To borrow from R&B/pop princess Rihanna, the R&B genre made sure to "shine bright like a diamond" in 2012, making this year one of the strongest in recent memory.
The year began on a somber note for R&B fans with losses of two iconic figures: Don Cornelius and Whitney Houston. Cornelius, the creator and host of the long-running series "Soul Train," and Houston, one of the biggest pop stars of all time, both passed away in February but their respective legacies live on.
On a more positive note, we celebrated the return of D'Angelo, who came back to the stage for the first time in almost a decade for a European tour in January before joining Mary J. Blige on the road later in the year. D'Angelo debuted a handful of new songs for live audiences that set blogs and social media on fire when fan videos inevitably made their way online.
One of the biggest releases of the first quarter came from the Robert Glasper Experiment. Black Radio blurred the lines between R&B, soul, hip-hop, and jazz and featured collaborations with Erykah Badu, Ledisi, Chrisette Michele, Musiq Soulchild, Stokley Williams of Mint Condition, and the first daughter of soul, Lalah Hathaway.
Mixtapes once again proved a savvy way for artists to get their music to the public and gain fans in the process. R&B ingénue Elle Varner set the stage for her debut album, Perfectly Imperfect, with the well-received mixtape Conversational Lush, introducing new fans to her breakout song "Refill." Miguel released his Art Dealer Chic mixtape in three parts, starting with the single "Adorn," which heightened anticipation for his sophomore album, Kaleidoscope Dream. After sparking interest in 2011 with his Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape, Frank Ocean made headlines with the release of his official first album, Channel Orange, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200.
GRAMMY winners Alicia Keys and R. Kelly, and Bobby Womack, Eric Benét, Mint Condition, and Angie Stone also dropped new singles and albums in 2012. Usher released Looking 4 Myself, which was led by the single "Climax" and became his fourth No. 1 album. Brandy delighted fans with the release of her long-awaited sixth studio album, Two Eleven, which highlighted her signature vocals on songs such as the flirtatiously fun "Put It Down" featuring Chris Brown and the fan-favorite "Wildest Dreams." GRAMMY winner Faith Evans starred in the reality series "R&B Divas" and released an album of the same name with her co-stars Nicci Gilbert, Syleena Johnson, Keke Wyatt, and Monifah Carter.
Both projects from Brandy and Evans were tributes to Whitney Houston. Two Eleven signified not only Brandy's birth date but the date on which Houston died earlier this year. The premise of "R&B Divas" was to chronicle the recording of the compilation album in Houston's honor.
Coupled with the recent TV special "We Will Always Love You: A GRAMMY Salute To Whitney Houston," these loving homages provided lasting tributes to one of music's brightest diamonds that ever did shine.