It truly saddens me to see R&B, a personal favorite style of music, in a state of uncertainty. 2013 found the numbers of R&B down considerably, a trend that is consistent year in and year out. Save for a select few commercial bright spots (led by an unexpected Beyoncé album), R&B only dented the charts. Even so, finding 25 albums with some significance wasn’t difficult to do. Sure, some of the lowest ranked albums have their flaws, but each has some reason for being selected. Enjoy!
The Electric Lady
In a world where R&B and soul music have cooled off considerably, one incredibly talented Janelle Monáe is still ‘on’ so to speak. Monáe balances the retro with the contemporary and alternative like a champ on her brilliant The Electric Lady, my pick for the best R&B album of 2013. Simply put, this album kicks some serious… watch yo mouth! Consistent, fresh, retro, and captivating, Monáe paves her own way and has it going on in a big way. All hail “Q.U.E.E.N.” Janelle!
“Givin’ ‘Em What They Love”; “Q.U.E.E.N.”; “Primetime”; “We Were Rock and Roll”; “Ghetto Woman”; “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”
Love in the Future
G.O.O.D. / Columbia
John Legend may take some risks on Love in the Future, but ultimately, his formula is the same as it always has been. Love in The Future not only has the goods to challenge for the best R&B album of the year, but it also challenges Legend’s own discography as his best album yet. With five years between solo albums, Legend sounds riper than ever on this top-notch work. Rock on John!
“In The Beginning”; “Made to Love”; “Who Do We Think We Are?” featuring Rick Ross; “All of Me”; “Stay The Night”; “Tomorrow”
Beyoncé shocked the world by keeping her fifth studio album Beyoncé a secret. Her rollout wasn’t the only shock; the album itself is alluring because of its cutting edged approach. No longer does Beyoncé show herself as a suggestive R&B diva – she’s now an unapologetic, fierce one unafraid to state her emotions or intentions. At her most naughty, ‘Yoncé is at her best.
“Pretty Hurts”; “Haunted”; “Drunk in Love” featuring Jay-Z; “Blow”; “Rocket”
Victim of Love
65-year old soul singer Charles Bradley represents for the retro-soul veterans atop these rankings. Bradley isn’t nearly as ‘decorated’ as his colleagues of similar age because his ‘chance’ didn’t arrive until late in his life. Regardless, Bradley does it like a pro, delivering a compelling, soulful tour de force on Victim of Love. The young bucks can learn plenty from Bradley, who is on autopilot throughout the course of Victim of Love – no misses to speak of.
“Strictly Reserved For You”; “Victim of Love”; “Confusion”
No Beginning, No End
Distinctly voiced jazz/soul singer José James joins a list of incredibly underrated, super talented artists. His Blue Note January release No Beginning, No End was nothing short of a critical smash, consistent through and through. Sure James is refined like any jazz musician, but he also allows for his sensual, soulful side to shine on tracks like “It’s All Over My Body.” His best moment, however, comes by way of instant jam “Trouble”.
“It’s All Over My Body”; “Trouble”; “Vanguard”
Side Effects of You
Over the course of four albums, former American Idol winner continues to captivate vocally. Sure, sometimes the material doesn’t always match up with her prodigious pipes, but more often than not, Fantasia makes up for it with her heart-wrenching, soulful vocals. Side Effects of You overall is well put together featuring some enjoyable songs showcasing ‘Tasia at her best.
“Supernatural” featuring Big K.R.I.T.; “Ain’t All Bad”; “Without Me” featuring Kelly Rowland & Missy Elliott; “Change Your Mind”; “Lose To Win”; “End of Me”
A Love Surreal
Bilal has been captivating alt-soul fans’ hearts years before Frank Ocean, Miguel, or The Weeknd came along. He continues to shine on his fine A Love Surreal, where his vocals remain powerful and soulful. Eclectic and consistent, A Love Surreal is easily one of the year’s top R&B efforts.
“Westside Girl”; “Back To Love”; “Winning Hand”; “Slipping Away”; “Butterfly”
Underrated and under-appreciated, Alice Smith is an exceptional artist by all means. On She, Smith delivers magnificent vocals coupled with magnificent songwriting and production. Among her most triumphant moments is a fierce cover of Cee-Lo Green’s “Fool For You”, which she makes her own. A tight album with only 11 tracks and 36 minutes in duration, She is that exceptional album you definitely shouldn’t be sleeping on.
“Cabaret”; “Another Love”; “Loyalty”; “Fool For You”; “Be Easy”
Sail Out (EP)
Don’t let Jhene Aiko’s chill delivery discourage you – the girl can pack a knockout punch without sweating once! Sail Out provides an excellent picture of what the singer’s full length will sound like, embracing elements of pop and alternative R&B.
“The Vapors”; “Bed Peace”; “Stay Ready (What A Life)”; “Comfort Inn Ending (Freestyle)”
Chrisette Michele just might be R&B’s most underrated female. While commercial success has only been so-so for Michele, she’s been rock-solid where consistency is concerned. Better is a sensational and eclectic R&B effort that shows Michele’s range as an artist. Nothing is better here than promo single “A Couple of Forevers”, which was easily among the year’s best.
“A Couple of Forevers”; “Let Me Win”; “Love Won’t Leave Me Out”; “Visual Love”; “Charades”
Jaheim has cleaned up his act since his excellent ‘Ghetto’ days, but don’t get it twisted, he’s still an edgy R&B singer. Jaheim appreciates the female throughout, perhaps most specifically on “***** Appreciation”… gasp. But he’s most impressive on his socially conscious turn on “Florida”, written about the Treyvon Martin controversy down south.
