Oldies MusicRhythm and Blues (R&B)

Introduction to 80s Rhythm and Blues

80s Rhythm and Blues was a decade of cultural and musical evolution, with the emergence of various genres that shaped the music industry. One of the most prominent genres of this era was rhythm and blues (RB), which combined elements of soul, funk, and pop music.

This fusion of sounds created a unique and vibrant style of music that dominated the charts and airwaves during the 80s. The decade saw the rise of iconic artists such as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Prince, who became synonymous with the sound of 80s RB. In this blog post, we will explore the nostalgic sounds of 80s RB, its evolution, top artists and songs, influences, fashion and style, controversies, and its impact on today’s music scene.

The Evolution of RB in the 1980s

The 1980s marked a significant shift in RB music, both sonically and culturally. The genre evolved from its traditional roots in the 60s and 70s to incorporate elements of funk, disco, and electronic music. This change was largely influenced by the rising popularity of dance music and advancements in technology.

Introduction to 80s Rhythm and Blues

Rise of New Jack Swing

One of the defining sounds of 80s RB was the emergence of New Jack Swing, a fusion of rap, hip hop, and RB. This style was coined by producer Teddy Riley, who combined his experience in both hip hop and RB to create a fresh and edgy sound. Artists like Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat, and Bell Biv Devoe became synonymous with New Jack Swing, and their songs topped the charts throughout the decade.

Electronic Influences

The 1980s also saw a rise in the use of electronic instruments and production techniques in RB music. Synthesizers, drum machines, and other electronic equipment were widely incorporated into RB songs, creating a futuristic and danceable sound. The use of these instruments and techniques was not only limited to RB; it also influenced other genres such as pop, rock, and even country music.

Introduction to 80s Rhythm and Blues

Crossover Success

The 80s also saw a significant crossover of RB artists into the mainstream music scene. With the rise of MTV and music videos, RB artists were able to reach a wider audience with their unique sounds and visual performances. Artists like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Prince became household names and captured the hearts of fans worldwide with their catchy tunes and elaborate music videos.

Top Artists and Songs of the 80s RB Scene

There were numerous influential artists and songs that defined the 80s RB scene. Here are some of the top artists and songs that dominated the charts and airwaves during this decade.

Michael Jackson

No discussion about 80s RB would be complete without mentioning the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson. His 1982 album “Thriller” remains one of the best-selling albums of all time, with hits such as “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and “Thriller.” Jackson’s unique blend of RB, funk, and pop, along with his iconic music videos and dance moves, solidified his status as a cultural icon and made him the biggest artist of the 80s.

Introduction to 80s Rhythm and Blues

Whitney Houston

Another powerhouse in the 80s RB scene was Whitney Houston, whose powerful vocals and soulful ballads captured the hearts of listeners worldwide. Her self-titled debut album, released in 1985, spawned hits like “Saving All My Love for You,” “How Will I Know,” and “Greatest Love of All.” Houston’s success continued throughout the decade, making her one of the most influential and successful female artists of the 80s.


Known for his flamboyant style and eccentric stage presence, Prince was a force to be reckoned with in the 80s RB scene. His unique blend of funk, RB, and rock, along with his provocative lyrics, made him a controversial yet successful artist. Hits like “When Doves Cry,” “Purple Rain,” and “Kiss” solidified Prince’s status as an influential and innovative musician of the 80s.

Influences and Inspirations in 80s Rhythm and Blues

The 80s RB scene was heavily influenced by the sounds of previous decades, but it also drew inspiration from various sources, including other genres, artists, and cultural movements.

Motown and Soul Music

The Motown sound of the 1960s had a significant impact on 80s RB, with its soulful vocals, catchy melodies, and upbeat rhythms. Many artists of this era, such as Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, were signed to Motown or were heavily inspired by its sound. The influence of soul music can still be heard in modern RB songs today, making it a timeless source of inspiration.

Introduction to 80s Rhythm and Blues

Disco and Funk

The disco and funk movements of the 1970s also played a significant role in the evolution of 80s RB. Artists like Earth, Wind Fire, Chic, and Donna Summer incorporated elements of funk and disco into their music, creating a danceable and energetic sound that resonated with audiences. This influence can be heard in songs like Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”

Hip Hop and Rap

As mentioned earlier, hip hop and rap played a crucial role in shaping New Jack Swing, which became a defining sound of 80s RB. In turn, RB also influenced these genres, with many artists collaborating and sampling RB songs in their music. This crossover between RB and hip hop continues to this day, with numerous artists fusing the two genres to create a unique and modern sound.

Impact of Technology on 80s RB Music

The advancements in technology during the 1980s had a significant impact on the production and sound of 80s RB music. The use of electronic instruments and production techniques, along with the rise of music videos, revolutionized the way RB music was created and consumed.

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Synthesizers and Drum Machines

The use of synthesizers and drum machines in 80s RB music created a more polished and electronic sound compared to previous decades. These instruments allowed producers to create new and unique sounds, giving RB music a futuristic and danceable edge. Artists like Janet Jackson and Luther Vandross used these instruments in their music, making them synonymous with the sound of 80s RB.

