Year after year, claims that “R&B is dead” makes its way around the music world. The validity of this statement gets challenged by those that have become acclimated to the genre’s changes, all for their argument to be countered by its traditional fans. However, if there’s one thing that 2020 has proven, it’s that no genre in any corner will be “dead.” For many of us, releases from our favorite artists and new discoveries provided memorable timestamps to a year that felt more like a song stuck on repeat.
R&B and its many shades and colors brought us a world balanced by both vibrancy and gloom. New and old friends made their way onto the scene with each finding their own way to deliver bodies of works that centered on love, pain, and everything in between. 2020 saw the return of beloved acts like Bryson Tiller, PartyNextDoor, and Ty Dolla Sign who each dropped their respective Anniversary, PartyMobile, and Featuring Ty Dolla Sign projects. We also saw the rise of newer names like Giveon, Chloe x Halle, Victoria Monet, and Kiana Lede, who each dropped albums that created unforgettable moments for listeners and solidified their spot in the music world.
Then there’s the more mainstream names like The Weeknd who dropped his fourth album After Hours back in the spring and watched it spend four weeks atop the album charts. Kehlani also saw tons of success with her second album, It Was Good Until It Wasn’t, and watched it become a cherished release to her many listeners.
This genre runs deep and in a year where the world came to a standstill, R&B found a way to progress forward. Sure, it may have some problems within it, but what genre doesn’t? All in all, R&B is alive and well. Still not convinced? Scroll down and check out 20 phenomenal R&B projects from 2020 and give the unfamiliar albums a first listen while revisiting your favorites as well.
20. Teyana Taylor — The Album
Two years following her critically-acclaimed album K.T.S.E., Teyana Taylor offered The Album, another critically-acclaimed project that showcases the broad talent the Harlem native has to offer. Complete with musicianship, storytelling, and lots of character, The Album landed on the Billboard 200 chart, becoming her first top 10 album. On “Lowkey” she vibes with Erykah Badu for some advice and charms with Kehlani on the dewy “Morning.” It’s clear Teyana put her creative foot into The Album and it should be respected as such from her incredibly detailed visuals to the smooth use of her vocals on each track. Teyana developed The Album into an experience that is deserving of museum placement.–Cherise Johnson
19. Brandy — B7
Brandy took a moment to create a thoughtful project with her seventh studio album B7. With records like “Baby Mama” featuring Chance The Rapper and “Borderline,” the Grammy award-winning singer uses her purifying vocals to share the most vulnerable parts of her with fans. At the 62nd Grammy Awards, the track “Love Again” featuring Daniel Caeser was nominated for Best R&B Performance while the album itself hit the Billboard 200 chart, proving that Brandy Norwood still has the motion even after more than two decades in the game.–C.J.
18. Justine Skye — Bare With Me
Bare With Me: The Album is Justine Skye moving on. Vibrant with jazzy elements and her crystal clear vocals, Bare With Me stars numbers such as “Too Much” and “When You’re Ready.” The sequence in which Bare With Me was put together is concise and thematic as it is inspiring for any woman who has gone through trauma in a romantic relationship. “It’s part of that cycle of emotions,” she told Uproxx. “It’s part of that process. I kind of just wanted to finish that so that I can move forward from it.”–C.J.
17. THEY. — The Amanda Tape
This year was one for the duos. In addition to Chloe x Halle and Dvsn shining with their respective projects, Drew Love and Dante Jones of THEY. are both beyond worthy of recognition for their own work. Their second album, The Amanda Tape, is a concise and sonically pleasing body of work that shows the growth of the duo while expanding on their acoustic trapsoul sound while leaving listeners excited for their future thanks to songs like “Mood Swings” and “On And On.”–Wongo Okon
16. Trey Songz — Back Home
Trey Songz returned to his hometown of Petersburg, Virginia where he was born and raised to record his album Back Home. Trigga is a bit more mature on this one and attempts to use his words as a metaphorical paintbrush with songs such “Cat Got My Tongue” and “Rain” featuring Swae Lee. The R&B heartthrob also stayed true to his roots with “Circles,” “Save It,” and “On Call” with Ty Dolla Sign. Above all, as Trey welcomed his son, Noah, into the world, the song that means the most to him is the dedicated “I Know A Love.” “I feel this is my best project to date,” Trey told Uproxx. “A lot of people are saying it feels like the old me, and no disrespect to that because I did want you to have that feeling, but old me couldn’t sing the way I can sing now.”–C.J.
