‘I miss old R&B’, ‘R&B is an American genre which we adopted that isn’t really ours’, ‘R&B is dead’. We are in the midst of an era where music universally is at its eclectic peak. With constant cross genre influences and collaborations, this era is allowing artists to push boundaries that sonically enables stans to enjoy the finest of eargasms to ease the mind, body and soul. But the genre of R&B has been evolving from its accustomed nostalgic sound to more innovative and introspective bodies of work being put into the public sphere.
Within the UK, you can sense a revolution has taken place as we are at the forefront musically around the globe. I believe a British R&B resurgence is currently happening with artists such as Ella Mai, Nao, and Mahalia. As 2018 comes to a close here are some noteworthy talents who R&B lovers should keep an eye on for 2019.
Within this Brits school alumni inhabits a rare authenticity you are unable to identify with most R&B artists. The 21-year-old South Londoner is able to straddle the genre’s past and present into pensive and intimate music. During Jaz Karis’ formative years she grew up on powerhouse vocalists like Chaka Khan and Barry White ‘who had her singing at the top of her lungs’ and that wholesome music is certainly evident her music. Also drawing on influences from hip-hop and jazz, she is able concoct a soulful underground electronica sound that fits seamlessly with her luscious vocals.
2018 saw Karis release the brilliant ‘Petty Lover’ and ‘Petty Dreamer’ with her stating that the former was her most interesting track to date. She cites transparency and contemplation as key components to her creative process. She says “I’d never met producer Aston Rudi before and we immediately opened up to each other about what was currently happening in our lives. This then made it so easy to dive right into the song”. With 2019 on the horizon, so is new music but if you can’t wait that long, Karis will be performing at a number of dates, most notably opening for Nao at the O2 Brixton Academy. With each Karis release you acknowledge a maturity from the last but that is understandable when your big dream is ‘to have no limit on your success’.
Wisdom and humility are the first two words that spring to mind when you think of stupendously talented Anjelo Disons and his music. The singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist exudes a Neo-soul sound which showcases the organic flavour of classic R&B through to the present day whilst also capturing current pop-culture and society. He states that being from South London’s melting pot is essentially his muse as his creative process is very conceptual, highlighting the substantial Kanye West as an influence.
This fellow Brits school alumni released his ‘For The Love’ EP back in October which documented his journey through adolescence as he beings to grasp a comprehension of the meaning of love, as well as its various formats. Disons’ obsession to create art that delves into one’s deepest emotions is a sign of high intellect and self-awareness beyond his years. His meticulous process in creating music allows me to make an early comparison to the iconic Salaam Remi. With an overarching goal of himself and his collective ‘The Oracle’, using their influence to change perceptions, push forward-thinking and open mindedness, this 19-year-old is on the way to creating not only creating breathtaking music, but a community to shape the culture.
On the surface Tertia May portrays an effervescent character who is a self-proclaimed foodie but it is her candidness and ‘jazz loving’ melodies that are captivating audiences through her R&B ascension. As you indulge yourself within her soundscape, it is definite of a modern classic sound. She states that “Etta James and Aretha Franklin have helped mould my sound to the way I want it. That – soulful – genre of music is where my heart lies.” With May being equipped with those breathtaking vocals, it is of no surprise that she idolises those great pioneers going on to say “my favourite part about making a track is laying down the vocals. You really get yourself into a magical hole and it feels great.”
2018 was definitively a year of milestones for May, with a performance on Colors Berlin, a sold-out headline show and the release the ‘Kind of Purple’ EP, this not only signifies a personal and musical growth but also a growing fanbase. May continues to produce organic and tangible music that immediately removes her from the mainstream legion of cookie-cutter female R&B singers, so expect some exciting first-rate music in 2019.
Independent balladeer Kwaku Asante is a breath of fresh air, as his silky-smooth vocals alongside his profoundly immersive but vulnerable lyricism allows for an achingly beautiful listen. The North-West Londoner has already drawn palpable comparisons between his inspirations, D’Angelo and Marvin Gaye but is steadily creating a singular journey of his own. His childhood revolved around music, participating in gospel choirs, jazz groups and forever listening to his mum’s Bobby Brown ‘My Prerogative’ vinyl, which has influenced his ambitious Neo-soul sound that has had the likes of Tom Misch raving about him.
Asante began turning heads with the disco-funk groove-laden ‘The Way That You Move’ and then created more traction with his second release ‘Worth’ which explored themes of self-doubt and personal growth. He states that “Every song has its own theme, but I guess the commonality is love – whether it’s platonic, romantic or ephemeral.” His latest release, ‘Fantasy’ is an intimate ballad that is warm but tender as it explores the idea of love and the reality of when it actually takes place. By writing about his ‘unique experiences and trying to maintain the vividity of his memories through those lyrics’, it’s of no surprise that Asante began to create significant buzz in the second half of 2018, as coupled with his powerful yet effortless voice and his beautiful production, I’m sure that everyone will him on their radar of very soon.
Photo: Evening Standard
To say that Hamzaa is probably in the middle of quite the stratospheric rise would be the quite understatement as she has become London’s latest obsession. After getting airplay for the wholehearted ‘You’ on DJTarget’s Radio 1Xtra show, she quickly got selected to perform on the prestigious Later… With Jools Holland. From that point her talents have taken her from strength to strength. November came by and we saw Hamzaa release her debut EP ‘First Signs of Me’ to which was followed by an astonishing maiden headline performance.
