4 R&B songs that brought urban slang to the mainstream

Marvin's Room looks back at some of the slang terms that your mom learned from R&B songs.
4 R&B songs that brought urban slang to the mainstream. (Andrew H. Walker)

Slang is a product of time and space. It's a coded, informal language made up of words and phrases often originating in the most creative subsets of any society; it's young. Quite often this vocabulary is known only by a particular group of people bound together by geography, culture and age. But sometimes that coded language can work its way into the mainstream (often losing its cool status as soon as it gets there), and quite often the way it gets to the mainstream is through music.

This week we look back at four R&B songs that helped bring slang terms into the mainstream.


This song was the debut single of the R&B girl group 702 and in 1996 it introduced the world to the word steelo. Steelo is slang for style; someone's aura. That someone is often the object of desire, a particular individual who just has the kind of charisma that stands out. It's connected to their fashion, but it's not limited to that. The word didn't gain huge traction but the song was popular enough to put 702 on the R&B map.


The term wifey is distinct from wife. It refers to a woman in a relationship that may have the institution of marriage in its sights but is not there just yet. A wifey transcends the position of a girlfriend and is someone held in high esteem. The R&B group Next spelled out exactly what a wifey is in its song of the same name. It should be noted that in an era where women have made it a point to prioritize self-definition, neither the song nor the term have aged well.


This term refers to a woman with ample curves. It was a celebratory descriptor that flew in the face of a mainstream beauty ideal that still celebrated thin bodies. When Destiny's Child created their body-positive anthem of the same name, it became a global phenomenon with everyone from morning talk show hosts to aunties at barbecues declaring their desire to be bootylicious.


This term was around long before the Usher and Alicia Keys duet "My Boo", but their song brought it into the livingrooms of individuals who may have mistakenly spelled it "beau" upon first hearing it. "Boo" is a term of endearment used with a lover or partner. It's been more recently replaced with the term of the moment "bae".

Marvin's Room Playlist for Dec. 8, 2017

  1. 702, "Steelo"
  2. French Montana feat. Swae Lee, "Unforgettable"
  3. Shan Vincent de Paul feat. Desiire, "Fever"
  4. Sam Cooke, "Bring it on Home"
  5. Leon Bridges, "Lisa Sawyer"
  6. Donny Hathaway, "Someday We'll All be Free"
  7. Charlotte Day Wilson, "Doubt"
  8. Usher and Alicia Keys, "My Boo"
  9. Kennedy Rd feat. 11:11, "You Know I Know"
  10. The Weeknd, "The Morning"
  11. Sabrina Claudio "Belong to You Remix"
  12. Allan Rayman, "25.22"


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?