10 Best R&B/Soul Songs of 2017
Over the past five years or so, R&B and soul has arguably undergone a major shift—and not just because of streaming's impact on sales and the overall business model.
The genre has arguably expanded, while steadily dipping into the sonic landscapes that painted the 70s, 80s and 90s. It's incredibly broad—encompassing everything from the jazzy, ethereal stylings of artists like Bilal, Erykah Badu, Sampha and Lion Babe, to the electro-downbeat sounds of groups like The Foreign Exchange and Haitus Kaiyote, to the soul of veteran acts like Mary J. Blige and Maxwell. You also can't forget the the soulful gumbo of acts like P.J. Morton and Curtis Harding, the cosmic funk of JSMN and Childish Gambino, and the Trap&B-Emo offerings of artists like Jhene Aiko, 6LACK, SZA and Bryson Tiller.
Bottom line? Creating a definitive soul/R&B list is difficult because it can be broken into at least five different sub-genres. Nevertheless, here we are, offering the top 10 R&B/Soul songs of 2017. The list is diverse, not definitive but these songs are standouts in an incredibly busy genre.
Kehlani's SweetSexySavage was one of the best R&B offerings of the year, stamped by breezy production and vulnerable songwriting. You can't really talk about Kehlani's soothing vocals without mentioning her obvious Brandy influence. Her vocal ability, coupled with above average lyricism, make her a standout talent on the R&B landscape, as exemplified on one of the best tracks on her album, the questioning yet somehow aching "Keep On," where she grapples with why her lover keeps "taking her back" in spite of her less than worthy behavior.
Standout Lyrics: "Cause I ain't been the best that I coulda been/I ain't do the shit that I shoulda did/But every time I come crawling on my knees/You're there..."
There's no doubt that 2017 was SZA's breakout year. After dropping off worthy releases, such as 2014's stellar EP, Z, the TDE singer/songwriter finally caught the attention of mainstream listeners with her debut studio album, CTRL. In the process, she racked up five Grammy nominations and secured Time Magazine's top Album of the Year slot. One of the defining tracks on the album is "The Weekend," which became a fan favorite before it went platinum in early November. The song encompasses the vibe of the entire project—raw and introspective— as SZA explains what's it's like to be a weekend lover to a dude who already has a main chick.
Standout Lyrics: "You say you got a girl/And how you want me/How you want me when you got a girl?/The feelin' is reckless/Of knowin' you're selfish/Knowin' I'm desperate/Gettin' all in your love/Fallin' all over love, like/Do it to last, last/Hanging out the back, all up in your lap/Like is you comin' home?/Is you out with her?/I don't care long as you're here by 10:30/No later than, drop them drawers/Give me what I want."
In the busy R&B landscape Brent Faiyaz is a talent to watch. Already, he's garnered the support of diehard fans, who were lifted by his 2016 EP, A.M. Paradox. He returned this year with Sonder Son, a 12-track collection that further illustrates his singing and songwriting talents, in particular, as he studies the ups and downs of relationships, and the emotions in between the break ups to make ups. Songs like "First World Problemz/Nobody Carez" is a standout on the solid collection, as is "Talk 2 U," a mid-tempo, bass heavy track that pays homage to his R&B roots.
Standout Lyrics: "Go on 'bout yo business/You must be religious/Cause God done took her time/And you're tired of hearing those same old lines"
Lion Babe's "Rockets" featuring Moe Moks is a mellow, groovy tune that evokes the same "high" feeling the title suggests. Consisting of singer/songwriter Jillian Harvey (who is also the daughter of Vanessa Williams) and producer Lucas Goodman, Lion Babe's "Rockets," which dropped earlier this year, was the follow-up to their 2016 debut album, Begin. The spaced-out production and vocals, along with its bass groove, make it a standout in their catalogue, and one of the best jams of the year.
Standout Lyrics: "We lit, we lit/Got me singin' like I'm Chaka/Moonwalking in mi casa/Young queen Cleopatra."
