All hands were on deck to make this a phenomenal year in R&B. A mix of newbies and veterans brought an array of uptempo grooves and ballads replete with soulful stirrings that reached the top of the charts, heavy rotations in the club and bumped loud and clear from car stereos. We saw surprise comebacks from revered singers and long-delayed projects we were itching to hear finally graced our ears. From California to the U.K., R&B continues to be dominated by solo artists who aren't afraid to dabble in the genre's many sounds and push its limits. From funk to hip-hop and blues to electronic inspiration, check out the 10 Best R&B Albums of 2014.

  • 10

    ‘Souled Out’

    Jhene Aiko

    Jhene Aiko's 'Souled Out' is one long, hypnotic lullaby. She unveils her own stories of strife and success, love and vulnerability. Her release date was pushed back several times, but right before her debut, she received a massive following from her feature with Drake on his platinum-selling album 'Nothing Was the Same' as well as her tour dates alongside the rapper. Her EP 'Sail Out,' also gave her that extra push to keep her name buzzing.

    On 'To Love & Die,' the first single from the opus, she informs listeners to always be soldiers of love. "You need to switch sides right away / Love side, hate side / Never in between," she declares. On 'Its' Cool,' she's meets the right person after a heartbreak -- someone that takes over her mind. But she's leaving it up to him to define the situation. "And I'm not even gonna front / At first I was just tryna f--- but you have got me so in love / So deep in love, so please be love," she sings.

    Aiko's 'Souled Out' is not built for the turn up, but the singer has a way of helping you escape with her smooth approach. So just press play and coast.

    Def Jam
  • 9

    ‘Testimony’

    August Alsina

    From YouTube sensation to signed artist, August Alsina's success is one in a million. 'Testimony' is the story behind his rare triumph. It's been some time since R&B had a singer that can speak to the streets, all while still having the same appeal to the ladies. Alsina fills that void as he has been through his own share of hell and back at the age of 22.

    "I'ma tell the truth and the whole truth 'cause there ain't no need to lie," Alsina reveals on 'Testify.' On 'Right There,' he uplifts those in the struggle. "I'm just like you, I've been there too, been through the pain," he croons with his high-octave vocals. 'You Deserve' and 'No Love' finds the New Orleans native being upfront about his intentions with a woman. He cares for her, but not enough to provide the life she needs. "See I was just your n---- next door, but girl I see more for you," he informs her on 'You Deserve.'

    Whether hustling on the corner of the block or in the corner office, 'Testimony' is an authentic, motivational record, accompanied by collaborations with notable rappers Pusha T, Fabolous, Jeezy, Rick Ross and Yo Gotti. His songwriting is catchy and the emotional delivery is felt. But there has to be more to his story than offered on 'Testimony' and we predict a deeper look into his come-up on future projects.

     

    Def Jam
  • 8

    'Luke James'

    Luke James

    Luke James' journey to this moment hasn't been a smooth ride. Since 2011, he has been buzzing underneath the surface as the next big thing in R&B. As an opener for Beyonce's Mrs. Carter Show World Tour, he had the biggest co-sign in the industry.

    The singer used this success to fuel him towards his self-titled debut, a collection of songs based on true stories of love, romance and soiled relationships. The project is also a solid showcase of his polished vocals, which prove to be the most distinct in the game among his peers at this moment.

    On his first single, 'Options,' featuring Rick Ross, the crooner and his woman are at a crossroads about the future of their relationship. “I’m a man of simple knowledge / She’s a woman who's prone to violence / It used to be something beautiful," a lovesick James bellows on the piano-driven track as he asks for forgiveness. Lustful eyes almost lead him into some serious issues, but experience teaches him he knows better this time around. "When you get lost in just lovin' someone pretty (Trouble trouble) / You'll always find (Trouble trouble)," he sings as the beat builds on 'Trouble.'

    It is safe to say that James is largely underrated, but as a true perfectionist of his craft, he can still gain the loving ears of the people.

    Island Records
  • 7

    'Trigga'

    Trey Songz

    In a world where Chris Brown, Rihanna and Beyonce rule, Trey Songz has been able to hold his own by consistently crafting his brand of sex-driven club and bedroom odes.

