The urban breaks genre was the result of second-wave Nu R&B producers combining killer choruses from modern pop music with the energy and attitude of rap for track verses. In the early 2000s, an urban breaks track usually meant a rapper would be given a verse on a pop song, or a pop star would sing the high energy choruses on a hip hop track. Today however, the genre has evolved to the point where hip hop and pop music have merged completely, making urban breaks one of the most popular types of music.
Hip hop’s staccato lyrical delivery is toned down to deliver a softer, smoother vibe in urban breaks music. The highly charged and dance-ready energy of pop music and modern day R&B lay the foundation for chorus composition (upbeat, and very catchy). The genre was an attractive choice for producers looking to make a hit single, remix, or DJ-ready track.
For the majority of urban breaks tracks, verses are rapped and choruses are sung. The tracks tend to have big hooks and heavy bass lines that are often synth based. There’s very little in the way of sweet ballad singing in urban breaks, instead being replaced with strong (and often digitally pitch-corrected) choruses.
Portsmouth, Virginia, 2002
Missy Elliott has been stirring up the hip hop scene with her slick lyrics and smooth delivery since 1997, and she proves on “Work It” why she was the biggest female rapper of her era.
Nelly – “Hot In Herre”
Austin, Texas, 2002
Nelly had a firm foot in both R&B and hip hop, blasting out smooth rhymes before launching into a floor-rocking chorus on “Hot in Herre”.
Beyoncé & JAY Z – “Crazy In Love”
Houston, Texas & Brooklyn, New York, 2003
Beyoncé and Jay-Z didn’t invent the idea of combining a high profile hip hop artist with an R&B mega star, but they were one of the first to do it with such smashing success.
Usher & Ludacris – “Yeah!”
Various, USA, 2004
Usher’s record company felt that his fourth studio album was missing a hit. The result was him joining forces with Lil Jon to produce “Yeah!”, a crunk and R&B hybrid that became a best selling single of 2004.
The Black Eyed Peas – “My Humps”
Los Angeles, California, 2005
The Black Eyed Peas were initially an alternative hip hop act, but by their fourth album they’d completely made the transition into the pop spectrum (i.e. urban breaks). “My Humps” was just one of four chart-topping singles from that album.
Timbaland – “The Way I Are”
Various, USA, 2006
There was a time when everything Timbaland touched turned to gold. In addition to his many US charting hits, he pioneered a unique rhythm that used breakbeats to create tension and release. On “The Way I Are”, hip hop and cutting edge pop R&B converge to create a track that was a dance club classic for years.
Rihanna & JAY-Z – “Umbrella”
Saint Michael, Barbados & Brooklyn, New York, 2007
Rihanna’s soaring vocals on “Umbrella” are pure pop R&B, and yet there’s Jay-Z right in the middle of it all, laying down his signature flow.
Nicki Minaj – “Super Bass”
Saint James, Port of Spain, & Queens, New York City, 2010
“Super Bass” is a classic example of urban breaks. Nicki Minaj lays down X-rated rap lyrics with incredible dexterity, only to hit back with soaring vocals on the track’s chorus.
Eminem & Rihanna – “Love The Way You Lie”
Detroit, Michigan, & Saint Michael, Barbados, 2010
Eminem’s “Love The Way You Lie” featuring Rihanna is a dark mid-tempo hip hop ballad that has sold over 12 million copies, making it his most popular single.
T-Pain – “Up Down (Do This All Day)”
Tallahassee, Florida, 2013
Digitally pitch-corrected vocals first hit the mainstream with Cher’s “Believe”. However, T-Pain was one of the first hip hop artists to take the effect to its extremes, where vocals were barely recognizable as human. On “Up Down,” he uses this effect to create a gritty R&B track with street-level hip hop vocals.
Pharrell Williams – “Marilyn Monroe”
Virginia Beach, Virginia, 2014
Pharrell has a knack for writing incredibly catchy tracks that are popular with both club and at-home audiences. In “Marilyn Monroe,” his songwriting deftly fuses R&B’s pop hooks with hip hop vocals.
Drake – “God’s Plan”
Toronto, Ontario, 2018
Mixing pop music sensibilities with the low-key rapping style of modern hip hop isn’t revolutionary, but there’s no denying Drake is one of the best at it. “God’s Plan” stands as a lasting example of what the Toronto-born rapper does so well; effortlessly bring hip hop into the pop spectrum.