The Grammys have a new category this year. In an effort to better recognize the increasing breadth and variety of modern R&B, they’ve split the R&B Album category into two: Best Progressive R&B and Best R&B. The new range allows them to nominate more artists — five each — and give the nod to non-traditional contemporary R&B artists who aren’t forced to compete with genre mainstays like Alicia Keys and John Legend.
Although the Grammys have tried similar moves in the past, this year’s move is timely, as the style of some R&B has been reshaped by contributions from alt-rock, ambient music, hip-hop, EDM, trap, and other styles to make it something far more futuristic but still rooted in the tenets of the sound established in the late ’80s and early ’90s. From 2003 to 2011, more hip-hop-influenced albums could be found under Best Contemporary R&B Album, but they were shifted back to the main category after 2011. The new category was created as Best Urban Contemporary Album, but that name was phased out as a result of longstanding criticisms and the industry-wide revamping of “Urban” classifications after this summer’s “Blackout Tuesday.”
According to the Recording Academy, the new category “is intended to highlight albums that include the more progressive elements of R&B and may include samples and elements of hip-hop, rap, dance, and electronic music. It may also incorporate production elements found in pop, euro-pop, country, rock, folk, and alternative.” For its inaugural clutch of nominees, the Academy has acknowledged Chloe X Halle, Jhené Aiko, Free Nationals, Robert Glasper, and Thundercat. The traditional category includes Ant Clemons, Giveon, Gregory Porter, John Legend, and Luke James.
Speaking of Robert Glasper, the accomplished pianist/producer is planning his eighth annual Grammy Jam to coincide with 2021 Grammy Awards, gathering together some of the biggest names in R&B, jazz, and hip-hop for a special night of music. Check out the video from the 2020 edition above.