It’s time we stopped asking about the state of R&B. In case you haven’t noticed, the genre has been in great hands for quite some time. In the wake of the tiring “R&B is dead” debate, Essence published an editorial capsule reporting on it in the fall of 2022, exploring the ever-changing sound of R&B with a deep dive into how today’s artists are carrying the torch for the genre their way.
Maybe some music-lovers just haven’t been looking hard enough for the old-school sounds they’ve been begging new artists for. Or perhaps they’re still adjusting to the changing times of music. Whatever the case may be, the new school of R&B have taken a page out of their predecessors’ books and added their own spins on a genre that’s been nurtured for years and years.
Whether they’re crooning over smooth instrumentals or adopting the modern fusion of melodic trap, there’s no doubt that contemporary R&B artists are representing their roots well. Household names like SZA, H.E.R., and Summer Walker have the game on lock whenever they drop, but there are plenty more veterans — and a handful of newcomers — who are taking their rightful places at the forefront of R&B. Ahead, check out all the R&B artists who should be in your playlist rotation.
Since embarking on her own path apart from her sister duo Chloe x Halle, Chlöe has unapologetically immersed herself in her forthcoming solo offering. The Beyoncé-taught R&B singer made a splashy debut with her first solo single, “Have Mercy,” in the summer of 2021. Since then, she’s released a handful of buzzy singles, including “Treat Me,” “Surprise,” “For the Night,” and “Pray It Away,” all leading up to her solo debut album, “In Pieces” — set to release in March. Speaking to POPSUGAR about her debut album in 2022, Chlöe teased that the project is “spicy” and “wayyy too hot to handle.” According to her, the album won’t include any previous singles she’s already released, apart from “Pray It Away,” so fans are eager to hear what she has in store.
Fans waited years for SZA to follow up her 2017 phenomenon, “Ctrl,” but the silver lining came with loose tracks she so generously released in the years leading up to her sophomore album, “SOS,” which arrived in December 2022. In the summer of 2021, SZA surprised listeners when she dropped three songs via an anonymous SoundCloud link. After that, she released singles like “I Hate U” and “Shirt,” and performed one of “SOS”‘s standout tracks, “Blind,” for her “Saturday Night Live” musical debut in November 2022, just ahead of her album’s arrival. Currently, “SOS” still sits atop the Billboard 200 chart, where it’s remained at No. 1 since its release. Needless to say, SZA beat the sophomore curse and has proved why she’s considered one of the top R&B artists of her generation.
H.E.R. has consistently been at the forefront of R&B since she released volume one of her self-titled EP in 2016, and she hasn’t slowed down since. Between her five Grammy wins — most of which happened before her debut album — and four nominations for the 2023 ceremony, H.E.R. can be considered one of the hardest-working artists of her generation. I mean, she already told POPSUGAR she’s manifesting EGOT status and is more than halfway towards her goal. Not to mention, she just starred as Belle in ABC’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast special — the first Black and Filipino woman to do so — and is gearing up for the “Color Purple” musical movie premiering on Dec. 20, 2023. So the real question is: what can’t H.E.R. do?
2022 was a big year for Lucky Daye. The New Orleans native finally released his highly anticipated sophomore album, “Candy Drip,” in March 2022 — which featured heavy hitters like Lil Durk, Smino, and Alicia Keys — and embarked on a 26-city tour of the same name alongside Joyce Wrice. Last year, the Grammy-winning singer, whose up for five nominations at the 2023 ceremony, also had the pleasure of working on other Grammy-nominated projects like Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” and Mary J. Blige’s “Good Morning Gorgeous.” So when you mention the best R&B artists today, Daye should be at the top of your list.
Fans feigned for a new album from Ari Lennox after the release of her dynamic 2019 debut, “Shea Butter Baby,” and they finally got their wish late last year. Lennox dropped her sophomore album, “Age/ Sex/ Location,” in September 2022 after holding fans over with features and singles like “Pressure” and “Queen Space” featuring Summer Walker. The demand for Lennox has only increased since, and rightfully so since her music is so heartfelt and relatable. Right now, she’s out on the road for her “Age/ Sex/ Location,” which wraps up in March. And it looks like she’s continuing her album promo with music videos for tracks off her second album — her latest being the visual for “Waste My Time.”
Summer Walker’s music knows just how to get us all in our feelings, but we never turn down the chance to hear her sultry voice on a track. She released arguably one of the best R&B albums in 2021 when she dropped “Still Over It,” which marked the first time a woman R&B artist had topped the Billboard 200 in over five years. The numbers are definitely on Walker’s side, and so are her loyal fans.
After a two-year hiatus from dropping full-length projects, Brent Faiyaz released “his latest album, “Wasteland,” in the summer of 2022. The project featured standout features from Drake, Tyler, the Creator, Alicia Keys, and more, not to mention, Faiyaz’s heavenly vocals. Following the 2020 release of his “F*ck the World” EP, Faiyaz has collaborated with folks like Baby Keem and Tems. Though he still hasn’t secured a Grammy win or nomination in recent years, Faiyaz’s dedicated fan base is still rooting for him all the way.
Jazmine Sullivan has had the most impressive resurgence in R&B and music period as of late. The explosive release of her “Heaux Tales” EP turned it into one of the most talked-about projects of 2021 and even earned the Philly songstress two long overdue Grammy wins in 2022. She’s the people’s champ when it comes to R&B and support for her has only grown. Between her timeless records, captivating performances, and now 18 total Grammy nominations, Sullivan has just the kind of flair that R&B needs to thrive.
