15 R&B Artists to Watch in 2014
Think R&B is dead? Well, think again. 2013 blessed us with the experimental sounds of Janelle Monae‘s ‘The Electric Lady’ and you can’t forget reality TV and R&B vixen K. Michelle‘s ‘Rebellious Soul,’ the album that gave us a beautiful display of pain, love and frankness. Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake proved they could win with any formula involving Pharrell and Timbaland and the oh-so stealth release of Beyonce’s flawless self-titled fifth LP offered countless anthems for any mood.
However with a new year, emerges a new crop of R&B acts that are ready to fulfill your musical needs. Some are just as good as the aforementioned artists, some might even be better. If you’re in search for acts that push the envelope and talents that merge different worlds of music into creative, bass-heavy, alternative melodies, then this is the list for you. With the first month of 2014 behind us and Valentine’s Day right around the corner, here’s 15 artists you’ll need to keep your eyes (or ears) on.
Singer-songwriter Kelela is perhaps the most anticipated left-field artist we’ve been waiting to hear from for quite some time. She has a soulful sound infused with electronica and arousing personal appeal. The second generation daughter of Ethiopian parents, this L.A.-based songstress rose to notoriety after debuting ‘Cut 4 Me’ — a sonic journey of potent lyrics and melodies helmed by independent label Fade to Mind in 2012. After capturing the ears of artists like Solange, Kelela’s vocals were soon added to Saint Heron’s compilation EP with the entrancing ‘Go All Night.’ Her recent delivery is the pulsating song ‘The High.’ With lyrics and melodies so tantalizing, this is one artist’s movement we’re championing.
When you’re a protégé of The-Dream, you’re bound for success. Gaining a great street buzz in 2013 for his breakout single ‘I Luv This S—,’ August Alsina has made waves in the R&B current — from giving his very best with K. Michelle on the remix to ‘V.S.O.P’ to reflecting on his journey of hustle and struggle on ‘Make It Home’ featuring Jeezy. Offering a conjuring of street-savvy and rough sensuality, the Pyrex King showcases his versatility in R&B, just like his “Radio Killa” mentor. Alsina’s full-length debut album, ‘Testimony,’ is slated for release this spring.
Ty Dolla $ign
It’s not hard to fall into the trippy, lush and intoxicating melodies of rapper-singer Ty Dolla $ign. Continuing the popular trend of ratchet R&B, the Los Angeles native, who reps Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang camp, is responsible for the head nod inducing track ‘Paranoid’ featuring B.o.B, and ‘Irie’ with his Wiz. With the release of the third installment of his ‘Beach House’ series EP, Ty Dolla’s ready and set to ride the wave once again.
Dubbed as the “glitter trap” singer, TDE’s first lady Solana Rowe — better known as SZA — has a mystical, woozy presence that you’re sure to hear this year. The first R&B act on the TDE roster, the New Jersey siren has already made a name for herself with features of her soothing soul-tingling hooks on label mate Isaiah Rashad’s ‘Ronnie Drake,’ to the heavy, dark and meditative track ‘Teen Spirit.’
After one listen, you can’t help but think about it too much when your ears first capture the impressive, beguiling vocals and piano progression of Sampha. The South London-bred electronic singer-songwriter and producer is most noted for his work with Jessie Ware, Solange and Drake — he appears on the latter’s track ‘Too Much,’ off the ‘Nothing Was the Same’ album. The virtuoso offers raw emotion and strong vocal dexterity worthy of your attention.
The worst is yet to come — but we mean that in a good way — when it comes to Jhene Aiko. After debuting her grandiose ‘Sail Out’ EP in November 2013, the songstress has proven to be more than just a hook-driven singer on Drake’s ‘From Time.’ Her angelic voice was showcased on ‘Bed Peace’ with Childish Gambino and her way with words got Wiz Khalifa even chiming in on ‘The Vapors.’ The Los Angeles native will continue her graceful glide into the industry waters when she releases her debut LP, ‘Souled Out,’ in May.
It’s time to get active when it comes to the attractive Tinashe, a Kentucky-born, Los Angeles-bred singer that’s bound for stardom. After a stint in the female pop group the Stunners and a recurring role on the hit CBS TV series ‘Two and a Half Men,’ the ravishing beauty is back in the spotlight as a singer and dancer. She’s already teamed up with Schoolboy Q for ‘2 On,’ a finger-snapping, bass-heavy track, on which she coos about living the fast life, and delivered the ‘Black Water’ mixtape. The RCA Records signee is off to a solid start in 2014.
