'R&B is a global genre': Spotify launches campaign to highlight impact of UK R&B talent

'R&B is a global genre': Spotify launches campaign to highlight impact of UK R&B talent

Spotify is launching a campaign through the lens of its popular Riffs & Runs playlist to highlight the impact of UK R&B. 

It follows the huge success of Raye, who won six trophies at the BRITs, as well as the impact of fellow independent artists such as Jorja Smith.

The Spotify campaign on social media and YouTube will feature R&B artists including No Guidnce (pictured), Mahalia, Marsha Ambrosius, Bellah, Jaz Karis, Miraa May, Mnelia, Elmiene, Sipprell, Jvck James, Odeal and Shaé Universe.

According to Spotify, streams of UK R&B have grown 138% over the past five years, with a 25% increase in the past 12 months.

Streams of British R&B artists outside of the UK have grown 154% in that same period (27% over the past 12 months).

Raye and Jorja Smith are the top UK R&B artists in terms of streams, along with acts including Ella Mai, Cleo Sol, Mahalia, FLO, Jacob Banks, Greentea Peng, Nao and Aaron Taylor.

Here, Sage Olito, artist and label marketing manager at Spotify, and Joel Ryan Borquaye, senior editor at Spotify, open up about the campaign, the strength of UK R&B and the key players in the genre…

What was the thinking behind the new Spotify R&B Riffs & Runs campaign?

Sage Olito: “We basically put together a narrative content piece centred around and spotlighting UK R&B. We've got a ton of super super-talented artists in the video, including Bellah, Odeal, No Guidnce, Mnelia, Miraa May, and maybe too many to list. The whole point is giving R&B the spotlight it very much deserves, and continuing the work we've been doing in this space over the years. We've been building to this moment over the last few years, so it’s nice to round off some of our work with a piece like this.”

Did artists and their teams welcome this initiative for R&B?

SO: “Yeah, absolutely. I think most people couldn't believe we were actually doing something like this. We first spoke to artist teams maybe a year ago about potentially putting a campaign like this together. When we actually made it happen, everyone was super-excited and very receptive. For scheduling reasons some artists couldn't do it, and I think they were quite gutted by that. But the artists that we were able to lock in have been 100% invested in and excited about it. So we're excited to share it with the world.”

What do you think about the strength of UK R&B?

Joel Ryan Borquaye: “I think it’s super strong and it’s actually been strong for a long time. What we have decided to do is actually amplify the strength in R&B and the community and how well it's doing. Because sometimes when you are champions of a genre, and campaigning for more [support] in the genre space, you can ignore some of the stuff that is going well and is really successful. That's what this campaign and our stance on R&B is about. It’s just trying to make people realise the talent that’s there, what they're doing and all of their wins so far, whether that’s selling out shows or making songs that are having a global impact.”

There is more of an industry focus on making sure that R&B gets its flowers and recognition

Joel Ryan Borquaye

Which acts would you highlight in the genre? 

JRB: “A lot of musicians and the industry hold the Grammys as a great end goal. If you look at some of our UK R&B artists that have been nominated, you're talking about Mahalia, Tiana Major9, Jacob Collier, Ella Mai and Jorja Smith, and there are loads of our producers. These are not the things that we necessarily shout about. But we've got a lot of talent here and even on the production side, we have a lot of producers making amazing R&B records for artists across the world. [UK R&B] has a lot of listeners, even outside of the UK, and that's what I want to get out there with this campaign – make people realise the talent we have here.”

How important is the Riffs & Runs playlist for R&B talent?

JRB: “Funnily enough, a few years ago playlists just featured British R&B, then you had US lists that just featured US R&B. But that is actually not how the audience listen to R&B. Whereas you've got hip-hop, which is very much a local genre, R&B is a global genre, and that's the way we've chosen to reflect it in playlisting. So Riffs & Runs is a global list. Even if you look at the metrics of the listenership, it is actually equal weighting between the US and UK listeners, and then you've got loads of other listeners from Europe and Asia. What that is saying is when you put an emerging R&B artist next to a SZA record, you're putting a stamp on that UK artist that they’re making music as good as the likes of SZA, Coco Jones, and so on.” 

