 6 Feet Deep (1994) with Wu-Tang Chan's Robert "RZA" Diggs, and the solo albums Psychoanalysis: What Is It? (1997) and especially the concept album A Prince Among Thieves (1999).
Philadelphia-born Roots' collaborator Ursula Rucker was a black spoken-word artist who coined a new form of art with her single Supernatural (1994), a dance hit created by a-capella vocals. After being a mere novelty on other people's songs, she emancipated her voice and her stories of black women on Supa Sista (2001).
Alien to the street culture of much hip-hop, New York's J-Live (Justice Allah) was one of the MCs who turned rhymed storytelling into a veritable art, both on The Best Part (1996), released five years after being recorded, and All Of The Above (2002).
Houston's Geto Boys, featuring young rapper Brad "Scarface" Jordan, were one of the first crews from the South to become known nation-wide, thanks to the the terrifying gangsta-rap of their second album Geto Boys (1990). Robert-Earl "DJ Screw" Davis, who died at 30 of an overdose, became a Houston legend by slowing down ("screwing") rap hits into psychedelic, dilated melodies.
Gangsta-rap became mainstream via albums such as Doggystyle (1993) by Los Angeles native Calvin Broadus, better known as Snoop Doggy Dogg (1), produced by Dr Dre, and Me Against The World (1995), the third album from Oakland's 2Pac (aka Tupac Shakur, born Lesane Parish Crooks), produced by Sam Bostic, which was followed by All Eyez on Me (1996), the first double album of hip-hop music.
As gangsta-rap generated sales, rappers found it almost obligatory to spin the usual litany of hard-boiled tales of drugs, sex and murder.
One of the main sources of creativity for the Los Angeles scene was the the Freestyle Fellowship crew, responsible for the elaborate collages of To Whom It May Concern (1991) and especially Inner City Griots (1993). The second album, A Book Of Human Language (1998), by Aceyalone, a founding member of the "Freestyle Fellowship" crew, was lavishly arranged by Matthew "Mumbles" Fowler, and retained a literate approach that contrasted with the old "gansta" style. Magnificent (2006) featured beats by Jon "RJD2" Krohn.
Los Angeles was also the birthplace of Latino hip-hop, which debuted with Escape From Havana (1990) by Cuban-born Mellow Man Ace (Sergio Reyes) and Hispanic Causing Panic (1991) by Kid Frost (Arturo Molina). Kid Frost's La Raza (1990) and Mellow Man Ace's Mentirosa (1990) became the reference standards for all subsequent Latin rappers. The artistic peak of West-Coast rap was probably reached by a semi-Latino group, Cypress Hill (1), the project of producer Lawrence "Muggs" Muggerud and rapper Louis "B Real" Freeze, with their hyper-depressed trilogy of Cypress Hill (1992), Black Sunday (1993) and Temples of Boom (1995). The large Latino collective Ozomatli offered ebullient salsa-funk-rap on Ozomatli (1998), featuring wizard turntablist Cut Chemist (Lucas MacFadden).
Oakland was the headquarter of most black rappers from the San Francisco Bay Area. The main acts were the crew Digital Underground (1), the brainchild of Greg "Shock G" Jacobs and the main hip-hop purveyors of George Clinton's eccentric "funkadelia", notably on Sex Packets (1990); and rapper Del tha Funkee Homosapien (Teren Delvon Jones), also inspired by the P-funk aesthetics on I Wish My Brother George Was Here (1991). The Mystic Journeymen, formed by rappers Pushin' Suckas' Consciousness (PSC) and Vision The Brotha From Anotha Planet (BFAP), were important not so much for their 4001: The Stolen Legacy (1995), but as founders of the Oakland collective "Living Legends".
San Francisco produced some of the most virulent agit-prop rap of all times: the Beatnigs (1), with Beatnigs (1988), Consolidated (1), with The Myth Of Rock (1990), and the Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy (1), with Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury (1992).
Gangsta-rap reached the East Coast with Onix's Bacdafucup (1992) and The Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher "Biggie Smalls" Wallace)'s Ready to Die (1994), produced by Sean "Puffy" Combs and others. Fat Joe (Joseph Cartagena), the first major Latino rapper from the Bronx, also embraced the gansta-rap aesthetic, notably on his second album Jealous One's Envy (1995). Fat Joe was the most notorious member of New York's rap collective D.I.T.C. (Diggin' In The Crates), formed by Joe "DJ Diamond D" Kirkland and first tested on Diamond D's Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop (1992). The other notable member, Lamont "Big L" Coleman (shot to death in 1999), released perhaps the best of their albums, Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous (1995), produced by Anthony "Buckwild" Best.
