The last three years have proven to birth quality talent in the evolving realm of Rhythm & Blues. The genre has experienced an interesting course of trends, going from a gray area with an increasing Hip-Hop influence (or is it vice versa?) to a rapid restoration of the sonic distinctiveness that paints the category. R&B is once again a viable label that doesn’t pander to ambiguity, restoring its role at the heart of soulful harvest and sparking a Twitter debate or two in its revival.
While we‘d like to think that our Hottest R&B Albums list was a fair nod to the well-crafted outputs of this year, we’d like to offer up a look toward the future with a comprehensive audit of the R&B artists who are shaping up to be tomorrow’s torchbearers.
You’ll notice that those featured here aren’t comparatively as popular as the most obvious choices (Spoiler Alert: you won’t find H.E.R.). While not a definitive requirement, it certainly stands a consideration when taking into account just how “slept on” an artist may be. Additionally, each artist offers a recognizable sound of their own, whether it be through nostalgic soundscapes properly executed in the late 2010s or through consistent experiments in creating something new altogether.
The routine disclaimer here is that this is by no means conclusive. However, it marks an earnest attempt at diversifying your playlist portfolio.
By now, my byline and Arin Ray’s namesake are well acquainted, and it’s impossible to put a halt on singing the upstart’s praises when exposed to his catalog. Having dropped off his debut Platinum Fire album this year (and revamping it with a Babyface-assisted deluxe version this month), Ray has delivered on work that does a fantastic job at leaving the listener wanting more— it’s as simple as that. The triumphs and traumas of love are a recurring theme in his repertoire. You’ll find that he’s often on the delivering end of heartbreak, fighting himself on his own shortcomings as a man. While shining through when placed up against the likes of SiR, Ty Dolla $ign and DRAM on collaborative tracks, Ray is a certified gem on his own and delivers a strong promise of longevity.
Lucky Daye seemingly came out of nowhere this year. But, the star-making debut that the Keep Cool Records (Khalid, Normani) signee delivered was one that was crafted as a final stab at this here genre– or else he’d call it quits. Paired with producer D-Mile, the magic that the duo created on Lucky’s debut I project shows all signs of an unstoppable new voice in R&B and Soul music. The effort is a strategic six-track introduction to a rather enigmatic and alluring figure. Anchored by single “Roll Some Mo’,” I is a showcase of the range that Lucky Daye possesses, characterized with funk-infused trips down memory lane— an element attributed to a musical binge after escaping a religious cult at the age of eight.
“Once we got out, I realized I was kinda behind,” he explains to DJBooth. “So I started listening to everything. And because I thought I was behind, I went backward instead of forward.” 2019 will mark the arrival of the remaining two parts in what is reportedly a three-part rollout of his debut LP, and with I leaving things off with a sultry interlude, the only logical thing to do is patiently await what comes next. While we wait, Lucky will also be embarking in a supporting role alongside Ella Mai on the singer’s sold out headlining tour.
Jayla Darden is musical growth in human form. After debuting with 118 in 2016, the aspiring singer and producer took a brief hiatus to find her sound and returned with an arsenal defined by aural beauty. Darden, now officially a Los Angeles transplant, writes, produces, and engineers all of her material, a great starting point in explaining exactly how she manages to keep everything so cohesive.
Finding her stride with her Ideas series, the singer is now two volumes in, consistently crafting tracks characterized by a certain kind of lightness. Her vocals are delicate, matched with spotless production. It all makes for a catalog of uncluttered sounds, and it’s especially difficult to play favorites. Closing out the year by announcing that she has joined the Interscope roster is just the indication that we need to know that the new year will be one of significance for Darden.
A simple Google search of Pink Sweat$ and you’ll likely end up with a list of results featuring the Victoria’s Secret line, but a stream of momentum tells us that this confusion won’t last for long.
The six tracks that currently sit in the Philadelphia crooner’s Volume 1 debut, making up for his entire solo catalog, are laced with nothing but a guitar and supremely delicate vocals from Sweat$. Ushered in by way of a viral music video for his “Honesty,” video, Pink Sweat$ is a refreshing reminder of the growing simplicity of R&B, taking a minimal approach for maximum impact. You’ll find an abundance of tender vocals that deliver on equally fragile lyrics of transparency as he reverts to stripped-down basics to effectively craft memorable tracks.
Summer Walker is the latest product of the Love Renaissance (6LACK, DRAM, Boogie) imprint. Coming through with her debut Last Day Of Summer album this year, the Atlanta songstress effectively entered the ranks of those leading the pack on the latest iteration of R&B. Her lyricism favors honesty, underscoring flaws in love, but never waves a white flag of disesteem of self. It’s more of an overarching “take me as I am” rallying cry, reviving a degree of self-assurance prominently found on SZA’s CTRL. This year, Walker wrapped up tour alongside label mate 6LACK and is poised to be another feminine voice monopolizing the moody and unfiltered sounds of the genre as 2019 gets underway.
This year, Elujay flipped the script on those playing close attention to the Bay Area emcee when he delivered on an updated catalog of R&B and Soul tracks. It was a trio of tracks that effectively allowed Elujay to reintroduce himself as he resorted to silky cuts, anchored by bass lines that are sure to make you feel something.
Frankly, Elujay makes music best enjoyed with open windows and warm breezes. The arrival of his forthcoming Odysseyofself project this year will be a clear attempt at keeping this sentiment alive, as he pulls from the best of jazz, soul, and blues to create his truest musical self.
This year marked the rise of duo Chloe x Halle, the sisters whose YouTube cover series catalyzed a Beyoncé co-sign and two GRAMMY nominations on the first try. In 2019, however, we’d like to think that the pair will find welcome company in the case of VanJess, the siblings who spur from a very similar background.