Will you be doing more Riffs & Runs sessions to bring R&B artists, songwriters and producers together?

JRB: “It’s something that is still kind of underway, but we are really proud of it. If you look at our R&B artists that are based in the UK, a lot of them are independent. They don't always have big budgets to work with these huge producers. So we thought we could just be that middleman, and bring some of these heavyweight producers to the UK to work with R&B talent that they really love. It’s been great to see the lasting relationships between the producers and artists, and there’s music still coming, some of it facilitated by us, which is exciting to see.”

Did the campaign for an R&B BRIT category – led by Mahalia – make a big difference and raise awareness about an important genre in the UK? 

JRB: “Yeah, Mahalia has been a big champion, the BRITs moment also has been great to see. I think there is more of an industry focus on making sure that R&B gets its flowers and recognition. And I hope to see more come from that.”

The cross-market collaborations are testament that the genre just keeps on growing and there's an international appeal

Sage Olito

How is UK R&B growing on Spotify? 

JRB: “It’s always been a strong genre on the platform. If you look at the reception that Mahalia and Jaz Karis got a few weeks ago [with Nice Girls], the same week that Taylor Swift’s album came out, and the amazing numbers that did. It’s just great to see artists doing their thing – and doing it globally as well.”

SO: “Looking at the amount of cross-market collaborations that are coming about, like [UK artist] Ama Louise partnering with [French artist] Tayc on the remix of Send Your Loving, that is testament that the genre just keeps on growing and there's an international appeal.” 

JRB: “There are also great experiences now that fans of R&B can have in culture here in the UK. There’s a huge appetite for R&B live as well.”

SO: “I think the wider ecosystem has probably been a huge part of growing the genre, but also promoters and DJs that have been backing R&B for years.”

DJ Ace has been a big champion of the genre… 

JRB: “Yeah, that’s why it was really important we got Ace in the campaign video as well. It's important to thank those people that have helped push the scene.”

You mention cross-market collaborations, is there growth potential there for UK R&B? 

JRB: “I think that’s easier in R&B because of the producers. We have such amazing heavyweight producers that actually bridge a lot of these artists together. As R&B is a global genre, it is important that artists are looking around for who to collaborate with.”

Is R&B quite a flexible genre that’s open to different ideas, does that help it travel globally? 

JRB: “Yeah, if you look at artists like Odeal, one week he can be in an Afrobeats playlist and another week he can be in Riffs & Runs. The same with Mabel, who can also be in the pop lists. It’s an amazing genre to play around and have some crossover records with other genres. This is why we chose Riffs & Runs to highlight this campaign, because it is about the voice, the vocal and the delivery. We want to amplify people with that vocal skill. Should they go on to new genres, that’s fine, but we know that they have that soulful Riffs & Runs voice.”

Finally, how important have Raye and Jorja Smith been to the impact of UK R&B in the past year on Spotify?

JRB: “They have been great examples… Raye’s shown the scene the power of melody, and how that can take you into so many other genres, whether that be dance, pop, alternative. Some of her records are my favourite R&B records – records like Worth It, and Confidence, which is, I think, my favourite song she’s ever made. It's good to see artists who have worked really hard in the R&B scene put other girls on – she's collaborated with a lot of R&B artists here in the UK. So to see her shining, we’re really, really proud. Then you've got Jorja Smith, who brings a soulful element, she’s more on the soul side of R&B.  Having an artist and a voice like that is, again, great for younger artists to see.” 

SO: “Going back to the earlier point, a lot of these artists haven't been bound by just making R&B, and you see that in both Jorja and Raye. They have shown how diverse they are in the sonics they can create and they’ve made success from it. So I think we're seeing that also in the new age of R&B artists coming through. While they might be inspired by R&B, they also can make quite a variety of different sounds and sonics. But, really, the roots of it come back to R&B, so that’s very exciting to see with the new age of artists as well.”

PHOTO: Romany Francesca


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