The Next Generation Of R&B

Hopefully, at this point, it’s no secret that the genre of r’n’b is in full bloom. I previously wrote about the resurgence of the genre in November of 2019, following up an exploration into the new r’n’b archetype as propelled by the likes of Summer Walker, and other strong-minded, take-no-BS female singers. I reference these pieces to help create a timeline that leads us to today: another new wave of r’n’b artists.

2019 was certainly a definitive year for many of the r’n’b singers we now call familiar, such as the aforementioned Summer Walker, as well as artists like H.E.R., Ari Lennox, SZA and even Solange. And just as these still-young r’n’b artists have helped pushed the genre back to the fore, picking up the mantle where The Weeknd may have left off and departed for more pop-friendly pastures, they have also spawned even more excitement within the genre, as we see another crop of talented r’n’b artists coming up quickly, right below them.

With that being said, we’ve been mesmerized by a few voices in particular, those who have basically kept us sane during an insular 2020. Artists like Summer, H.E.R., and Jorja Smith are not included on this list for the sake of their familiarity, we want to shine a light on some of the most exciting r’n’b artists that you haven’t heard yet. 

We reached out to each artist featured below, to find out more about their personal influences and their discography favorites, as well.

Scroll through these 10 names in r’n’b that you need to know, and let us know in the comments what you think. For more r’n’b curation, check out our playlist on Spotify here.

Artists are listed in alphabetical order.

ALEX ISLEY

Alex Isley

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Three words to describe my sound: 

Romantic, Smooth, Sweet

Three favorite artists of all time:

Isley Brothers!, Marvin Gaye, Ella Fitzgerald

Three of my best records to date: 

“Into Orbit,” “Mine,” “Good & Plenty”

If Alex Isley’s last name looks familiar, that’s because it is. The daughter of Ernie Isley, one of the younger Isley Brothers, she’s also pursued a career in music, as well as an education (and it’s a badge she wears with pride: 2nd Generation Music-Maker, reads her current twitter bio). Alex Isley attended the LA County High School for the Arts, and later, studied Jazz at UCLA. So it’s safe to say, she not only had the first-hand experience and insight when it comes to her genre’s history, but she went on to immerse herself in it an educational sense as well. Thus, it should come as no surprise that her music is a reflection of this.

While she’s released three full-length projects from 2012-2015, it was her collaborative EP with producer Jack Dine in 2019, the 5-track WILTON that has truly set Alex Isley apart, and indeed, continues to lead to stellar music, as the two have released a series of collaborations since the love-and-sunshine-drenched EP. In follow-up songs like “Good & Plenty” with Masego and “Mine,” (both named as Alex Isley’s personal favorites), Alex Isley and Jack Dine reveal a rare type of chemistry; the type of fluidity often relegated to when the producer and artist are one in the same. “Good & Plenty” has the type of airy, summer-y production that we heard on WILTON, while Isley promises she’s not someone to sleep on– and we definitely believe it. As the record closes, a horn arrangement fills the background, seeping into the rest of the production. The song, released in 2020, has become Alex Isley’s most-streamed record on Spotify by a long shot– a nod to its delicate-ear-worm-replay value. And it certainly leaves us wanting more of her uniquely dreamy and soothing brand of r’n’b.


AMBRE  

ambre

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Three words to describe my sound: 

Honest, Psychedelic, & Smooth

Three favorite artists of all time: 

Andre 3000, Frank Ocean, & Brandy

Three of my best records to date:

“American Beauty” because the writing is so beautiful on that one. 

“The Catch Up” because it’s just a raw song and the melodies are so catchy.

“Superstitious (unreleased)” is one of the wittiest songs I’ve ever written and it took me maybe all of 20 minutes to write.

Ambre, also known as Ambre Perkins, may be best known for her squeaky yet sultry collaboration with Smino, “gucci slides.” The record was released as part of the deluxe edition of the New Orleans’ native’s project Pulp, unsuspectingly taking over playlists from Summer 2020 and onwards. “gucci slides,” alongside Ambre’s most-streamed record, “fubu,” help encapsulate what is so striking about the artist.