What listeners find so alluring about the 20-year-old songstress from Hackney are her emotionally honest words with this latest project highlighting that. Although this may be the beginning, there is certainly no ceiling on her potential. Hamzaa’s production seems to be soulfully exquisite, whether you are listening to a more stripped back acoustic track or chilled harmonious beats something you are always guaranteed is her iron-strength vocals.
BBC Radio 1’s Mistajam has already labelled the visionary that is XamVolo as ‘the future’ due to his remarkable musical diversity, constant experimentation with different sounds, textures and genres. His retro-futuristic production allows him to blend various genres to a cohesive whole that is transcendent, and together with his delicate phrasing he is able to guide listeners through his concepts, a trait easily identifiable with legends such as Janelle Monae and Davie Bowie.
Similar to those emblematic artists, a substantial amount of his songwriting focuses on power stating “how much else there was to write about when you stepped away from the typical subject matter. Power could be a lot of things: choice, lack of choice, power dynamics, insecurity, influence, dominance and oppression, justice and so on. I’ve always loved the tone of that pool of topics – love and power overlap often, so it stays relatable.” Late January will see XamVolo drop a project based around the idea of ‘desire and ambition’ ultimately posing the question “If you could have everything you’ve ever wanted all at once, would you be able to appreciate it in the same way?” This release fills me with intrigue as reflective concepts like this is what shapes a prodigious talent’s impact on not just music but society.
The Manchester-native had a seminal year for her sumptuous vocals, personal but relatable lyricism and honeyed guitar instrumentals that felt like a gentle and soothing embrace. Song like ‘Make Me Cry’, ‘Love The Things That You Do’ and ‘Talk About It’ were authentic and powerful, driven by simple melodies which saw Pip Millett gain popularity amongst esteemed tastemakers, Pigeons and Planes and fellow R&B sensation Jorja Smith. With a heavy influence from quintessential soul sisters like Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu, it is easy to understand why not only she feels that her sound falls within the Neo-soul bracket but also why the emotive lyrics are the centre of each song.
As the year came to a close, Millett released the two singles ‘Drunk & Alone’ and ‘On Your Mind’ exhibiting a darker approach from which fans hadn’t been familiar with, as well as versatility that will intrigue them to keep a careful eye out. When asked what sets her music apart from anyone else’s she said “I’m not trying to imitate anyone. I am me. I choose to put out the sound that I do and write the lyrics that I do. I’m also not trying to be different though or push away from the music that’s out there already, I’m just trying to be honest. I believe that’s what sets my music apart.” With an impeccable mixture of pure vocal talent, graceful production and songwriting at a level for which there few contemporary peers, for her to beat this inaugural stage of her career, Millet is sure to reach R&B’s acme.
South Londoner Kadeem Tyrell is gradually gaining popularity for his suave, professional mixture of 90s hip-hop and house beats, soulman crooning, and tasteful carnality. Having spent his upbringing around various genres and sounds have certainly paid dividends as he typifies the alternative but still soothing R&B sound. With genre-bending slow jams for the passionate which make you want to dim lights and chill with your significant other, his catchy hooks and his spellbinding riffs are definitely set to leave women swooning at his feet.
Tyrell’s unique sound combines a gospel background, post-new jack swing, slick production and stylistic cues reminiscent of Jodeci that is understandably charismatic. Throwback anthem ‘Let Me Know’ gained considerable popularity upon its release of his ‘Feels’ EP back in April and with the classic R&B sound inventive on always influencing rising talents, I’m sure Tyrell has some smooth nostalgic sounds to guide us through 2019.
Singer/songwriter Hope Tala’s adoration for music and literature allows her to create progressive R&B tracks that successfully integrate rap, neo-soul and lyric poetry into a magical sound. Although the West Londoner may only be 20-years-old, her eclectic and mellifluous sound is allowing her to carve out a reputation for delivering sombre velvety melodies infused with nostalgic quotes of literature. With avid eye to being brutally frank with words reflective of personal life experiences, Tala’s music seems to blossom into awe-inspiring angelic heights.
Just as the autumnal flashes of red and yellow began to dawn upon us, the enchanting release of ‘Starry Ache’ EP, displaying grooves of bass-heavy 90s R&B with contemporary indie stimuli which encapsulated a sophisticated recording. In an interview with Clash Magazine she explains that “the title of the project is taken from Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ and can be found in an exquisite passage which describes falling in love. “The two words seems to contradict each other in a way that perfectly evokes love as a feeling that is dangerous and beautiful and painful and breathtaking all at once, so ‘Starry Ache’ encapsulates the themes and ideas of the EP really well.”
The music that Miller Blue has brought to world so far has definitely been a manifestation of exploring a flux of genres, which has produced a sound which sits firmly in between soul and electronica. Still with a R&B orientated synthesis, you can’t help but identify influences of hip-hop, jazz and a touch of funk which ultimately allows him to encapsulate delightful sonics that can either make you want to two-step or create a serene ambience. With influences ranging from the likes Frank Ocean and James Blake as well as Nas and The Fugees, it’s clear to see that Miller Blue is a rare talent whose artistry transcends the confines of his age which aids for a captivating listen.
The singer/songwriter/producer may come from mundane Shropshire but from his craftsmanship, he has received support from Complex, BBC Radio 1, in addition to inclusions on Spotify’s Soultronic and Free Form playlists. With a flurry of singles released in 2018 in a build up to his imminent EP ‘Cotton’, the standout track is the infectious, ‘Rhythm in the Dance’ which infuses his soulfully subdued vocals and laid-back melodic raps with electronically-influenced hip-hop instrumentals to come together for a mesmerising listen. Miller Blue is masterfully weaving together truly majestic aural fabrics as this soulful trailblazer’s contribution to the alternative R&B allows his eclectic sound not to be put in box.