Malaysian-bred chanteuse Yuna has been delivering her delicate vocals to the masses since 2008. Her latest album, ‘Nocturnal,’ is an 11-song effort that showcases her broader perspective on life — she hit the U.S. just three years ago. The singer’s feel-good, catchy tune ‘Rescue’ details a woman standing on her own two feet. Yuna’s doing just that with her stateside approach.
U.K. singer-songwriter Sam Smith has reached out and we’re ready to hear his call. His vocals earned him widespread recognition when he joined forces with EDM duo Disclosure on their 2012 breakout single ‘Latch.’ He’s since stepped out out on his own — this time on a more personal note. With a soul-tinged sound and production similar to Mayer Hawthorne and John Legend, we’re anticipating his reign in 2014 to be comparable to a male version of Adele. ‘In the Lonely Hour,’ his debut album and first project since the ‘Nirvana’ EP, will arrive in May.
No, it’s not “Michael,” it’s Mack — Mack Wilds. Though he’s most notable for his acting roles on hit TV shows like ‘The Wire’ and ‘90210,’ the former actor has made quite the career shift — similar to peers like Tinashe — into the world of R&B. He’s earned a Grammy nomination for his debut album, ‘New York: A Love Story,’ and is well on his way to reaching 1 million YouTube views for his smash ‘Own It.’ With an impressive debut filled with retro hip-hop beats and catchy hooks, and Salaam Remi in his corner, the crooner has a fulfilling recipe for success.
We can’t lie. When a new artist like Sebastian Mikael pulls off a classic by Al B. Sure, it’s definitely worth taking a second listen. The new fresh-faced crooner on the Slip-N-Side’s imprint has taken the R&B world by storm with the Wale-assisted tune ‘Last Night.’ Mikeal — a product of a Swedish father and Ethiopian mother — has a love of all genres and finds inspiration from Guns N’ Roses to Usher, proving his first project will be a sonic groove that the masses can enjoy.
And it won’t stop! After two girl group stints, multiple songwriting sessions with Ariana Grande and Alicia Keys and a thumping buzz single to her credit, Chris Brown’s protégé Sevyn Streeter is in for even more great crazy career moments this year. Releasing her seven-track EP ‘Call Me Crazy, But…’ in late 2013, one can’t help but love Sevyn’s unbelievable vocal range, bass-heavy production, and resilient personality. She’s ‘nEXt,’ but definitely not like an unwanted ex.
Kenneth Whalum III
In a time where repetitive, synthesized beats laced with clichéd hooks are more apparent than ever, there’s a much bigger appreciation for musical instruments. Enter Kenneth Whalum, music’s go-to saxophonist for artists like Jay Z, Ludacris. He’s also the latest jazz impresario to take 2014 by storm. Carrying the torch led by other jazz and instrumental luminaries like Robert Glasper and Gary Clark Jr, Whalum’s teamed up with Big K.R.I.T. on the tickled ivory-key, mellow-out ‘Away,’ a record that not only speaks to those lost on journey, but to the ones who are in search of a more raw and authentic sound. Look out for his sophomore album, ‘Through Hell & High Water,’ this spring.
When you’re mesmerizing vocals earn you mistaken credits for a track (‘Blood on the Leaves’) on Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ album, know that the streets are watching and listening. This is the case for Lorine China, the singer-songwriter hailing from Cleveland, Ohio. A resonating mixture of acid jazz, futuristic R&B and a bit of an Amy Winehouse cadence, Chia’s a versatile songstress. Her divinely captivating ‘Eve’s Perspective’ and the piercing, Kendrick Lamar-esque robot inspiration of ‘House On the Hill’ showcase her capabilities. She’s given fans a new album, ‘Naked Truths,’ and proved she can dibble and dabble in other genres when she joined forces with Machine Gun Kelly for ‘Good Time.’
After receiving a co-sign from Drake, singer Jahron Brathwaite, also known as PARTYNEXTDOOR, has been one to watch since releasing his self-titled mixtape in July 2013. The Toronto-bred crooner can lay claim to being the first signee on Drizzy’s OVO Sound record label. Besides putting listeners onto life in the suburb of Sauga with his ‘Break From Toronto’ video, he also delivers edgy, wavering cuts such as ‘Make A Mil’ and ‘Wus Good/Curious.’ PARTYNEXTDOOR is giving the Weeknd some stiff competition.