It’s a new year and it’s time to talk about R&B and what the genre will look like in the years to come.

I love R&B; always have. From old to new school, I’m fascinated by the genre.

In the past couple of years R&B reinvented itself. It was in dire straits and even the best of the best couldn’t save it.

Beyonce released “4” (a predominantly R&B focused album) and in terms of Beyonce albums, it
flopped. Tyrese released “Black Rose”, a fantastic album, but not the one to save a dying genre.

I was in despair looking for something or someone to save it. Then came Frank Ocean. When Frank was introduced to the scene he brought something to R&B that had been missing for a while; something that hip-hop always had- youth. A different perspective and a new sound, as told by a young man. Of course, there was nothing wrong with our favourite, cherished R&B superstars, but they were older, and spoke to a different audience. Frank ushered in a new era of openly discussing numbness, suicidal thoughts, and unrequited love. Finally something fresh; something that spoke to the times.

Then came The Weeknd. The Weeknd was cut from the same cloth as Frank Ocean, introducing the smooth, trippy Toronto sound that has become so popular; a sound duplicated by artists like PartyNextDoor.

Then Jazmine Sullivan ushered in a new age for female songwriting and vocal performance. She was a direct derivative of the “Brandy Norwood School of Vocals”, and had a vocal prowess and growl that resembled Beyonce. She also forced female songwriters to step up their pen game.

The developments within R&B in the last couple of years have given birth to the new faces of R&B. Artists like SZA, Solange, Kehlani, Kemela and DVSN are representing for the alternative R&B crowd.

Of course there’s another crop of artists who combine more traditional R&B with modern elements including Daniel Caesar, Brent Faiyaz, Mali Music, and Sevyn Streeter. For the hip-hop/R&B/trap-soul fusion, there’s Bryson Tiller, Justine Skye, and Ty Dolla $ign. They’re the new, young, faces bringing excitement to Rhythm & Blues.

With that being said, here are 12 new school artists who are leading the new wave of R&B:

1. SZA | the current reigning queen of alt R&B

2. Mali Music  | a strong, inspiring, songwriter and singer, nestled into traditional R&B elements with fantastic songs. [See: “The Transition of Mali“]

3. Daniel Caesar | The new kid on the block, transforming the sound of modern R&B, with his lovely falsetto, and deep cuts. [See: “Freudian“]


5. H.E.R.  | R&B’s mystery woman, she keeps her identity secret for the most part and you get to focus on her storytelling, wispy vocals. [See. H.E.R., Vol. 2]

6. Solange  | Not just Beyonce’s sister, though inspired by her. Solange is R&B’s carefree, rebellious, child. This is represented in her music. No one sounds like her, she is free.

7. Brent Faiyaz  | This is the guy to watch. Watch him intently, he is a breath of fresh air, simply incredible. He will make you feel nostalgia and newness all in one. [See: Sonder Son]

8. Bryson Tiller [ The king of trap soul let’s be honest. He really helped facilitate to revival of R&B with his emergence. [See TrapSoul]

9. Ty Dolla Sign | I don’t think anybody combines modern r&b/hip-hop with real vocal technique and ability more than Ty $. His thorough knowledge of the genre and its history is refreshing, he pays respect to his predecessors.
[See Free TC/Beachhouse 3]

10. Kehlani  | A female free spirit, much needed in R&B music. She is an example of how diverse the genre has become. [See: SweetSexySavage]

11. Justine Skye  | She has been pushing behind the scenes for a while and her modern R&B/Hip-Hop sound is finally being heard. [See: Ultraviolet and I’m Yours]

12. Sevyn Streeter  | She knows how to dip in and out of traditional and modern R&B so smoothly, also, her voice is sublime. [See: Girl Disrupted]

Understand that for me, traditional, old-school R&B will always be my first love. It’s what agonizingly speaks to my soul and clings to my heart. However, even I had to admit that R&B needed something new or it would self-destruct. Welcome to the new age.

By Nicky Jean

Nicky Jean is an Ottawa-based poet, singer and rapper, as well as a radio host at CHUO 89.1FM

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