The UK has one of the strangest relationships with R&B, we love the genre but we seem to overlook it when it comes from our own shores.
We are currently in the midst of a resurgence of British R&B. If we look at just the last couple of weeks MNELIA is testament to this. An artist who may not have been on many people’s radar is now on everyone’s after dropping her track ‘Say Yeah’ which got over 100k streams in 5 days. We, of course, have the Grammy award-winning Ella Mai but it felt like up until her success we were really sleeping on the UK’s talent in that department. Prior to Ella, the only names that spring to mind for R&B that had success from the UK are Lemar, Emeli Sande, and Estelle.
Now this isn’t to say there wasn’t anybody else flying the flag for the genre, Nathan (Starboy Nathan) and others did their thing, but not to the same level. This wasn’t the fault of the artists in my opinion, I think it was the fault of the UK’s musical culture. Whilst we love R&B, a lot of us tie the genre to a specific sound that we grew up on – an American sound. Now granted when singing accents can blur a bit, but I think that initial introduction to the genre through the American lens gave us a kind of tunnel vision towards what we expected R&B to be.
This is before we even get into the discussion of how for a long time it seemed as if the UK could only support one genre at any given time. It may be because we are a relatively small country that this was the case up until the rise of streaming. I mean think about it, once upon a time to support our favourite artists and genres we had to buy physical cd’s or a bit later make digital purchases. With this model, people could only support so many things financially as music isn’t the only concern of people. This factored in with our small popluation made the climate for artists very difficult, even when backed by labels.
With sales being hard to come by for artists and fans having limits on their financial ability to support multiple artists and/or genres, the UK was stuck. Think about it, we have always championed being British musically and we never shy away from it but we have had to spread our attention across movements. What I mean by this is that when a particular musical movement was exciting that is when people would support it the heaviest. Garage, Grime, Rap, AfroSwing, R&B and more have all felt this and had their ebbs and flows of being the big genre. We have even made sure to champion our own artists in each respective period for each genre whether it was Dizzee Rascal, Estelle, or J Hus.
Yet up til now it’s been difficult for all those genres to get the light they deserve at the same time. Streaming has definitely changed this. Now more than ever the diversity in music championed and celebrated is immense all because of access. With people having the ability to access music much more easily because of streaming it allows for all kinds of songs and genres to blow up at the same time. Take a moment and look at your own musical library, which will almost certainly reside on Spotify or Apple Music, look at the variety of genres you have and look at the numbers the songs have done too. Everything has the chance to ‘blow’ at the moment and that’s a great thing especially for R&B.
The first person to talk about in this R&B resurgence has to be Ella Mai. She managed to win an award at arguably the most revered and respected awards ceremony, the Grammy’s. But even this wasn’t as simple as the UK getting behind one of their artists. It wasn’t until Ella had gone out to the US after seeking better opportunities and support that she started getting the level of recognition she sought after. It then seemed like once it had been picked up over in the US that the UK then followed suit in supporting her music. Regardless of that, she is undoubtedly a talent in the genre who has signalled it’s resurgence on our shores.
MNELIA is the in thing right now. Having a slew of releases over the past few years, it is her undisputable hit ‘Say Yeah’ that has brought her to everyone’s attention. She blends the nostalgic elements of the genre we grew up on with modern production, great songwriting and of course strong vocals. Her quickly gaining momentum is definitely a sign of tides turning for UK R&B artists receiving support. If she can follow up with a strong release, she might even become the face of the British resurgence in R&B.
A name we can’t help but mention in this discussion is Ling Hussle. Often overlooked and undervalued, she has proved time and time again that she is a star. When labels and other industry figures were reluctant on helping her put on a show, she took things into her own hands and as an independent artist not only organised the show but sold it out. Her talent speaks for itself and her mentality and drive to succeed is already taking her to the right places. In 2020 amongst this new vigour for R&B Ling‘s will be a name you hear constantly.
Last but not least on my radar of R&B stars to look out for this year is Donalee. Now of the three I’m mentioning she is the least known but she is just as talented as her peers. She really began to start building momentum in 2019 where she had a slew of releases. Her track ‘Heart of Gold’ done in collaboration with Leo Bhanji has nearly 250k listens on Spotify alone. Her vocal ability cannot be questioned her only problem has been visibility, and with the way the current musical climate is setting things up this won’t be for much longer.
R&B is back in a big way and there are so many names that I haven’t even mentioned that are flying this flag. The talent has always been here, but it now looks like we’re ready to give it the support it has always deserved.