Urban adult contemporary, a format long associated with heritage artists such as Mary J. Blige, Usher, and acts dating even further back like Michael Jackson, has more recently become home to a younger generation of performers born between the mid/late-1980s and the early part of this century.

According to last week’s adult R&B chart from Mediabase, which monitors music airplay for more than 1,800 media outlets in over 160 markets, half of the top 10 are from acts in their 20s and 30s, ranging from 22-year-old South African singer-songwriter Tyla to Grammy winner Victoria Monet, 35 – with Mahalia, Teddy Swims and Muni Long in between. Looking at 2024-to-date airplay, younger artists also take up half of that real estate, claimed by Tyla, Monet and Long, along with SZA, 34, and singer-songwriter October London, 37.

While new and younger artists have always been part of urban AC’s mix, there seems to be a larger proportion of them lately. While four of 2023’s most played acts at the format were also in their 20s and 30s, two of those, Bruno Mars and Jazmine Sullivan, already had a long history of hits there.

At the same time urban AC is seeing this greater influx of performers under 40, there’s also evidence of younger listeners to the format. Based on Nielsen’s most recent PPM format trends, urban AC’s share among persons 18-34 jumped from 3.9 during first-quarter 2023 to 4.3 in Q1 2024 – that 4.3 also up from 4.0 and 4.1 for full year 2022 and 2023, respectively. Meanwhile, younger-skewing hip-hop heavy urban contemporary’s 18-34 share has steadily fallen over the past three years (5.1-4.9-4.6).

It’s notable that while urban AC was designed to attract an older audience with more traditional R&B music, distancing itself from urban contemporary, a handful of artists such as SZA, Tyla, Long, 23-year-old singer Maeta, and even Usher show up on both formats. “There’s a lot of sharing going on in both directions,” TAXI Productions urban AC KJLH Los Angeles Program Director Chris Malone says.

While new songs from Usher, Charlie Wilson and Keith Sweat remain a major part of urban AC, the new wave of younger artists has clearly impacted the sound of these stations and given older acts a run for their money. “The younger R&B is now dominating,” Radio One Senior VP of Programming Colby Tyner tells Billboard. “It’s tougher for some of the core adult R&B artists to break through today, because they’re competing with SZA and Muni Long.”

Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, says George Cook, Director of Operations for Service Broadcasting, owner of Urban ACs such as “Smooth R&B 105.7” KRNB Dallas. “It feels like the younger artists are reviving the format,” he says. “It got a little stagnant just focusing on the staples.”

Veteran journalist and “Ross On Radio” columnist Sean Ross still feels there’s room for everyone on urban AC. “These days, it’s driven by the ‘90s and early ‘00s,” Ross tells Inside Radio. “[It’s] similar to mainstream AC in that it’s an all-ages format now, that can play the best of everything.”

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