Normani is someone people have been rooting for ever since she broke out as a solo artist in 2019. Her first single, “Motivation,” had a moment of its own, but Normani didn’t pick up on the momentum of the song until two years later when she dropped “Wild Side” with Cardi B. She’s set to voice a singer in season two of “Proud Family: Louder and Prouder.” Still with all the buzz, she has yet to release her debut album, but apparently, she’s sitting on two to three projects’ worth of music. The singer told WPGC 95.5 FM in 2021 that the delay on their releases is due to “insecurities” and being “very critical” of herself. Hopefully, Normani shakes her nerves so the world can finally hear why she’s one of today’s best R&B artists.
Giveon has proven that he’s more than just the talented vocalist who landed a major Drake feature at the beginning of his career — his incredible runs in 2021 and 2022 proved that. The one question on everyone’s mind after hearing him on Drake’s “Chicago Freestyle” was, “Who is Giveon?” Well, the singer told us when he dropped his debut EP, “Take Time,” in 2020. After getting his big break, it’s been all gas for the soulful crooner. His other big collaboration happened in 2021 when he worked with Justin Bieber and Daniel Caesar on “Peaches.” Now, after he dropped his latest project, “Give in Take,” in June 2022, everyone is wondering what the Grammy-nominated singer’s next move will be.
Fans fell in love with Cleo Sol’s sound in 2020 when she dropped her debut album, “Rose in the Dark.” And somehow she found a way to top that project with 2021’s “Mother” — her deeply personal album that, as the title suggests, explores the many things she’s experienced as a mother. Sol’s knack for making beautiful, timeless records is her true talent, and her ability to capture an array of emotions in her songs is what draws her listeners in.
By now, Khalid is for sure a household name in R&B. Ever since “American Teen” dropped in 2017, he’s been on everyone’s radar, and almost every year since then, he’s managed to drop a new project. His latest, “Scenic Drive,” is a great listen for all the hopeless romantics out there looking for a smooth project to add to their music library. He’s a fan favorite among his listeners as well as his peers/collaborators — which include Alicia Keys, 6lack, Ty Dolla $ign, Ed Sheeran, and more.
Tems is a name on everyone’s lips now after her featured vocals on WizKid’s summer anthem “Essence” blew up. But with cosigns from superstars like Drake and Future, a song with Rihanna, and now her first-ever Oscar nomination, the Nigerian singer has the world’s attention — and she’s just getting started. On the heels of her success, Tems announced a US tour in 2021; dropped her sophomore project, “If Orange Was a Place,” that same year; and scored a major-label deal. Needless to say, Tems has remained booked and busy, and fans hope it stays that way for a very long time.
6lack is an R&B artist who defies the traditional rules of the genre. Yes, he has the singing voice of an R&B star, but his style has a hip-hop core — per his 2018 song “Scripture.” The Grammy-nominated artist offers a realist lens in his music, as opposed to always singing about his latest infatuation, which makes him stand out from the rest. He hasn’t dropped a solo album since 2018’s “East Atlanta Love Letter,” though he did appear on LVRN’s last two Christmas albums. However, loose singles like “Rent Free” and “By Any Means,” as well as his latest features have kept fans occupied in the meantime.
Snoh Aalegra has been releasing music since 2016, but she rose to prominence after she released her 2019 album, “Ugh, Those Feels Again.” Since then, her music has had fans in a chokehold, many of which regularly loop her projects and songs over and over again. In 2021, Aalegra dropped “Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies,” and once again, her fans couldn’t stop swooning over her music. Her sound is for the lovesick listeners who enjoy drowning in the depths of slow, serene R&B.
Tone Stith has one of the most angelic voices in R&B and he knows just how to woo his listeners with his vocals. Overall, his many songs hold a special place on fans’ R&B playlists. Between 2021 projects like “FWM” and “Still FWM,” it’s hard not to play Stith’s music on a constant loop. And we’ll happily do so until he drops his next album.
If we had to sum up Kirby’s music, it sounds like that comforting hug you need from your friend every now and then to get yourself back in check. Fans definitely relate to the Mississippi native’s mesmerizing songs — down to her album titles, “Sis.,” “Sis. He Wasn’t the One.,” and “I Told You I Would.” If you haven’t already, please do yourself a favor and check out Kirby’s music ASAP.
Starting out as a hit-making songwriter, Victoria Monét has lent her pen to write songs for some of today’s biggest stars — including Ariana Grande, Chloe X Halle, Brandy, and others. But more recently, she’s moved into the spotlight as a solo R&B artist, and her fans have welcomed the transition with open arms. Her 2018 EPs, “Live After Love, Vol. 1” and “Vol. 2,” were well-received bodies of work, but her 2020 EP, “Jaguar,” has been the real standout. If there’s one thing Monét knows how to do, it’s capture the moment.
For years, Muni Long — formerly known as Priscilla Renea — penned hit songs for some of our favorite artists (including Rihanna, Ariana Grande, and Mariah Carey) as one of the music industry’s go-to songwriters. But her major moment arrived after her TikTok smash, “Hrs and Hrs,” off her “Public Displays of Affection: The Album” project climbed up the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2022 — a personal goal she previously shared with POPSUGAR — and scored her three Grammy nominations. The sultry ballad was just a taste of her star power as an R&B singer, but it’s clear Long will be around for a long time.
Sister-singer duo Ivana and Jess, aka VanJess, are a pair who are representing contemporary R&B quite well. They released their debut album, “Silk Canvas,” in 2018 and have been keeping the momentum going with their “Homegrown (Deluxe)” album that arrived in September 2021. They’ve collaborated with many of their R&B peers — including Goldlink, Masego, Kaytranada, and Lucky Daye — and proven to be a force with a stacked catalog to back it up. At their core, the two singers are all about R&B, growing up on artists like Mariah Carey, TLC, and Aaliyah. But their sound is out of this world and we can’t get enough of it.