“Age Ain’t A Factor”; “He Don’t Exist”; “Morning”; “Baby X3”; “Sexting”; “Florida”
A Place Called Loveland
Raheem DeVaughn is one of the most underrated R&B artists, but he’s also one of the best and most consistent. A Place Called Loveland may lack the flash to appeal to a new audience, but it is exceptionally put together.
“Love Connection”; “Wrong Forever”; “Complicated”; “Cry Baby”; “Make A Baby”; “Make Em Like You”
Is she pop or R&B – that is the question? Not from my perspective, as Ariana Grande cements herself as Mariah Carey’s successor on her fine debut Yours Truly, which debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200. Quality from start to finish, Grande has a promising career ahead of her.
“Honeymoon Avenue”; “Baby I”; “Right There”; “You’ll Never Know”; “The Way” featuring Mac Miller; “Almost is Never Enough” featuring Nathan Sykes
One True Vine
You could argue this album is ‘Americana’ as the Grammys suggest, but the Mavis Staples I know and love has gospel and soul roots. Album One True Vine may be a genre bender, but Staples sounds incredibly compelling as a 74-year old. “Age ain’t nothing but a number” Mavis.
“Holy Ghost”; “Every Step”; “Can You Get To That”; “I Like The Things About Me”
I’m not sure if its cool for guys to listen to K. Michele, but ole girl definitely keeps it real. Early cuts like “Kiss My A$$” and “I Just Wanna” don’t even grace the set… If you are a woman scorned, K. Michele is who you should listen to for reassurance or a ‘pick me up’. Brash but honest, K. Michele soulfully executes on her debut, Rebellious Soul.
“Damn”; “Can’t Raise a Man”; “V.S.O.P.”; “Ride Out”; “When I Get A Man”
For Robin Thicke, it was a career transformative year. “Blurred Lines” was the gift single that kept giving (and perhaps taking), making the former neo-soul singer relevant within pop circles. “Blurred Lines” wasn’t the only shining moment, as Thicke kept his silky, smooth pipes going strong on thoughtful ballad, “For The Rest Of My Life”.
“Blurred Lines”; “Take It Easy On Me”; “Give It 2 U”; “Feel Good”; “For The Rest of My Life”
Super groups are hard to come by these days. TGT, comprised of Tyrese, Ginuwine, and Tank, three of R&B’s finest, come together to deliver one of the finest panty-dropping fests of the year. Just imagine of Trey Songz had somehow made his way in and Three Kings would’ve totally been too hot to handle.
“Sex Never Felt Better”; “I Need”; “Next Time Around”; “Explode”; “Running Back”; “Burn Out”
Where Does This Door Go?
Mayer Hawthorne’s album sadly drifted from the ranks of playlist glory on my iPod, but I couldn’t tell you why. Where Does This Door Go certainly had its skeptics, but I wasn’t one of them. Vocally, one of the hippest bespectacled white dudes can blow and does here.
“Back Seat Lover”; “The Innocent”; “The Only One”; “Her Favorite Song”; “Reach Out Richard”
Even though Ciara received high marks on my end of things, I may have still underrated it. Ciara doesn’t sport a powerful voice like some of her contemporaries, but it sits well contextually within her music. Ciara is both sexy and enjoyable.
“Sophomore”; “Body Party”; “Keep On Lookin’”; “Super Turnt Up”
Talk A Good Game
Kelly Rowland has been consistently patterning herself as a more risqué alternative to her ‘sister’ Beyoncé (well until Beyoncé itself shocked the world). Talk A Good Game comes full circle, intact with parental advisory label to match. It doesn’t supersede the exceptional Here I Am, but it definitely has some shining moments.
“Kisses Down Low”; “Down on Love”; “Dirty Laundry”; “Red Wine”
Doubleback: Evolution of R&B
After several albums lacking the quality of his best, Joe returns with a throwback (“doubleback”) R&B album that finds him flexing his sensual muscles like a G.
“Something For You”; “Easy”; “I’d Rather Have A Love”; “Love & Sex” featuring Fantasia; “More”
Love and War
Tamar Braxton makes this list because of the significance of her accomplishments with Love and War. The album has some shining moments, but doesn’t lack flaws. Even so, Braxton has an exceptional voice and when she’s fully invested with superb material to perform, it’s pure fire.
“The One”; “Stay and Fight”; “Love and War”; “One On One Fun”; “Where It Hurts”; “Prettiest Girl”
Teena Marie passed on in 2010, but she left a stunning final studio album in Beautiful, which is just that. Beautiful is Teena Marie at her very best – soulful, sensual, and brilliant.
“Luv Letter”; “Sweet Tooth”; “Love Starved”; “Definition of Down”; “Beautiful”; “The Long Play”
My True Story isn’t a flashy album, but it is a fine retro-soul effort that covers classics from the early era of R&B, the 1950s and 60s. Neville may be long past his prime, but vocally the 72-year old still got it. Bow down!
“My True Story”; “Ting A Ling”; “Under The Boardwalk”
Maybe it’s a stretch to include Black Panties on this list, but part of the reason for its inclusion is because Kelly returns to his true self – edgy, sensual, and just plumb freaky. Sure he overdoes it and seems to think sex supplants sexiness, but there’s some pieces there. Oreos are still tasty…
“Legs Shakin’” featuring Ludacris; “Cookie”; “Genius”; “All The Way” featuring Kelly Rowland