Both songs show a nuanced approach to melody, from the instrumental facets of the production to Ambre’s own vocal wanderings. And yet they also show the singer and songwriter’s versatility, with “gucci slides” offering something a bit more modern than “fubu”’s classical sounding piano keys and background chorus of “ooohs.” 

Ambre has been the pen behind some even larger records in the rnb/pop space, though. Ambre’s first writing gig was for H.E.R. after being discovered online by producer Swagg R’Celious, one that would eventually also earn her her first Grammy award in 2019. And perhaps, even more worthy of note, is the vehicle by which Ambre initially broke out — her first Soundcloud upload, seven years ago, titled “Girls Love the 90s.” The vibe-worthy r’n’b record is an amalgamation of Drake’s “Girls Love Beyonce” and Usher’s “You Make Me Wanna” to varying degree, and the result is something deeply melodic and mesmerizing, with the type of modern-yet-year-anonymous sound that still sounds fresh today.

Ambre’s most recent music, a pair of records released jointly as alone / the catch up shows the singer encroaching a more traditional territory when it comes to the slow and truncated piano keys on “alone,” while “the catch up” follows similar sonic territory, with an overall airier and lighter but jazzier feel. However if she’s proven anything yet over the course of her career, it is that her inspiration knows no bounds and her influences can bend into many different shapes and sounds — from jazz, to experimental, to neo-sul, to ‘90s r’n’b and beyond– Ambre’s talent won’t be boxed in, and it’s part of what makes her such an incredibly capable artist. 


ARIN RAY

arin ray 2021

Image provided by the artist, photo by Ro.Lexx

Three words to describe my sound: 

Beautiful, Alternative, Authentic

Three favorite artists of all time: 

Michael Jackson, Tame Impala, Kanye West

Three of my best records to date:

“Reckless,” “Communication,” “A Seat”

There’s a certain strength in a record that is self-produced, that is incomparable. It’s not like we don’t also get amazing music from artists who do not produce at all, or from artists who don’t even write their own songs– but there’s an exceptional quality to many multi-hyphenates in the singer-songwriter-producer department. The-Dream is a prime example, a man that simply cannot be touched when it comes to composing an r’n’b (or pop) record. However, on this particular list, we’ve also got a few up-and-coming in that same space– writing for pop stars behind the scenes, while also carving out a namesake career. One such individual: Arin Ray. 

It’s not a career that has come overnight, either. Arin Ray has been passionate about turning singing into his full-time job since 2012, when he was on the second season of The  X-Factor at 18-years old. After that bout of mild success and TV fame though, it seems things stalled career-wise, and Ray didn’t receive all the record deals he had imagined. Nonetheless, he kept working at it– and plenty of that work was behind the scenes, writing records for mega-stars like Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj, John Legend, Jeremih, and the list goes on.

Four years after his X-Factor stint, Arin Ray released his debut EP, Phases, making his stake in the r’n’b space. And still, his second stab at success has not proved overnight either, yet his music has a timeless quality that makes it only a matter of time before the masses finally discover him.

Since Phases, Arin Ray critically impressed with Platinum Fire, his first full-length (which has also received a Deluxe), and most recently,PhasesII, in 2019. Phases II, at just five-songs long, is un-skippable, and contains perhaps Arin’s biggest record to date, “Change” featuring Kehlani, which also earned high praise from the guest artist herself. The record is a nod to the direction Ray has been headed, all seeped in a nostalgic feeling, an air of ‘90s r’n’b running through the duet– it’s reminiscent of some music video we’ve seen before, vaguely, and yet it’s entirely new. “Don’t Chase” showcases a subtle catchiness, and it’s the type of record that could easily veer into pop radio play, were it given a chance. All of Arin’s music is alike in its timelessness. It’s something that feels modern yet vintage, and that isn’t cumbersome either, but moves slickly in its antique attire.


ASIAHN

asaihn

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Three words to describe my sound:

Mewd, Rich, Feels

Three favorite artists of all time: 

Prince, Beyonce, Sergio Mendes

Three of my best records to date:

You haven’t heard them yet, but if I had to choose three from the past I would choose “My World,” “Belong Vol 2,” and “Get Away”

Asiahn is certainly a new name to most, if not all of us, despite the fact that she has a vetted history within r’n’b, hip-hop and pop music alike– the talented songwriter has credits across each landscape, from Dr. Dre’s “Just Another Day” (Compton), to Jennifer Lopez (“Booty”), Miley Cyrus (“Hands In the Air”), among others. Nonetheless her anonymity is a result of her largely behind-the-scenes credits, no matter how big her collaborators were. While she’s clearly had a successful career songwriting for others– she’s already received three Grammy nominations in so doing– she’s now ardently focused on developing her own career, and the success that will (surely) come along with it.  

