10 Artists That Could Save R&B

R&B stinks and everybody knows it. But is it beyond repair?

Of course not. Every genre of music that’s gone rancid – and most of them have at some point – is just a few great records away from re-inventing itself (as opposed to just digging out the old tricks that used to work and making them sound plastic. Looking at you, “Uptown Funk”). At the same time there are some artists who are creative and original enough that they could save R&B from itself if they a) cared to or b) people would just buy enough of their fucking records.

NOTE: This is not a “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition” list. It’s basically a fantasy football draft of people who I’d pick to save mainstream, on-the-radio R&B. I know plenty of under-rated R&B artists. That’s not what this list is about. This list is about strategy. If you want that other list, there are a million of them out there.



As straight R&B music goes, this band holds the crown for putting out solid R&B records over the last couple of years. They’ve put out great songs, and Feel Good was an incredible album all around. They know what an actual slow jam is, and they’re not afraid to blend in some electronica to broaden the palette of typical R&B heads to keep things interesting.
Get someone else in the industry to sign off on them besides Tyler, the Creator. This is happening already in one sense – so long, Odd Future – but the other piece needs to fall in place: someone with some clout needs to point at them and say what anybody who’s ever listened to their record already knows: “These cats are the real deal.”


Let’s get something straight: every mainstream R&B artist (hell, every mainstream artist in any genre) has been chasing Michael Jackson’s formula since 1984. Most go for the flash: the dancing, the over-the-top videos, or the pageantry. Dornik focused on unlocking what made MJ’s music work. And while he was already under the hood, he figured out some 80s-era Prince, too. Finally, he put to rest what a Jackson/Prince collaboration might sound like by MAKING IT. Coming out of nowhere in 2015, Dornik is a cat who almost didn’t have a record, content to play drums behind Jessie Ware until, I don’t know, someone went through his laptop and said PUT THIS SHIT OUT NOW. His self-titled debut is one of the best records of the year, and quite possibly the best R&B record of the year.

Get out there. He has almost no touring happening as I write this and he should be really busy right now. Some appearances or doing some opening on a notable act’s tour should be happening in the next six months or so, or we’re going to have to start talking about his next album instead. Mind you, these are all business decisions that affect his career specifically, but look: his career is where R&B should be going. Helping Dornik helps save R&B.

American R&B and soul musician, composer and record producer, Janelle Monae poses for a portrait at Dream Downtown, on Monday, August 12, 2013 in New York. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP)
(Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP)

She’s got the chops, the style and the mission. Technically, she’s already on the path to helping R&B out of its rut by doing what she’s doing: being smart, knowing her business, and supporting all of that with aggressively knowing – and good – music.

Again, she kind of already started the ball rolling: she got back-up. The right album at the right time would set her newly-formed label up real nice.


This one is a stretch, but of the two stretches I have listed here (spoiler alert), it’s far from egregious. Brittany Howard drives the engine of this band with her old soul vocals and some really masterful songwriting that knows who its parents are. There is a lot of gritty funk and blues in an Alabama Shakes record, and if they set their minds to it, they could Sharon Jones & Dap King the shit out of R&B right now. They’re doing what Lenny Kravitz has been pretending to do for years: work in a vein without siphoning the blood. “You Ain’t Alone”? “Gimme All Your Love”? “Guess Who”? COME ON SON.
Want to, and maybe score some promotion outside of their typical market. There’s nothing stopping this band from adding large black audiences to their new friends list except a little awareness (and more “Gimme Your Love”.)


This list isn’t ranked, but if it were, Anthony Hamilton would be in the number one slot. He has stood almost singularly as the greatest example of the marriage of old and new R&B and all its associated roots. Hamilton uses blues and gospel unapologetically in his work, though you’ll find more of it the further back you go. Comin’ From Where I’m From was such a pitch perfect balance of the Holy Trinity of Black Music (blues/gospel/soul) that you could have shelved it under any category in the store with black people in it and it would fit.

Stick to his guns. Don’t try to chase the radio crowd. Put out an unassailable record that critics would love – they’re starving out here with the rest of us these days – and let them do the work.


A year ago this would have been a joke. Then Black Messiah came out and, well…you know. He kind of already started the ball rolling here by filling in for Prince while he’s away.

Put out another record in another year or so. Prove it wasn’t a fluke (if an album fourteen years in the making can be called such a thing).


For my money this band is the one band that everyone should own at least one record of. Such is their commitment to artistic vision and the expansion of what it means to be a band at all. I’ve written about them on numerous occasions so I won’t belabor the point here, but know that this is my favorite band and it is precisely because I never know what they’re going to do next. That, and their live shows are the best, period, done.

