I somewhat get it. I mean kinda. It’s the world we live in… with so many options for hearing(and nowadays seeing) music it should stand to reason that there are as many charts for all those options. For those of you keeping score at home, a quick jaunt over to Billboard to look at their charts under the heading of R&B will bring back no less than 13 different charts. Out of those 13 over half(8 to be exact) are paired with Hip-Hop and/or Rap(Yeah I don’t know either re: The difference. I kid.) So let’s list them:

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs
R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
R&B/Hip-Hop Digital Songs
R&B/Hip-Hop Streaming
Hot R&B Songs
R&B Streaming Songs
Hot Rap Songs
Rap Streaming Songs
Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums
R&B Albums
Rap Albums
Adult R&B Songs
Rhythmic Songs

Ok now I will attempt to do the pseudo-journalistic thingy and editorialize. I will provide the #1 recording associated with each chart for assistance in illustrating a few points.

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs – “Can’t Feel My Face” The Weeknd. So Billboard describes this chart as a combination of Radio Airplay/Sales Data and Streaming Data which in my mind = The kids, which I’m not mad at, I just question and have always questioned the melding of R&B and Hip Hop as a format. Are these genres not strong enough to stand on their own? Wait, before you answer shall we consider that there was a time when both did and both were vibrant, respected each other, collaborated but still had their own identity outside of a generic moniker of Urban? What does that term even mean? Oh. I. See. Let’s move on…

R&B/Hip Hop Airplay – “B**** Better Have My Money” – Rihanna. This chart is simple enough, it measures radio airplay through that good ol’ Nielsen system. Now Rihanna’s ode is a guilty pleasure of mine so I get the appeal, but if you look this chart it leans a lot more to the Hip Hop side of things which these days sounds more like the pop side of things and lets me know that payola is alive and well because clearly some of this stuff could only be popular through payment.

R&B/Hip-Hop Digital Songs – “Can’t Feel My Face” The Weeknd. This chart is the sales data for the top downloads for the week as compiled by Nielsen. No surprise here, but again this “R&B” feels a whole lot like Pop to me.

R&B/Hip-Hop Streaming – “Trap Queen” Fetty Wap. This chart compiles the data from the top streamed radio and on-demand songs and videos from the top sites across the web. Another guilty pleasure so I’m not questioning the appeal at all, I just see an interesting pattern emerging.

Hot R&B Songs – “Can’t Feel My Face” The Weeknd. So these songs are “Hot” and played on the radio and the audience is measured by Nielsen. Not quite sure what the difference is between this chart and the first chart save the absence of Hip-Hop in the title.

R&B Streaming Songs – “The Hills” The Weeknd. Top R&B streamed songs via online radio and on-demand audio and video compiled by Nielsen. Again, this chart seems pretty redundant.

Hot Rap Songs – “See You Again” Wiz Khalifa Featuring Charlie Puth. This chart is a combination of Radio Airplay/Sales Data and Streaming Data. Pretty Pop to me. Again, I’m not using “Pop” in a pejorative manner it simply stating that this music sounds and feels like it is more in line with a different tradition.

Rap Streaming Songs – Trap Queen” Fetty Wap. I thought we were made aware of this on the R&B/Hip Hop Streaming chart but apparently there needs to be a clear delineation between Hip-Hop and Rap so as to not… oh but wait the same song is #1 on both charts, so yeah uh ok.

Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums – Black Rose Tyrese. This chart compiles the top selling R&B/Hip Hop albums through sales data compiled by Nielsen. Now I don’t want anyone to think I have an agenda(clearly we always have an agenda) but this is more a pointing out of the fact that on the R&B side of this particular chart it’s great to see an actual R&B record sit at the top spot. This is not the part of the show where I play R&B police, I’m merely stating that you can hear the tradition in Tyrese’s latest effort.

R&B Albums – Black Rose Tyrese. – Same as above just minus the Hip-Hop co-billing.

Rap Albums – Dreams Worth More Than Money Meek Mill. Top selling rap albums ranked by sales compiled by Nielsen. Which one is it again? Rap or Hip-Hop? I’m so confused…

Adult R&B Songs – “Earned It(Fifty Shades Of Grey) The Weeknd. This chart consists of the week’s most-played adult R&B songs, ranked by radio airplay detections on adult R&B-formatted stations, as measured by Nielsen Music. Adult, as opposed to… oh I don’t know Grown? There’s a difference right?

Rhythmic Songs – “Can’t Feel My Face” – The Weeknd. This chart consists of this week’s most-played rhythmic pop songs, ranked by radio airplay detections on rhythmic-formatted stations, as measured by Nielsen Music. What’s rhythmic? I kid, yet I don’t kid.

Takeaways… like Calgon please take me away!

Honestly I think there are about 9 or 10 too many charts here. It’s like everyone’s a winner here yet, the biggest loser is the audience for R&B. Why? Because in my humble opinion because of these labels and groupings not only on this chart but in radio and other formats it has diluted the music because some people(and by people I mean creatives)look to these lists as the pinnacle of validation. No, strike that, some people see these charts as the only validation. I think it’s wonderful to be popular but in many ways but this landscape is all over the place and as a consequence the music suffers.

First, why not just have three charts for each and call it a day. Clearly I’m not advocating for segregation and the whole never the twain shall meet, but don’t you think we the audience are intelligent enough to know what we’re listening to and have the ability to place the music into their proper bin? I mean I like chocolate in my peanut butter, but sometimes I want chocolate and sometimes I want peanut butter and I like the fact that I have that option.

I only advocate for this because I know what it’s like to have two(and quite often many more) strong musically vibrant forces co-exist at the same time. I know what it’s like to have Hip-Hop, Jazz, Gospel, Classical, R&B and on and on all exist in the same collection. I think it would be great to be honest about what is transpiring here… a watering down of both musical forces by first aligning them at every turn as if they are somehow prevented from being mutually exclusive by some unwritten edict. What ends up at the top(except in the rare cases of Tyrese’s, Jill’s, Jazmine’s, D’Angelo’s and on and on of the R&B world and the Kendrick’s, J.Cole’s and on and on of the Hip-Hop world) most often it is music that is not indicative of the tradition of either. I’m not saying you have to adhere to a certain narrow aesthetic but call a spade a spade. If you are making Pop music that’s great, there’s a chart for that.

P.S. Is The Weeknd really that popular? Asking for a friend…

Ivan Orr is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, performer, and writer. A native of Charlottesville, Virginia Ivan was involved with the forming and nascent days of The Music Resource Center as its first Program Director. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Music, Ivan currently resides in Richmond, VA where he maintains an active performance and production schedule while serving as the Music Editor for Grown Folks Music, a position he has held since 2010.