As hip-hop flourishes, modern vocalists revitalize R&B
Since the mid-1950s, R&B has captivated the attention of audiences worldwide. In the late 1980s and for much of the 1990s, R&B proved that it was a force to be reckoned with, due to the success of artists with hits such as "Another Sad Love Song"’ by Toni Braxton and "No Ordinary Love" by Sade.
But during the same time, due to the rise in popularity of hip-hop, the two genres constantly went head-to-head, with R&B always falling short. So much so that one could argue that even though R&B held its own, after the early 2000s, it faltered while hip-hop continued to flourish.
While this still holds true, with the success of these newcomers listed below, it seems as if R&B has come back with a vengeance ready to reclaim the crown.
In a lane of her own, this British songstress demonstrates why R&B is coming to the forefront again. Drawing inspiration from legendary female artists such as Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige and Alicia Keys, Mai first discovered her talent for singing while performing the national anthem in high school.
Mai attended the British and Irish Modern Music Institute, which would help mold her into the singer she is today. After going to school for music, she decided to test her abilities by being a contestant on “The X Factor UK.” When that didn’t work out, she had the idea to upload song covers on Instagram. Little did she know they would catch the attention of notable producer DJ Mustard. From there, her career took off.
Fast forward three years later and the singer released her self-titled debut album, featuring the mega hit “Boo’d Up,” which reached No. 6 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart this past summer, according to Billboard. In her album "Ella Mai," she made herself totally transparent to listeners with tracks such as “Good Bad,” letting people know that she has her ups and downs just like everyone else in relationships. As the album progressed, it became clear that Mai, along with others, have placed R&B back on track to popularity.
Although H.E.R. — born Gabriella Wilson — had been making music since 2014, it wasn’t until Rihanna posted a clip to her Instagram with the hit song “Focus” in the background that H.E.R. became a recognizable name. As of 2018, having released her two-part "I Used To Know Her: The Prelude” set of extended plays (EPs), she opened up with "Lost Souls.” Combining R&B and hip-hop, she rapped and sang, channeling her inner Lauryn Hill as she preformed over the beat of “Lost Ones.”
Like many female R&B singers before her, Walker sings about the feeling you get when you finally find someone who makes you believe that you two are the only ones in a crowded room. On her album “Last Day of Summer,” released two months ago, Walker wasn't afraid to let you know exactly what she needs and what she doesn’t. “I wanna be your healing / I can be real good,” she sang on “Girls Need Love.” She says exactly what other women are afraid to say, and for that she's a force that resonates within the hearts of listeners.
Having released her second EP “About Time” last year, Claudio is back with her first album “No Rain, No Flowers.” Resembling the tone of legendary songstress Sade, Claudio opens with “Come Here,” drawing listeners in with the light wisp of her voice. “I’m dying to see you / You know what I’m fiending for,” she whispers to her lover. Her vulnerability, sensual and sexy tone throughout the project takes listeners on an emotional journey that won’t disappoint.
Smith released her debut album, “Lost & Found,” in June. Smith’s unique voice puts her in a lane of her own. “So why don’t you lose yourself for me,” she sings in "February 3rd," asking the burning question that many R&B artists explore. Throughout the album, it’s clear that Smith is longing for self-affirmation more than anything. She finally finds it on the track titled “Goodbyes,” her voice raw as she sings to her lover, letting them know that when all is said and done, there's no love lost.