Want to. The rest is easy after that: their second and biggest album, Leave It All Behind, was a hardcore R&B record, and the best R&B for two years after it came out. A return to that form – not form, because they really are a formless unit, but THAT form – with all of the stuff they’ve learned and accumulated artistically since then would remind folks who kept the flame alive while a lot of cats slept through the late 2000s, early 2010s. What they’ve been doing is great; they’re just having too much fun to really care about what R&B is doing.


Look: Beyonce does R&B just fine. The field spends the two years after she puts a record out trying to reproduce it to lesser effect (and sales, hint hint). My only beef here is that if she knows she’s running the game and that the field is going to follow her, she should go ahead and…

…lead it. And not by proxy; put her hand directly into the development of the field by putting out music that really returns quality to the form. Some folks quibble with her actual singing ability. I don’t. She sings well enough to pull this off. It’s mostly a clout game I’m asking for here. Throw your weight around, queen. We need a ringer on the inside. You can do anything you want. How about wanting the best soul record of the year, not just the best-selling one? Or how about putting the other nine people on this list on the bill with you when you tour again? If you gonna’ be the queen, then rule some shit.


I warned you with Alabama Shakes I had a suspect pick coming. The good news is, you’re all wrong. Flying Lotus has blossomed into a maddeningly prolific composer and producer in the last five years, and everything this dude touches is gold. He’s had his way with hip hop for years, practically becoming an oft-mimicked genre unto himself, and his latest forays into jazz have been outstanding.
Care about R&B. If he wanted to do an R&B record, it would be sick. See what magic he bestowed upon Jose James a few years ago: “Visions of Violet” and “Made For Love” are both sick tracks that should be regular summertime car thumpers even now, and they’re his throwaways compared to what he’s doing now. With the production value he’s applied to his last couple of albums, if FLyLo set his mind to it, he could give us the best R&B record of the year whenever he put one out.


She can sing anything, literally. Her first two albums were mandatory listening, but it’s been a long time since she felt essential. She can still sing everybody under the church, and with the right songs, she’s capable of game-changing music. Seriously: you can’t go in a black club anywhere and not hear the house band playing “A Long Walk”. Scott has legacy here. She should recapture the flag on this one. When she’s focused on it, nobody touches her.

Partner up with some producers she can get along with who respect her needs while being able to tell her when a song is not banging and ad-libbing won’t do.

12 thoughts on “10 Artists That Could Save R&B

  1. Scott there’s a lot of really good artists coming out of the UK that could have the RnB label put on them. You already know about Dornik, but check out Jodie Abacus, Royce Wood Junior, Shakka and Jamie Woon. All of them are seriously Dope, and that’s before we get into the underground acts that have yet to be signed.

  2. Sleeper picks would be the Robert Glasper experience and Laila Hathaway. She could definitely return to R&B with quality production and refreshing range. Glasper continues to showcase artist’ with their production.

  3. The Internet already has saved R&B. Music period. Lol Have you seen all the article’s written on them between Forbes, GQ Magazine, The LA Times, Time Magazine, and more? The El Rey in LA was sold out almost a month before their present tour kicked off. And ANOTHER show added in London. They are selling out basically every show booked period. They DESTROYED the stage here in Vegas 2 nights ago. “Ego Death” is album of the year imo. They’re the blood bank of the Red Cross and our eardrums are the dying corpse bought back to life!

  4. Don’t forget Conya Doss who has a lovely Voice,Teedra Moses is another great artists as well Calin Richardson,and many more I could name.

  5. The list started off pretty good, but c’mon…Anthony Hamilton…Beyoncé? Since when does Alabama Shakes become R&B…or Flying Lotus for that matter!! There are so many fantastic artists that would’ve made more since!!

  6. Do u know what R & B music is? Soul!!!!!
    Get out of here with: Alabama, Flying, Internet, Janelle & Foreign Exchange…this group would be an insult to R&B.
    You hit it on the head with: Anthony Hamilton, Jill Scott..now add Tevin Campbell, Mint Condition, even most Neo Soul artist.

    That crap you pick….NO!!! Their confused if they wanna be Rock or R&B…

  7. Great list! But what really needs to happen is exposure. The Internet on tour with Dornik or Foreign Exchange and Anthony Hamilton or Jill Scoot (Already established artist) would introduce these acts to a new Black audience some who are still stuck in Tevin Campbell, Dru Hill, NewEdition and Mint Condition…all solid artist but it’s time we as lovers on R&B open our minds to new music…and Alabama Shakes are the truth!

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