12 Alt-R&B Artists You Definitely Need To Know About
R&B music will always be my favorite, because it covers the topic of love, of all kinds, in the best and most excruciating detail. From the first blush of infatuation, to pure lust, to the agony of heartbreak, it’s all there, and it’s all beautiful. Lucky for us, we live in an age where R&B isn’t just the raunchy, grind-tastic sex jams you might think. Artists like Solange, Frank Ocean and Miguel have recently paved the way for a new sound in R&B, making soulful bedroom and dance floor jams for the future. Get acquainted with some of these new R&B artists, all of which I can’t get enough of.
JoJo: You may remember JoJo from her 2004 debut single, “Leave (Get Out).” You may have found yourself wondering what happened to JoJo after that album. She had some label troubles but has been releasing some quality mixtapes as of late, starting with 2011’s Can’t Take That Away With Me, its followup, Agape, in 2012, and then the unfortunately named but really excellent #LoveJo on Valentine’s Day 2014, featuring a standout cover of Anita Baker’s “Caught Up In The Rapture.” The most enduring thing about her is her voice — still clear, soulful and gutsy, her talent is not to be missed.
Tink: Like her Chicago cohorts Katie Got Bandz and Chief Keef, Tink is young and immensely talented. She made her debut with her R&B tinged mixtape Winter’s Diary, but flexed her rap muscle on the two that followed, proving that she can both sing and rhyme with a depth and skill that belies her years. The followup to Winter’s Diary, Winter’s Diary 2 , was released in January. It’s an emotionally complex and vulnerable effort, perfect for hairbrush karaoke as you reflect upon loves past.
Kelela: If you like your R&B a little less Jodeci and a little more ethereal, dirty synth and bass space goddess, then please stop what you’re doing and listen to Kelela immediately. Her mixtape CUT 4 ME is an eerie and unsettling mix of the kind of R&B that Beyonce’s little sister Solange champions on her new label, Saint Heron. This is R&B music for the club, but not the kind of club you’re used to. I listened to this album for a month straight, and still can’t get enough.
Tinashe: I’d smoosh Tinashe into the same camp as Kelela, as they both traffic in the same sort of dirty, synth-y, tinkly R&B, but her single, “2 On” with Schoolboy Q, is the one jam I end up dancing to while browsing the sale rack at H&M whenever it comes on shuffle. Harkening back to early-2000s Ciara, with a beat by the inimitable DJ Mustard, this song goes hard. If you’re looking for a vibe that’s a little more chill, try her mixtape, Black Water.
Jeremih: Are you an avowed ex-R. Kelly fan, swearing off Mr. Bump’n’Grind’s music due to his unsavory past, but in need of the same kind of smooth raunch that he delivered so very well? If so, you probably remember a song that came out around 2009 called “Birthday Sex,” sung by a dude who sounded like a slightly auto-tuned version of Kellz. That man is Jeremih, and he is the smooth-voiced R&B crooner that is ready and waiting to fill the void that R. Kelly has left in your life. His mixtape, Late Nights With Jeremih, is full of slow-burn baby-making jams, but the one song that I listen into the ground is his collaboration with the hilariously-monikered producer Shlohmo, “Bo Peep (Do U Right).”
FKA Twigs: If Tinkerbell were a real live person, living in contemporary times, this is the music she would listen to when she realized there was more to life than just being Peter Pan’s bitch. This is music for fairies that read Rookie and are experimenting with purple lipstick and holographic nail art. It’s expansive and electronic, with Twigs’ breathy vocals anchoring the minimal and jangly production. I can’t think of anything else to compare it to, but her EP is a revelation, and goes best with a joint and dim lighting.
Banks: She dabbles in the same kind of synth-heavy, bass-addled R&B that these other fine folks do, but something about this feels truly dark, but in the best possible way. She has yet to release a full album, but her four-song EP, London, calls to mind the music of the Weeknd. If you’re in the mood for some chill Sunday vibes, try this out.
Sampha: If you don’t know who Sampha is, you can surely recognize his voice. It’s deep, mellifluous, capable of tremulous falsetto and completely arresting. I first heard Sampha on this duet with Jessie Ware, and immediately wanted more. Lucky for me, he’s had a banner year, guesting on Drake’s album and releasing his own EP, Dual, full of haunting, keyboard-driven tunes perfect for quiet, sunny afternoons.
Sam Smith: If you’ve been within earshot of an Urban Outfitters in the past year or so, you’ve heard this song. The killer vocals on that track are by the angel-faced Sam Smith, an unassuming British man with killer chops, poised to release his debut album, In The Lonely Hour, May 26. Everything he does is magic, and to tide you over until his album is out, listen to his EP, Nirvana. Test the upper limits of your range with the chorus of the titular track, and find yourself wondering how a 21-year-old could sing about heartbreak with such exacting precision.
Curtis Harding: If you want your music less heady and more like the soundtrack for a family reunion, put on Curtis Harding’s debut, Soul Power, and get to two-steppin’. In the tradition of Sharon Jones and the DapKings, Harding makes music that sounds like a throwback in the best possible way. By riffing on the sounds of classic soul from the likes of Al Green and the Isley Brothers, this album pays respect to those that came before it, injecting the old with a modern flair.
Jesse Boykins III: Once you’re done crying quietly to yourself over Jesse Boykins III’s cover of James Blake’s modern classic, “Limit To Your Love,” check out his latest, Love Apparatus. He’s got an amazing voice and a unique musical sensibility that brings in a lot of influences from reggae to electronica, but his vision is most clearly realized on this release, which is just the thing for the season. Get in there.
Kelis: You know who Kelis is, because you know almost all the lyrics to “Milkshake,” don’t you? And “I’m Bossy.” Don’t lie. You know she was married to Nas. Surely you also know that she has a record out called Food, that sounds like vintage Prince and is full of insanely catchy songs, all named after, duh, food. Great. Glad we had this talk.