Question from Damien: “I was wondering today…who introduced the RnB/Soul side to the hip hop? The one we can hear in Mos Def’s or The Pharcyde’s tracks? Was there any tension about this at the time, some kind of opposition between the aggressive tone of some early 90’s releases and the smoothness of some others?”

Answer: There’s two separate questions here so let me tackle the first.

First, it’s a bit odd to try to talk about how R&B was “introduced” into hip-hop insofar as rap music’s roots come out of soul via funk via disco. I mean, “Rapper’s Delight” was riffing on Chic. The DNA of R&B lies in hip-hop too even if the latter certainly took pains to separate itself from the former, around the time Run DMC was decimating their old school forefathers. But R&B/hip-hop crossovers existed across the ’80s, even in that area, none better (in my opinion) than this:

And of course, one of LL Cool J’s first big songs was basically a rap/R&B hybrid even though there’s no actual singing in it.

The point I’m making is that these lines were always intersecting, always blurred. There were, of course, songs that pushed this crossover point harder than others. I still remember people being madly disappointed by Nas’s “If I Ruled the World” (feat. Lauryn Hill) because they wanted “N.Y. State of Mind 2.0,” not some quasi-Fugees collabo. And that addresses your second question:

Hell yeah there was opposition.

“Real heads”, then and now, hated R&B/hip-hop crossovers if they felt that they were being done as pure commercial pandering. Of course, what one defines as pandering isn’t always easy to define. For example, what really separates this:

…from this:

…from this:

…from this:

For the record, I ride for half those songs, the other half can miss me. But is it obvious which ones? It’s taste dependent.

To me, the key thing that happened by the early/mid 1990s was that hip-hop wasn’t trying to crossover into R&B but R&B, most certainly was trying to ride off of hip-hop’s success. That’s one reason why Mary J. Blige was embraced in a way that other, previous R&B singers did not; Blige sounded like she wanted to be down. Her and her team (lead by Puffy) understood how R&B could be made palatable to a hip-hop sensibility via the right production and the right collaborators. But the important point here is that it seemed like R&B was crossing over to hip-hop on hip-hop’s terms rather than songs that seemed more like hip-hop pandering to be down with R&B.

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  1. Awesome dissection. I consider myself a “real head” but always dug the majority of 90s R&B, aside from the new jack swing stuff. Personally, the R&B from this era seemed a lot more organic and not contrived like this generations “crooners”, a la Drake.

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