    On his fifth studio album, 'Trigga,' he masters the contemporary format that made him a big hit. He's a bit rough around the edges, while still maintaining his magnetic allure, charged by his pretty-boy looks. The album receives features from rap queen Nicki Minaj, Mila J, Justin Beiber, Ty Dolla $ign and Juicy J.

    His playboy side gets him in loads of trouble on 'Smartphones' and 'Y.A.S.,' an acronym for "You Ain't S---." On 'Foreign' he has his eyes set on international beauties. "She only been here for two weeks /

    Came with the girls and they tryna leave with me," he sings. 'Trigga' reaches a new level of trifling with 'Disrespectful,' in which two people in separate relationships proclaim loyalty to their side-pieces. "Girl you can come with me to her favorite diner / She even took me home so I could meet her mama (disrespectful)."

    Overall, 'Trigga' is the definitive collection of the fast and unpredictable lifestyle that few man can live and Trey clearly loves to bask in all of it.

    Atlantic Records
  • 6

    ‘G I R L’

    Pharrell Williams

    Pharrell Williams has been delivering and writing catchy drum-backed sonic goodness for more than a decade. So the success he saw with the gospel-influenced 'Happy' was well-deserved as it hit No. 1 in more than two dozen countries. Riding on that success, his sophomore effort, 'G I R L,' had much to live up to. The record is a conglomerate of upbeat records dedicated to the ladies and brings on the good times.

    You have to dust off your dancing shoes for 'Come Get It Bae,' which gives you James Brown early funk. "You wanna ride it, my motorcycle / You've got a license, but you got the right to," he sings in his feathery vox. The opening track, 'Marilyn Monroe,' is another rump-shaker, as he exclaims that not even the biggest stars in the world could measure up to his lady. "Not even Joan of Arc / That don't mean nothin' to me / I just want a different girl," he sings.

    On the calm, humming 'Lost Queen,' Pharrell has come across a woman he believes has wandered away from her throne on another planet. He bows down. "I think you are a lost queen / Let me serve you, serve you / Hot sex and gold, shiny things."

    The upbeat lovey-dovey mood of 'G I R L' lets us know that Pharrell, who married Helen Lasichanh in 2013, infused his newlywed high into his music, since all of these songs are clearly about the woman he loves.

     

    i Am Other/Columbia
  • 5

    'LP1’

    FKA twigs

    Former back-up dancer FKA Twigs arrived this year with her genre-bending debut, 'LP1.' The record oozes with effortless sensuality and straightforward dirty talk, which she delivers in her haunting, soft tone. The lo-fi electronic, spacy booms and unidentified sonics that echo through each record are outer-worldly. Her coolness and swag mixed with high-ranged feathery vocals have brought her comparisons to alternative star Bjork and innovative angelic songbird Aaliyah.

    The U.K. singer seduces on 'Two Weeks' as she convinces a man that she can "treat him better" than his previous woman. "I know it hurts / You know I'd put you first / I can f--- you better than her / You say you want me / You'll live without it," she softly coos. On 'Numbers,' Twigs finds herself in a grey area and her vulnerability has her wide open as she pleads for her lover to reveal his true feelings to her -- or else. "Was I just a number to you? / Was I just a lonely girl to fly / Tonight I’ve got a question for you / Tonight do you want to live or die?"

    FKA twigs brings a dark, twisted fantasy to your ears -- one that you may not prepared to journey into upon a first listen. But the project will leave you with a sense of fulfillment, which she delivers on each song.

    Young Turks
  • 4

    ‘ART OFFICIAL AGE’

    Prince

    Prince is one of the most discrete artists in the game, so 'ART OFFICIAL AGE' wasn't expected to arrive in 2014, but when the genius returns, we gladly listen. His 33rd studio album is a cohesive batch of dreamy, chill cuts centered on love and lust.

    The smooth, groovy 'CLOUDS,' assisted by British soul singer Lianne La Havas, gives instructions on how to keep things hot and heavy in a relationship. "You should never underestimate the power of / A kiss on the neck, when she doesn't expect," he repeats. He also calls out how humans today move too fast -- a theme that reemerges throughout the album, as the title of the album plays on the words 'Artificial Age.'