As an artist, Asiahn has been finding her footing under a relatively new deal with Motown and SinceThe80s, where she’s also released her most recent project, The Interlude, marking a new era following her Love Train series.

The Interlude, which first released in January 2021, received a re-release just two months later, with an orchestral version of each record on the 5-track offering. The original is a refined, lush, and purposeful collection of jams that, as a whole, feel light and airy. The orchestral version of the project emphasizes these themes further, producing a sound that is overall a bit darker, and contains a bit more depth. The opening record features an almost-minute-long intro that isn’t present on the original, this alone indicating the pace of the orchestral version. 

The Interlude, no matter which version you gravitate towards, is an exciting glimpse at the potential Asiahn has displayed since the beginning of Love Train; since her formative days as Asia Bryant. The singer has not only refined the visual aspect– the artwork for The Interlude by itself is captivating and alluring, much in the way the music is– she’s matured in sound, while exploring broad ideas of love and sexuality, and expanding on them.


CHIIILD

CHIIILD

Image by Peter Hou

Three words to describe my sound: 

Searching, Honest and Nostalgic

Three favorite artists of all time:

Bon Iver, Pharell Williams, Coldplay

Three of my best records to date: 

“Gone,” “Pirouette” and “Awake”

Chiiild consists, mainly, of a single producer/singer/songwriter from Montreal, Canada. His unique sound has earned him early praise in his career, with his debut EP, Synthetic Soul, having only arrived last year. Nonetheless, Yoni Ayal– the Chiiild brainchild– has been creating music for years, and eventually studied it at the Toronto Royal Conservatory, before pursuing a career in L.A. It wasn’t until he met a fellow Montrealer, Pierre-Luc Rioux, and began to co-produce with him, that Chiiild truly came into existence, with Pierre’s credits appearing on every Chiiild record and helping to create his vintage-fueled sound.

This sound they created together was purposeful, in the sense that, Yoni knew exactly what he wanted to explore at the outset. In an interview with Complex, Yoni detailed that it could all be traced back to one song in particular, “Count Me Out,” as the singer attempted to answer the age-old question: “What would Sam Cooke do today with all the technology we have?”

The result was not simply “Count Me Out” but, so it turned out, an entire genre fully-formed; and an EP titled after it: Synthetic Soul. The sound is embodied in the project’s name inherently, with the nostalgic-driven production draped in a layer of digital filth– or perhaps it’s vice versa. This sense of familiarity makes Chiiild’s music both soothing and relaxing, and it’s in this pocket of day-dreaminess that Chiiild’s music often also finds a psychedelic element– a grooviness. The single, “Back to Life” featuring Zimbabwean artist Shungudzo, finds Chiiild stretching the boundaries of r’n’b as he bleeds in elements of indie-folk, creating this hazy, plush, string soundscape that the listener can get lost in, all the while delivering a message of hope (or so it feels, despite the seeming bleakness of it initially). This encapsulates much of Synthetic Soul, which feels like a childhood memory that was once forgotten, or a carefree, lazy Sunday morning– “Sunday Morning,” indeed, is just that. The record teeters along in this space of sentimentality, leaving you with a sense that things will be okay

Chiiild has already begun releasing new music in 2021, bringing back that sense of ‘70s-laden groove with the whirring “Sleepwalking,” as well as its sister record, featuring another artist on this list, Mahalia, “Awake,” which also maintains this funky sound of an era bygone, but dials it back so it’s less dancefloor-ready and more late-night post-club-appropriate. Finally, just today, he’s debuted another song off the upcoming release, in “Gone,” which takes things in another, more subtle direction. These records, combined, indicate that Chiiild will continue to explore the depths of the synthetic soul sound he’s created. 


