From fighting just to make up, to setting a cheating lover's clothes ablaze, to finding any excuse to mention a crush's name in conversation, good R&B music will make you feel all the emotions.
Of course, the genre is much deeper than make-up-to-breakup anthems and "baby-making music." R&B originated in the 1940s as a catch-all term for Black music, later giving birth to soul music in the '60s and evolving further in the '90s to include a breadth of contemporary influences. Throughout its long history, R&B lyrics and instrumentation have been a source of inspiration and empowerment for Black Americans — with Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" being clear examples.
Since its inception, R&B has veered away from the jazz and blues that lay at its foundation. These days, artists like Jazmine Sullivan, SZA, Ari Lennox, Kehlani, Jhené Aiko, Giveon, and Daniel Caesar rule the genre, but there’s always room for more in the mix. Summer Walker, Victoria Monét, Bryson Tiller, Queen Naija, and a host of others are paying dust to the tired idea that "R&B is dead" by incorporating elements of hip-hop, alternative, and even electronic music into their sound.
And while it may not be your mother’s traditional R&B, it’s worth turning up in embrace of the genre’s ongoing evolution. In honor of Black Music Month, here are seven of R&B’s finest rising stars.
Chloe Bailey is beyond a triple threat — the 24-year-old sings, writes, produces, acts and executes choreography like nobody’s business. She's also one half of the sibling group Chloe x Halle, who came to the fore as Beyoncé’s proteges.
Audiences first met Bailey in the early 2010s when she and younger sister, Halle, started uploading YouTube videos of themselves covering popular songs. Beyoncé saw their version of "Pretty Hurts" and signed the then-teenagers to her management company. Chloe x Halle put out two studio albums — 2018's The Kids Are Alright and 2020's Ungodly Hour — and were nominated for four GRAMMY Awards.
While Halle was in London filming the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, Bailey began piecing together the sounds that would eventually become her 2023 debut solo project: In Pieces. "I use music and therapy in the best way possible. [I've had] a huge range of emotions for these past three years, so I think that's why [In Pieces] feels well-rounded when it comes to the storytelling and my feelings," she told GRAMMY.com.
Two years ahead of In Pieces, Bailey dropped her debut solo single "Have Mercy." The track reached No. 28 on the Hot 100, showing off the songstress’ sexier, more mature side.
Coco Jones’ dedication to her music seems to be finally paying off after going the independent route for nearly the past decade.
In late March, the former Disney Channel star — who currently stars as the iconic Hilary Banks on Peacock's reboot of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" — celebrated her first-ever Billboard Hot 100 chart entry. Her sultry single "ICU" peaked at No. 63, as well as cracked the top 20 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Earning over five million streams in the U.S. alone, the tune appears on the 25-year-old's debut EP, What I Didn't Tell You, released in 2022.
Now signed with High Standardz and Def Jam Recordings, Jones also linked up with 11-time GRAMMY winner Babyface on "Simple," from the R&B legend’s collaborative LP, Girls’ Night Out.
Phabo doesn't mind being compared to neo-soul icons D’Angelo and Erykah Badu. Though clearly a student of late ‘90s/early 2000s-adjacent sound, Phabo’s R&B sounds as modern as ever. On his sophomore studio effort, Don't Get Too Cozy, Phabo teamed up with producers Troy Taylor (Boyz II Men, Babyface), Louie Lastic (Kehlani), and Eric Hudson (Nas, Kanye West) for a well-rounded LP that’ll keep new and existing fans wanting more.
"New words, new inflections, new beat patterns [and] new cores. [It’s] more authenticity from the start to the finish," he told Rated R&B about his new music. "I feel like people can look forward to those notes of classic R&B that they grew up listening to and loving as well as the sound that we’re trying to push forward as well."
Upon the 2021 release of his debut studio album, Soulquarius, VICE called then 28-year-old Phabo "R&B's North Star." That might be a lot to live up to, but Phabo seems to be charting the course just fine.
