Over the years, there have been many widely-held beliefs surrounding the influence and impact of British R&B. There’s no denying that there’s been a wealth of artists that have flourished and helped create an ecosystem for the sound to thrive today—its success has mostly been confined to the underground, but in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there was an explosion through acts such as Mica Paris, Omar, Loose Ends, Soul II Soul, David Grant and Wayne Marshall. A lot of these names you’ll still hear today, but due to the genre’s fragmented and disjointed history in the UK when it comes to its documentation, it’s been difficult to connect the dots between eras.
Today, though, R&B from the UK is flourishing once again, and for a myriad of reasons. Artist-friendly platforms (see: SoundCloud) created environments where they could directly interact with fans and, in turn, audiences became loyal supporters to the point some released their own projects. There has been less reliance on labels to facilitate the development of an R&B scene—particularly when they’ve historically been ill-equipped to sell the genre—with artists building foundations in the underground, combined with the functionality and current trend of playlists allowing fans to curate sounds. Ultimately, artist development has played a fundamental role in the growth of R&B in recent years, which has seen the likes of Ella Mai go from budding X Factor hopeful to having the biggest R&B record in the world in 2017.
A&R execs and managers have also been pivotal in the promise British R&B has shown. Taking risks and looking towards artists who have a unique voice and story to tell has led the scene to where UK R&B is playlisted alongside what we hear from the States. Complex spoke with some of those A&R execs and managers, who have worked with the likes of Tiana Major9, Rebecca Garton, Scribz Riley, Bellah, JVCK James and Tiana Blake, to find out how British R&B grew new wings.