Music is constantly changing, and trends seem to always emerge as musicians continually seek individuality. One trend currently gaining a lot of attention is a peculiar sub-genre of R&B referred to as “PBR&B,” also known as “indie R&B,” “hipster R&B” and “alternative R&B.” But what is it really?
PBR&B gets its name from an abbreviation for “Pabst Blue Ribbon,” a brand of beer that gained a large “hipster” following in the early ‘00s. The term, coined by Pitchfork contributor Eric Harvey, insists that although R&B is at the center of its mix, PBR&B contains elements of electronic, rock and indie music to create a concoction of sounds unlike no other, making it appealing to members of the hipster subculture who wouldn’t usually listen to R&B. However, like many other genres, PBR&B had its shaky beginnings and took some time to get off the ground and garner a positive reaction.
In 2008, before musicians recognized exclusively for their alternative R&B style gained exposure, Kanye West released “808s and Heartbreak.” Initially considered by many as a throwaway side-project, “808s and Heartbreak” featured West departing from his usual braggadocious rap persona and embracing more emotional lyrical content dealing with life events in his personal life at the time. The album finds West singing in an auto-tune-laden voice over electronic beats with heavy 808 drums in the background.
Taking the altered R&B aspects of the album into consideration, a plethora of artists emerged with similar and even more varying sounds to create a very diverse mix from which PBR&B was born. Some artists commonly associated with PBR&B include The Weeknd, Frank Ocean and Miguel. However, following the movement’s rapid growth, other popular R&B artists have made PBR&B a part of their work. Usher did this with the release of 2012’s “Lookin 4 Myself” on which he struck a balance between R&B and electronic music, particularly on the album’s first single “Climax.” Even superstar Beyoncé embraced elements of the genre of her 2013 surprise self-titled album.
How will the rise of PBR&B affect music as a whole? Music itself is always evolving as new styles take shape through combining elements of different genres together to create new ones. The success of PBR&B and the creative freedom associated with it could likely inspire others to follow the trend of experimentation and further develop the genre as well as others.