by Dom Jones
People keep saying that R&B is dead. It’s not, though the blurred lines between R&B and Hip-Hop have made it difficult for true R&B artists to get their proper moment in the sun. These artists continue to fight the good fight, releasing exemplary music that stays true to the genre and shows that it is far from six feet deep.
MAJOR. is a bold personality with an interesting take on R&B. The above song shows his classic aesthetic, while also his ability to bring tradition into the present day. I think that he shines most on ballads such as “Honest” and “Why I Love You,” but hearing him step out on a more upbeat tune like “Better With You In It” gives him broader appeal. It’s something you can bounce to. It’s exciting to hear the history of a genre in an artist’s sound, and that’s what you’ll get with MAJOR.
H.E.R. is from a new school of R&B artists, but unlike many of her counterparts, she clearly has respect for her musical lineage and a level of musicianship that belies her years. Her releases have felt completely current, without feeling empty. Her meaningful and honest songwriting takes every song she makes to another level, and mixing real instrumentation with more electronic elements adds a depth to her sound that many of her peers fail to accomplish.
PJ Morton is the soul of R&B. Not since D’Angelo have I heard an artist fuse blues, soul, and gospel into his sound with such wild abandon and still come out sounding current and timeless. The purity of heart and the vulnerability of his lyrics set him apart from other male singers who give us the same formulaic songs that acquiesce to the tropes we’re all tired of hearing. His live show is even more intense than his recorded music, and though he also is a member of the megaband Maroon 5, his solo work is what puts him at the top of the R&B food chain to me.
Kelela is the alternative R&B that everyone thinks will live on the edges of the genre with only a cult following, but which always elbows its way onto center stage. Much like Kelis did with her debut Kaleidoscope, Kelela clearly has many of the elements of R&B in her music, but is pushing the boundaries of what being a part of the genre can mean. She is blazing her own trail, and her music is resonating with a large audience.
Jesse Boykins, III
Jesse Boykins, III also sits on the edges of R&B in his most current music, but hasn’t always lived there. Earlier in his career, he sat squarely in the center of what many would deem Neo-Soul, with songs like “Amorous, ” but you can hear him start to become more experimental on songs like “B4 The Night Is Thru.” In his fashion and in his music, he’s an artists who likes to take big risks, and they mostly pay off, but even when they don’t, we need artists like him to keep the genre fresh and interesting.