GALIMATIAS

galimatias

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Three words to describe my sound:

I would say I strive for: Intrigue, Depth, Innovation

Three favorite artists of all time:

Jamie xx, Frank Ocean, Sorrow

Three of my best records to date:

“Shy Dancer,” “Fantasy,” “Sly”

Galimatias sometimes falls under the ‘electronic’ music classification, and at other times, you may find him under the ‘r’n’b’ classification– while the former doesn’t quite encapsulate the whole of the singer’s sound, he also does not make traditional rhythm and blues either. Galimatias definitely sits comfortably somewhere in between the two, and also, above and beyond. Galimatias, as both a singer and a producer, has a distinct way of blending these styles in his own music, as he showed on his debut and only album thus far, Renaissance Boy, where he created something that is cinematic and subtle in its story-telling, and something that, much like a movie, should be consumed whole, without intermission. This is not a happy accident either, it’s clear Galimatias takes time and attention to create a piece of work that resonates in this way, one that is all about fine details and the spaces in-between. And even upon the album’s release, he asked his fans to listen to the album in one sitting.

Galimatias hails from a small town in Denmark, although he’s since transplanted to L.A, where he first established a career as a producer, namely, delivering a joint EP with Alina Baraz in 2015, the ultra lush and magnetic Urban Flora. There, we were introduced to the type of hazy yet refined soundscapes that Galimatias often gravitates towards– however, he didn’t lend his vocals on this joint effort, only his talent behind the boards. And for awhile after that, we didn’t hear from him all, which apparently was due to a lack of inspiration, although, we can be grateful that it led the Danish singer to eventually put forth his own voice as a lead artist. “I think there was a while that I felt uninspired because I just walked the same lane back and forth,” Galimatias said in an interview about his break between producing and then, discovering  singing. “I’d always been writing and doing little vocal things here and there, but it wasn’t until I fully embraced that aspect of music, that I opened the door to a whole new world of exploration.”

The whole new world is what led us to Galimatias’ aforementioned 2020 debut, Renaissance Boy, and the establishment of Galimatias’ sound, as his own, finally.


MAHALIA

mahalia

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Three words to describe my sound:

Honest, feminine and ‘20-something’  

Three favorite artists of all time:

Lauryn Hill, India Arie, SZA 

Three of my best records to date:

“I wish I missed my ex,” “What you did,” “Jealous”

Mahalia is a UK-born singer who continues to gain popularity in North America as well as overseas, meaning, she’s a force to be reckoned with– conquering two continents at once, so it seems. It was only a matter of time; Mahalia has been singing, writing her own music and playing instruments since she was child, leading to her eventual signing with Atlantic Records at just 13-years old. And yet, this is not why we now know of Mahalia– at 21-years old, she’s re-entered the music scene in a way, conquering r’n’b on her own terms this time, with her blend of styles and her honest look at love. 

Her debut full-length, Love & Compromise, is a stunning tapestry that weaves different sounds together– from “Simmer”’s afrobeats-inspired vibe to the r’n’b throwback sound of “What You Did” — and splices these sounds with different relationship-driven tales; both the good and the bad. 

While Love & Compromise may have been a lifetime in the making, Mahalia’s follow-up efforts since have not disappointed either. In 2020, the Leicester-born singer dropped Isolation Tapes, a 3-song EP that spawned a hit in “BRB,” a record that itself showcases another facet of Mahalia’s malleable artistry, as she croons quietly over an equally delicate beat littered with horns and tight hi-hats. 

Now, in 2021, she’s delivered in a pop star-esque manner with “Jealous” featuring Rico Nasty. The record beams with an alluring confidence, as Mahalia, true to form, sings about why she doesn’t actually need her would-be lover– it’s this twist on typical love songs that Mahalia has become known for. Lest we not mention the sheer smoothness of the collaboration, with both Mahalia and Rico Nasty flowing in the pocket of the eclectic, spanish-guitar-driven beat, making it ripe for radio play too.


RIMON

rimon 2021

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Three words to describe my sound:

Soulful, melancholic but also smooth

Three favorite artists of all time:

I have so many, and it changes as well. For now I’d say Gil Scott-Heron, Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West

Three of my best records to date:

I’d say “Grace,” “The Morning” and “never learned how to…

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