This is a continuation of an answer to the question "can you explain the differences in the music you cover?" asked by my colleague, Barnabas. While he may have thought it was a simple enough question, for me it has proven to be a difficult task, with no quick answer. I try very hard to cover all modern music, a task that becomes more and more difficult the older I get. My first article in this series covered the vast majority of what I know best, mainstream Rock and its many subcategories.
Here I will try to define some of the other classifications of modern music, though my definitions may not be as knowledgeable as others; I plea ignorance to any who find fault with my assessments.
My knowledge of the history of R&B is a little shaky; so forgive me if I get it wrong. R&B is of course short for Rhythm and Blues, which I believe was an offshoot of Blues. R&B was first performed by black artists, such as Sam & Dave, James Brown, and Ray Charles. Their sound and style was duplicated by white acts in the sixties, especially British bands like the Animals and Van Morrison's first band, Them. Charles is also credited for creating "Soul," a secularized version of Gospel music. People who have seen Charles' biopic "Ray" probably don't understand what a scandal Charles' "Soul Music" caused when it first came out. I recommend listening to the Staples Singers earliest recordings and compare them to "I Got A Woman" and "What I'd Say," and see if they sound just a little too similar.
The definitions between R&B and Soul are often confused; James Brown is considered the "Godfather of Soul," though white acts that covered him are considered R&B. "Mowtown" or the bands that are associated with the Mowtown label (the Temptations, the Supremes, etc.) started out as R&B, but as the sixties progressed were considered Soul. I believe some of the confusion comes from where the artists come from; many began singing in church choirs, so they are "Soul," even if they sound "R&B." Add to this, acts like Van Morrison, Rare Earth, and Steve Windwood, and you have all white bands singing "blue-eyed Soul."
Yet R&B and Soul are so associated with African-American artists, they have now come to define just about all modern African-American music. Music stores generally now lump both forms together under "R&B/Soul" sections.
Hip-Hop and Rap are two other African-American dominated music genres that grew out of the streets in the early eighties. Hip-Hop is primarily dance music and is often heard in modern dance clubs, Hip-Hop is also closely associated with Techno, which as the name suggests, uses synthesized beats, sound loops and other electronic sounds. Techno stemmed out of experiments of "electronic" music of the sixties, when computers and synthesizers were in their infancy.
Rap is of course almost always spoken word. It is not "sung" in the traditional sense of the word, but words are strung out in a melodic pattern of speech. Steven Tyler of Aerosmith likes to credit his band's "Walk This Way" as the first rap song, but most people point to the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rappers Delight" as the first true rap song. Rap had its own mini revolution with "Gangsta Rap," the hard-hitting life-on-the-streets rap that dominated the genre in the early nineties.
As those that know can tell, these music genres aren't my areas of expertise, and if my definitions aren't exact, or even off-base, let me again apologize. I was merely trying to help a colleague understand the world of modern music, to the best of my knowledge. May God bless you, whatever form of music you enjoy, and please don't send me any angry e-mails.