Progressive rap of the kind pioneered by Public Enemy thrived with works such as Arrested Development (1)'s 3 Years 5 Months and 2 Days In The Life (1998), the product of Atlanta-based rapper Todd "Speech" Thomas and disc-jockey Timothy "Headliner" Barnwell; Movement Ex's Movement Ex (1990), a concentrate of stereotyped conspiracy theories from Los Angeles; Oscar "Paris" Jackson's second album Sleeping With the Enemy (1992), from the Bay Area; Public Enemy associate Sister Souljah (Lisa Williamson)'s 360 Degrees of Power (1992); Brand Nubian's One For All (1990); X-Clan's To the East Blackwards (1990) from New York, KMD's Mr Hood (1991), featuring rapper Daniel "Zen Love" Dumile (later known as MF Doom), and Return Of The Boom Bap (1993) by former Boogie Down Productions mastermind KRS-One (Lawrence Krisna Parker). These groups harked back to the radical, militant, Afro-nationalist ideology of the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam. They basically represented the "positive" alternative to gangsta-rap: instead of advocating rape and murder, they confronted issues of both local and global politics. Even feminism found its hip-hop voice: Yolanda "Yo-Yo" Whitaker, who debuted with Make Way for the Motherlode (1991) and founded the "Intelligent Black Woman's Coalition" to promote self-esteem among women.
This subgenre reached a fanatical peak with Steal This Album (1998) by Oakland's duo The Coup, that reads like Mao's "Red Book" or a Noam Chomsky pamphlet.
This was also the decade of "jazz-hop" fusion. Jazz-hop fusion had distinguished precedessors. Some consider Miles Davis' On The Corner (1972) the precursor of hip-hop. For sure, in the 1990s the Last Poet, a Harlem-based trio of former jail convicts converted to Islam (led by Jalal Mansur Nuriddin), were using "spiel" (as rap was called in those days) over a jazz background: their political sermons inspired by Malcom X relied on the arrangements of jazz producer Alan Douglas on The Last Poets (1970), which became a hit, and developed into "jazzoetry" on Chastisement (1972).
Within the rap nation, jazz-hop was pioneered by: Grandmaster Flash's remixes of jazz master Roy Ayers; scratcher Derek "D.ST" Howells's collaboration with jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, Rockit (1983); the Jungle Brothers' Straight Out the Jungle (1988), possibly the first example of full-fledged jazz-hop fusion; And Now The Legacy Begins (1991), the eclectic multi-stylistic manifesto of Toronto-based duo Dream Warriors (with the prophetic My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style); A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory (1991), which featured guest musician Ron Carter; Chuck D Ridenbour's big-band tribute to Charlie Mingus (1992). Jazz returned the favor with post-bop saxophonist Greg Osby's 3D Lifestyles (1993), with Miles Davis' very last recording, Doo-Bop (1992), and with the "acid-jazz" scene of San Francisco (Broun Fellinis, Alphabet Soup).
Besides being one of the first groups to follow in the footsteps of Public Enemy's militant hip-hop, Gang Starr (1), rapper Keith "Guru" Elam and producer Christopher "DJ Premier" Martin, pioneered the mature exploitation of jazz on Step In The Arena (1990) and Daily Operation (1992), and then ventured beyond jazz-hop on Moment of Truth (1998). Martin's extensive use of jazz sampling and percussion loops revolutionized the way "raps" ought to be orchestrated.
Jazz-hop became the sensation of 1993 with Guru (1)'s own Jazzmatazz Volume 1 (1993), US3's Hand on the Torch (1993), for which British producer Geoff Wilkinson mined the Blue Note catalog, the Digable Planets' Reachin' (1993), from Boston, Pharcyde's dadaistic, carnivalesque Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde (1993), from Los Angeles, and Plantation Lullabies (1993) by Washington's Me'Shell Ndege' Ocello (Mary Johnson). The trend was amplified in the following years by albums such as One Step Ahead of the Spider (1994), the third album by Dallas' white rapper Mark Griffin, better known as MC900 Ft Jesus (1), the Fun Lovin' Criminals' Come Find Yourself (1996).
Philadelphia's Roots (1) approached jazz not via samples but through live instrumentation, led by the rhythm section of drummer Ahmir-Khalib "?uestlove" Thompson and bassist Leon "Hub" Hubbard and by keyboardist Scott Storch, on Do You Want More (1994), the album that introduced spoken-word artist Ursula Rucker. A quantum jump in arrangements (notably James "Kamal" Gray's electronic keyboards) made Phrenology (2002) a case in point for the marriage of technology, composition and performance, transforming hip-hop music into avantgarde architecture; and its successors Game Theory (2006) and Rising Down (2008) refined their invention (catchy, agitprop, beat-based, cross-stylistic music) by wedding those lush production values with dark, high-energy vibrations.