Muni Long may have been nominated for Best New Artist at the 65th GRAMMYs, but the rising star is no stranger to the music industry. With five EPs and three studio albums under her belt, the 34-year-old boasts songwriting credits for big names, including Madonna, Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Ariana Grande, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Miranda Lambert.
Long has experienced plenty of ups and downs — her 2009 debut album, Jukebox, was met with disappointing sales when she was signed to Capitol Records under her birth name Priscilla Renea.
Now though, Long is betting on herself as an artist, even launching her own label, Supergiant Records. Not only did Long make history as the first independent female artist to top the R&B Songs chart with her breakout single "Hrs and Hrs" in 2022, but the song’s success later earned her a GRAMMY for Best R&B Performance, as well as a record deal with Def Jam through her label.
"[With ‘Hrs and Hrs’] I can breathe now and can celebrate a little bit," she told GRAMMY.com. "My hand is in every pot as an independent artist… overseeing everything and just making sure that it was authentic. True to me, not allowing other people’s judgments to affect mine."
The spotlight is nothing new for Kiane Ledé. When she was just 14, she won Kidz Bop's KIDZ Star USA talent contest, which led to a deal with RCA Records. Her first single, "Hey Chica" was praised for encouraging "young women to feel beautiful in their own skin."
When RCA dropped Ledé a couple years later, she worked at a gymnastics center and jazz club to make ends meet. Behind the scenes though, she was getting her groove back — her covers of popular songs like Drake's "Hotline Bling" helped her ink a deal with Republic Records.
"Ex," her breakout single off her debut EP, Selfless, skyrocketed to No. 9 on R&B Songs chart in the spring of 2019. But her momentum didn't end there. Months later, Lede's follow-up EP Myself's spawned the single "Bouncin,’" featuring Offset, earning her the No. 30 spot on Billboard's rhythmic airplay chart.
Following the release of a couple stand-alone singles, including "Easy Breezy," Lede's debut album, Kiki, arrived on the singer’s 23rd birthday. Lead single "Mad at Me" borrows from Outkast's 2000 hit "So Fresh, So Clean." Inspired by her childhood nickname, Kiki debuted at No. 30 on the Billboard 200 and features guest appearances from fellow R&B stars Ari Lennox, 6LACK, and Lucky Daye, to name a few.
From Loose Ends and Sade, to Craig David and Estelle, the music industry has seen its share of Black British artists breathe new life into R&B over the decades. Born and raised in East London, Jvck James' covers of popular songs (most notably Whitney Houston’s "I Have Nothing") on YouTube helped him gain a following. At just 12 years old, he was cast as a young Michael Jackson in the West End production of the "Thriller — Live" musical.
Fast forward 13 years later, and James shows no signs of slowing down. He performed at the Berlin-based live music session known as COLORS and churned out three EPs, 2019’s Detour, 2021’s Joyride, and 2022’s On The Rocks — the latter of which birthed "Hennessy Tears," one of his most well-recognized tracks. That same year, Apple Music named the then 28-year-old artist as 2022’s Global Up Next Artist.
Earlier this year, he was also featured on fellow R&B rising star and GRAMMY winner Ambré’s No. 1 hit "I’m Baby" on Billboard's Adult R&B Airplay Chart.
Ryan Destiny may be most recognizable from her roles in Lee Daniels' short-lived musical drama series "Star," as well as season three of "Black-ish" spin-off "Grown-ish," but she’s ready for her music close-up. The 28-year-old multi-hyphenate is carefully crafting her long-awaited debut EP; she’s in no rush to drop it, though she’s hinted it could be released this year.
Despite not being backed by major-label budgets — she’s signed to November Yellow, Destiny’s music video for "How Many" racked up over 770,000 views within the past six months on YouTube.
While the future R&B princess’ latest release "Lie Like That" didn’t receive the video treatment, it’s a total earworm that showcases her saucy alter-ego with bold lyrics like "You need me/I don’t need you, you’re so sad" and "When it comes to the horse, I'm high on the bitch/Look down on a bitch."
By the sounds of it, the Detroit native is more than ready to leave her mark on R&B and beyond.
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