After dropping a stellar project, Seven Sundays, in 2015 and following that up with two sonically dense EP's, HER and HER TOO, the latter of which dropped this year, SiR returned with a loosie single that has landed on our list. It seems the multi-talented singer/songwriter has only scratched surface of his talent, and it won't be long before he's a household name (he also signed to TDE this year), although he's already made a mark within the industry, having written for heavy-hitters including Stevie Wonder and Jill Scott. His recently released single featuring Etta Bond, the gorgeous "Something New," showcases his penchant for delivering rich, emotive tracks that feel current but resonate a step above the "young love" motif of his contemporaries.
Standout Lyrics: "And if everything else falls apart/I still have you/If I can't find my way back home/We'll make something new/Something new."
Cali soul group, The Internet, has been on the forefront of R&B/soul's new landscape for years with fantastic releases including 2015's Ego Death, which helped set the tone of the new wave of R&B acts emerging on the scene. On her 2017 solo debut, Fin, lead singer/songwriter, Syd, set out to prove she could make music that, while still firmly planted in the new soul lane, was a bit more accessible to mainstream R&B listeners. However, she's at her best on the record when she's relaxed and doing what comes naturally to her— offering vulnerable lyrics that still feel authentic and cool. This is the case on Fin's standout track, the electro-soul groove, "Insecurities."
Standout Lyrics: "You can thank my insecurities/For keeping me around you babe/I pack my bags but never leave/'Cause it’s so hard to walk away/You know I love you girl/Maybe more than I love myself/But in a perfect world
I would be with somebody else"
Hardly a newcomer to the game, Curtis Harding has been around for years, mostly writing and singing back-up for artists including CeeLo. But with his new album, Face Your Fears, the Atlanta-based singer proves that he definitely has the chops for a brilliant solo run. Face Your Fears is drenched in old-school soul stylings but is cosmic enough to remain current. Harding's raspy falsetto is distinctive and divine, particularly on tracks like the album opener, "Wednesday Morning Atonement," "On and On" and one of the standouts on an incredibly impressive offering, the break up track "Ghost Of You."
Standout Lyrics: "There was a time that I could touch you baby/Now you're so far/Is our love haunting you/Wherever you are/I know/It doesn't matter where I go/I know that you won't ever show/It doesn't matter what I do/Just living with a ghost of you "
Easily one of the best songs of 2017, Daniel Caesar's "Get You" featuring Kali Uchis was the lead single to his ambitious, ethereal debut, Freudian. The mid-tempo groove features sincere lyrics and a rolling bass line that only enhances Daniel's smooth vocals on the breezy love song.
Standout Lyrics: "Through drought and famine, natural disasters/My baby has been around for me/Kingdoms have fallen, angels be calling/None of that could ever make me leave/Every time I look into your eyes I see it/You're all I need/Every time I get a bit inside I feel it."
Elusive alt-R&B singer H.E.R. continued her rise as one of the genre's leading talents in 2017. In spite of her moniker (Having Everything Revealed), the super talented, enigmatic singer/songwriter continues to push her music in front of her imagery (think The Weeknd early in his career). The Bay Area singer's 2017 release, H.E.R. 2— the follow up to 2016's H.E.R.— further propelled her ascension, as she sold out shows across the country, increasing her buzz to a worthy fever pitch. Incredibly versatile (she plays several instruments), the depth of H.E.R.'s writing skills are on full display throughout the entire project, but especially on tracks like "Avenue" and the sexy "Say It Again."
Standout Lyrics: "Show tonight/I hit all the notes that I know you like/You know I'm a pro when I'm on the mic/We're already here so turn off the lights, yeah/You had a lot to say/No more talking/You can use that mouth in other ways/'Cause I want it now/I want it now"
One of the biggest songs of 2017 in any genre, Khalid's "Location" from his debut album, American Teen, solidified his place as one of the most talented new artists in music. Simple but fresh in scope and sound, the bare bones track focuses heavily on Khalid's crisp vocal stylings and honest lyrics, making it easily among the best songs of 2017.
Standout Lyrics: "I don't wanna fall in love off of subtweets so/Let's get personal/I got a lot of cool spots that we can go/Tell me what's the move and I got you"