Another recent add-on to the Keep Cool family, the two released their Silk Canvas album this summer, linking up with the musical stylings of Masego, GoldLink, Berhana, Leikeli47, and Little Simz for a thoughtful and textured debut that effectively doubles as a montage for the love affair shared between R&B and Electronic music. VanJess has certainly carved out their own sound and firmly lead a group of artists taking breaks from the typical production of R&B in 2018, making room for a repertoire that leaves listeners somewhere between the thrills of nostalgia and modern discovery.
Jacob Banks’ defining element is a gritty baritone that instantly sets him apart from his contemporaries. It’s identifiable and presents a swiveling flexibility for the British singer-songwriter. Just as easily as he issues authority on Pop Rock and Electronic-leaning selects like “Good To Me” and “Chainsmoking” he also crafts affecting blues ballads such as “Mercy.”
Jacob Banks is such an intriguing figure, and presents a new kind of soul that refreshingly takes nostalgic cues, not from the R&B mainstays of a vintage Motown, but rather the Rock & Roll pioneers of Chess Records. His studio debut Village was birthed this year and points us toward a budding star with the makings of crossover luminary.
At the time of this writing, Amber Mark’s SoundCloud bio still reads, “my style is a mix of alternative R&B mixed with a little tribal and topped off with a little soul,” and we’d like to think that even a label as expository as this is still too constraining for such a talent.
Mark’s catalog is characterized by musical range. The Interscope siren proves just how easily she can weave through pop-infused tracks while dominating traditionally soulful creations, and you can find the best of these two elements on her most recent “Put You On” single with DRAM, an uptempo and buoyant cut reminiscent of the playful sounds churned out by Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip. A trip down earlier catalog selections finds routine in smoky vocals that have earned a seal of approval from Sade and place Amber as a distinctive rising voice that your ears can’t afford to ignore.
In describing Kyle Dion’s “Brown” single this year, The FADER’s Juliana Pache writes, “If cocoa butter was a song, it would sound like this,” and that’s about all the convincing you should need to keep an eye of the Los Angeles crooner.
Another strong testimony to the prominence of retro tunes coming through the R&B circuit, Kyle Dion’s music emits soul at every stop, as he comes in heavy with immaculate falsettos and the type of swagger best found in a Blaxploitation flick. A killer collection of silk button-ups doesn’t hurt either. Next year, Dion’s album, the follow up to his Painted Colors debut will be among us. Do yourself a favor and get acquainted before the proverbial wave arrives.
Vocal charmer Sinead Harnett is not lacking in emotion. The British singer-songwriter comes equipped with a gentle approach, taking on the usual themes of R&B and delivering on a candid point of view laced with delicacy.
Her catalog is routinely expressive and very rarely strays from aspects of love and heartbreak. Sinead properly assumes a role of refuge, issuing her own experiences and artfully reminding listeners that our heartaches aren’t exclusive, and are certainly bearable. Last year, Harnett unleashed her Chapter One debut and followed up on the effort with a string of releases throughout 2018, signaling toward a forthcoming album to satiate lovers worldwide.
In 2018, Xavier Omar made a conscious decision not to release any new solo outings on his own bill. But, in a month, the San Antonio-bred singer will be hitting the road on a supporting run alongside NAO, which is why we’re quite sure in the prospect of musical resurgence from Omar. Xavier Omar, like many who display a nuanced comprehension of soul, finds his roots in a Gospel background that routinely weaves its influence throughout his music. For those getting acquainted with Omar, a prime starting point is the Sango collab “How Do You Love Me.”
While a first listen may lead you to believe that the track is an apologetic plea to a significant other, further inspection reveals the song to be a prayerful letter addressed to God. Religious or not, the duality and honesty presented by Xavier Omar is a refreshing change of pace. It makes for amazing outputs that hold purpose for the artist and marks yet another rising talent who isn’t afraid to offer up their own truth through unconventional methods.
Leven Kali first came to mild prominence off the strength of an appearance on Playboi Carti’s debut in 2017. While the singer-songwriter was certainly doing his thing prior, the feature was a well-deserved introduction for the budding artist.
This year alone has marked the arrival of singles, packaged in two or three-track efforts, starting with his NunWrong With A Lil Good Lovin’ pack before returning with the three-track I Get High When I Think About Us. You’ll find that Leven’s conventions lie in ethereal outputs that would find a great home somewhere on the soundtrack for a coming-of-age Spike Lee joint.
As a songwriter, ASIAHN has been nominated for three GRAMMYS, as a solo artist, the Since The 80s (21 Savage, JID) songstress is finding her stride. Two years ago, she dropped off her Love Train debut and made an official move toward being a viable name thrown in the ring.
The effort was notably outfitted with sounds best served late at night and this year, she’s maintained the routine with releases in the form of the “NOLA,” “Like You,” and “Lost In London” singles, all leading up to an upcoming EP. For contemporary outputs that consistently deliver on the sultry elements of R&B, ASIAHN is a proper resource.
K. Forest is a student of the game, a product of the downtempo and smoldering R&B that characterizes the city of Toronto and surrounding areas. The Brampton native caught a break when Travis Scott flipped his “Guidance” cut for a slot on Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight and used the buzz to catalyze the arrival of his Eyes Of Taiga studio debut.
In 2018, he kept busy with the release of his When It’s All Said And Done project in January before finally delivering on Forest Fire II, the sequel to his impactful debut. In the humblest of opinions, K. Forest is truly an artist who doesn’t get enough flowers when taking a closer look at his collection of outputs. Right now, we await his Pray For A Beautiful Sky full-length effort. Hopefully, it signals a shift in recognition for the budding star.
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