Introduction to 80s Rhythm and Blues

Music Videos

The advent of MTV in the early 80s also had a significant impact on the success of RB music. With the rise of music videos, artists were able to showcase their talents visually and reach a wider audience. Michael Jackson’s iconic music videos for “Thriller” and “Beat It” not only catapulted him to superstardom but also changed the landscape of music videos forever. Many RB artists followed suit, creating elaborate and visually stunning videos that became an essential part of their music.

Fashion and Style in 80s Rhythm and Blues

The 80s RB scene was not only defined by its music but also by its fashion and style. Artists of this era pushed boundaries and expressed themselves through their unique and often eccentric fashion choices.

Michael Jackson’s Signature Style

Michael Jackson’s fashion sense was as iconic as his music, with his signature fedora hats, sparkling gloves, and glittering military jackets becoming synonymous with his image. His fashion choices not only reflected his musical style but also pushed the boundaries of gender norms, with his use of makeup and high heels becoming a part of his signature look.

Introduction to 80s Rhythm and Blues

Bold Colors and Patterns

The 80s were all about bold colors and patterns, and this was evident in the fashion choices of RB artists. From neon-colored suits to colorful jumpsuits, artists like Whitney Houston and Prince embraced bright and eye-catching outfits that became a staple of 80s fashion.

Big Hair and Accessories

Big hair was a popular trend in the 80s, and RB artists embraced it with gusto. Artists like Tina Turner and Janet Jackson sported big, curly hairstyles that became a symbol of femininity and glamour. Accessories such as oversized hoop earrings, chunky jewelry, and headbands were also a common fashion statement among RB artists in the 80s.

Controversies and Scandals in 80s RB

As with any era of music, the 80s RB scene was not without its fair share of controversies and scandals. Here are some notable incidents that made headlines during this decade.

Milli Vanilli Lip-Syncing Scandal

In 1990, the Grammy Award for Best New Artist was awarded to pop duo Milli Vanilli, who shot to fame with their hit single “Girl You Know It’s True.” However, it was later revealed that the duo did not actually sing on their album and had been lip-syncing the whole time. This scandal brought attention to the issue of authenticity in the music industry and led to changes in how albums were credited.

Publicized Divorce of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown

Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown’s tumultuous relationship was highly publicized in the media, with their marriage often making headlines due to allegations of drug use and domestic violence. The couple’s rocky relationship was a constant source of tabloid fodder and sparked many debates about the effects of fame and success on personal relationships.

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Introduction to 80s Rhythm and Blues

Michael Jackson’s Controversial Music Video for “Black or White”

When Michael Jackson released his music video for “Black or White” in 1991, it caused quite a stir due to its violent and controversial content. The video featured scenes of Jackson smashing windows, destroying cars, and morphing into a black panther, leading some critics to accuse him of promoting violence and racism. The controversial video sparked backlash and even led to a disclaimer being added to future airings.

Legacy and Influence of 80s Rhythm and Blues Today

The impact of 80s RB can still be felt in today’s music scene, with many artists citing it as a major influence on their work. The fusion of funk, soul, and electronic sounds, along with the use of technology in production, has become a staple in modern RB music.

Introduction to 80s Rhythm and Blues

Artists such as Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, and Beyoncé have all incorporated elements of 80s RB into their music, paying homage to the iconic sound of this era. Even hip hop and rap continue to draw inspiration from 80s RB, with artists like Drake, Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar sampling and collaborating with RB artists to create new sounds.

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Regional Differences in 80s RB Music

While 80s RB had a dominant presence in the United States, there were also regional differences in the sound of this era. In the UK, for example, 80s RB was heavily influenced by the New Romantic movement, resulting in a more synthy and pop-oriented sound. In contrast, 80s RB in Japan had a more traditional soul and funk influence, with artists like Toshiki Kadomatsu and Taeko Ohnuki gaining popularity during this time.

Revival and Nostalgia for 80s Rhythm and Blues

In recent years, there has been a revival of 80s RB, with many artists and audiences embracing the nostalgic sounds of this era. The success of films like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Rocketman” has sparked a renewed interest in the music of the 80s, leading to an increase in streams and sales of songs from this decade.

Introduction to 80s Rhythm and Blues

In addition, there have been numerous tribute concerts and events celebrating the legacy of 80s RB, with artists paying homage to the influential sounds and styles of this era. This revival and nostalgia for 80s RB is a testament to its enduring impact on the music industry.


The 1980s was a decade filled with musical evolution and cultural change, with rhythm and blues playing a significant role in shaping the sounds of this era. From the rise of New Jack Swing to the influence of technology and fashion, 80s RB left an indelible mark on the music industry and continues to inspire and influence artists today. With its catchy melodies, soulful vocals, and vibrant energy, 80s RB will always hold a special place in the hearts of music lovers, reminding us of a time when the rhythms were groovy, the fashion was bold, and the nostalgia was real.

Introduction to 80s Rhythm and Blues

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