    On 'U KNOW,' Prince puts his own twist on modern R&B as he sing-raps, his lyrics detailing that with him, a lady is winning, but with her current dude, she's clearly losing. "You know how much I want you / You know how much I care / When he gone, he know I'm gonna flaunt you," he teases. We're not sure if the funky, mellow 'THIS COULD BE US' was inspired by the popular internet meme of the same name, but Prince delivers top game to the woman frontin' on him on the track.

    Prince's latest solo record solidifies what we already know -- that he's timelessly cool. His spirit of artistry may mature but it will never go out of style.

    NPG/Warner Bros.
  • 3

    ‘In the Lonely Hour’

    Sam Smith

    Every year, a soulful U.K. artist manages to jump seas and takes over the pop world. This year, that honor goes to Sam Smith. The 22-year-old grew in popularity with his feature on deep house duo Disclosure's hit record 'Latch' in 2012. Soon after, he followed with his debut LP, 'In The Lonely Hour,' a stripped-back album of ballads with power vocals that are destined to make you feel some type of way. Smith's riveting falsetto, rips and runs allows the lyrics to soar through every song.

    His single 'Money On My Mind' is a promise to stay true to his heart in the world infatuated with fame, and the pulsating 'Stay With Me' finds him begging that a fling not end so soon. 'I'm Not the Only One' is a heartbreaking moment of truth. "I have loved you for many years / Maybe I am just not enough / You've made me realize my deepest fear / By lying and tearing us up," Smith laments.

    The singer has a big year coming with six Grammy nominations, including the coveted Album of the Year. It's clear that Smith is in his own lane and we're only seeing the beginning of a promising career.

    Capitol
  • 2

    ‘X’

    Chris Brown

    After experimenting within the EDM craze that took over in 2011, Chris Brown decided to go back to his R&B roots with 'X.' His fifth studio album had several setbacks while he was in and out of court and serving jail time, but his singles 'Fine China' and 'Loyal' were still climbing the charts. The final product delivered a blend of solid R&B sounds.

    The pumped-up, bass-driven 'Add Me In' sees Brown convincing a lady to "subtract" her current situation and put him in place instead. With 'New Flame,' Brown collaborates with one of his inspirations, Usher. The two powerhouses -- on the mic and dance floor -- created one of the best R&B songs this year with this track. CB brings more smooth jams such us the two-step-inducing 'Lost in Ya Love,' and the Aaliyah-assisted 'Don't Think They Know.'

    On the flipside, he's dealing with some heavy relationship drama and the opening track, 'X,' is a goodbye to a former love who's lurking in his past. On 'Stereotype,' he laments that his girlfriend "has become his biggest regret." On 'Drunk Texting,' with a whispering Jhene Aiko in the background, he's got one hand on the bottle and the other on his cell phone. The singer is airing out his feelings and being candid as ever.

    Although Brown is constantly in a whirlwind of gossip, when it comes to the music, he's a successful leader in the R&B game, as anything he touches rises to the top.

    Soundcloud
  • 1

    'Black Messiah'

    D'Angelo

    After a 15-year absence from the music game, the soul magician finally granted his yearning fans their wishes with ‘Black Messiah.’ D’Angelo and the Vanguard surprised us in the final hours of 2014 with his meticulously crafted, funkdafied third studio LP. The album’s title is a mirror of what D’Angelo has felt and witnessed in these evolving times. He mentions recent uprisings in Ferguson, Mo., Egypt and the Occupy Wall Street movements as inspirations for the album’s artwork.

    The follow-up to 2000's ‘Voodoo’ is a continuous stream of D’s own brand of funk, rock and roll, soul and gospel jam sessions. ‘Black Messiah’ isn’t merely a protest album; it is more so an anthology of love stories and deep spiritual epiphanies. The crooner has his mind and pockets tied up on ‘Sugah Daddy,’ his first single. The gold digger has one over on him with this swinging, hand-clapping, key-led effort. “Lawd, lawd / You say you wanna be the one she chooses to star in her meaningless romance,” he smoothly hums.

    ‘Really Love’ has the ability to freeze time and woo you in. The sway-inducing love song is a beautiful moment on the album; one that is all too rare these days. 'Black Messiah' proves D'Angelo hasn't lost himself in the years he's been gone. His music still creates a vibe that no one can duplicate.

    RCA