The horizon further expanded with Chicago's Common Sense (Lonnie Rashied Lynn), who evolved from the mellow jazz-hop of Resurrection (1994) to Electric Circus (2003), an experiment reminiscent of psychedelic and progressive-rock, and with New York's Dante "Mos Def" Smith (1), who reacted to gangsta-rap by bring back the serious-minded philosophy of the "Native Tongues" posse while at the same time accomodating rock, soul and funk on the phantasmagoric Black on Both Sides (1999).
Basically, hip-hop music had fragmented along three seismic faults of rebellion: one could vent negro anger as a gangsta, as an Afronationalist militant or... by playing jazz music.
By the mid 1990s, hip-hop had dramatically evolved from an art of "messages" that were spoken in a conversational tone over an elementary rhythmic base to an art of cadenced speech in an emphatic and melodramatic tone over an intricate rhythmic collage. Regardless of the "message" that was now being broadcasted, the sense of black self-affirmation had moved to the forefront. The main continuity with the original form of Grandmaster Flash was in the "urban" setting of the music: except for free-jazz, no other form of black music had been so viscerally tied to the urban environment.
During the 1990s, hip-hop spread outside of its traditional bases (New York and Los Angeles), reaching the far corners of the globe.
Acid-rap, a morbid style related to Gravediggaz's horrocore, was coined by Detroit's rapper and producer Esham (Rashaam Smith), both on his solo album Boomin' Words From Hell (1990), recorded when he was 15, and on the harsh and disturbing Life After Death (1992), credited to his group NATAS ("Satan" spelled backwards).
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994) by Atlanta's Outkast (2), the duo of Andre "Dre" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, was representative of the rise of southern hip-hop, with its emphasis on soul melodies and pop arrangements. Outkast turned hip-hop into a new form of space funkadelia on their sumptuous kaleidoscopes of aural ecstasy, Aquemini (1998) and Stankonia (2000) Another product of the Atlanta school was Goodie Mob's Soul Food (1995), fronted by vocalist Thomas "Cee-Lo Green" Callaway and credited with starting the "Dirty South" movement"; while Master P assembled the No Limit posse in New Orleans.
In Britain, Fundamental, the brainchild of Aki "Propa-ghandi" Nawaz, attempted an original and brutal fusion of hip-hop, industrial music and world-music on Seize The Time (1994), propelling his agit-prop raps with a style reminiscent of Tackhead, Consolidated and Public Enemy. And Asian Dub Foundation, a London-based sound system of ethnic Indian musicians halfway between Tackhead and Clash, concocted the militant ethnic-punk-folk-dance music of Rafi's Revenge (1998).
Irish communist rappers Marxman sounded like the British version of Public Enemy on 33 Revolutions Per Minute (1992), but without the musical talent.
MC Solaar (Senegal-born Claude M'Barali) catapulted French hip-hop to the forefront of the international scene with the brilliant Qui Seme le Vent Recolte le Tempo (1991) and Prose Combat (1994).
Assalti Frontali, the leading hip-hop posse of Italy, unleashed the confrontational manifestos Terra di Nessuno (1992) and the hardcore-tinged Conflitto (1996).
Crucial for the development of an atmospheric pseudo-dance genre was instrumental hip-hop.
Instrumental hip-hop was largely legitimized by a Los Angeles native resident in London, DJ Shadow (1), born Josh Davis. A legendary turntablist, Davis used prominent bass lines and scratches to detonate his extended singles Entropy (1993) and In/Flux (1993), and basically bridged classical music and hip-hop on elaborate, multi-part compositions such as What Does Your Soul Look Like (1995). Endtroducing (1996) was possibly the first respectable album of all-instrumental hip-hop, entirely composed on the sampler but nonetheless lushly orchestrated.
The dub-tinged soundscapes of New York's Skiz "Spectre" Fernando (2) were best deployed on the imposing gothic, post-apocalyptic trilogy of The Illness (1995), The Second Coming (1997) and The End (1999), each of them the hip-hop equivalent of a William Blake poem.
Japanese dj DJ Krush added a jazzy tinge to the idea on Strictly Turntablised (1994) and Ki-Oku (1998), featuring trumpeter Toshinori Kondo.
With DJ Shadow, Spectre and DJ Krush operating in three different regions, the genre of instrumental, sample-based hip-hop became an international koine.