15. Kaash Paige — Teenage Fever
Teenage Fever is Kaash Paige’s way of capturing an angst-filled moment in time, brimming with love and solitude. She’s Dallas’ rising R&B star who is more than just her viral hit “Love Songs.” With Teenage Fever, Paige is solidifying her presence in the music space. The project includes hazy standouts such as “London” and “Pull Up.” “My music makes you feel a certain type of way,” she told Uproxx in an exclusive interview. “I love when you can listen to a song and you can feel high or feel sad or feel happy. That’s capturing music. It just captures a moment in your life where you have emotion.” Kaash certainly accomplished that with her dreamy collection of songs on Teenage Fever.–C.J.
14. Bryson Tiller — Anniversary
Pen Griffey — more commonly known as Bryson Tiller — hit an absolute home run back in 2015 with his Trapsoul album. After a tepid follow-up and staying away from the game for some time, Bryson returned with his third album, Anniversary, and proved to fans that while it may not be as massive as his signature collection, he can certainly still reach the heights of his past. Songs like “Outta Time” with Drake and “Next To You” proved the Louisville native did not lose his touch, a sentiment that will become truer with future releases.–W.O.
13. Queen Naija — Misunderstood
Like a diary, Queen Naija opens up about her personal life and love on her debut Missunderstood. After auditioning for American Idol and not making it, the young singer never gave up on her dreams of making it big and accomplished just that with a YouTube channel she ran with her now ex-husband surrounding her family, that boasted over 2 million subscribers. On Naija’s debut Missunderstood, she melodically narrates her journey on “Too Much To Say” and moves on proving why she’s capable of procuring catchy singles like the “Pack Lite,” “Lie To Me” with Lil Durk and “Butterflies Pt. 2.” She’s also able to deliver deeper cuts wrapped in her rich voice like “Say What You Mean” and “Pressure.” Upon listening to Missunderstood, it becomes easier to see why it’s not the path in which Queen Naija got here, but that she’s here.–C.J.
12. Kiana Lede — Kiki
Kiana Lede revels in self-discovery on Kiki, a sweet-sounding debut that earned her an entry on the Billboard 200 chart. On “Mad At Me,” Kiana sounds more sure of herself than ever before and “Forfeit” featuring Lucky Daye reiterates the notion. “You must be some kinda f*cked up,” she sings on the somber track. “To be talkin’ to me crazy / You be tryna call me anything / But you know, n****, that don’t phase me, I guess I’m ’bout to have to lay it down.” Kiki is an introspective look at what it’s like to date in the social media age for women as evidenced by tracks like “Feel Away” and “Good Girl.”–C.J.
11. Victoria Monet — Jaguar
Victoria Monet has shined brightly in the music business for years at this point. However, it came from behind a curtain as her pen served as the catalyst for some of today’s biggest songs — most coming from her good friend Ariana Grande. Monet released a group of projects prior to 2020, but nothing seemed to stick the landing like Jaguar. The nine-track effort — which boasted highlights like “Ass Like That,” “Moment,” and “Go There With You” — proved that the rising singer found her pocket, a place that will only produce more amazing work like we received on Jaguar.–W.O.
10. Che Ecru — Projection
R&B newcomer Che Ecru delivered a truly transformative release with his debut Til Death and was 2020’s best-kept secret. Everything about this album is robust from the production to his voice. Til Death sits on the edge of the experimental and innovative, aided by comforting ’90s-esque melodies. If his vibe feels familiar, Che is the sound infused on Chris Brown’s 2019 hit song “No Guidance” featuring Drake. “Trippin” and “Last Chance” are examples of the futuristic old school sound Che offers.–C.J.
9. PartyNextDoor — PartyMobile
A number of artists made their return to the music world in 2020. One of those is PartyNextDoor, who after almost four long years graced fans with his third album, PartyMobile. The release finds the Toronto native thriving in the dark and gritty R&B lane that he helped usher into the music industry. Plus it has a great Rihanna feature, someone we haven’t heard from in what feels like centuries.–W.O.
8. Giveon — Take Time
Giveon’s baritone and powerful voice made him an easy catch for the year when he arrived on Drake’s “Chicago Freestyle.” Weeks later the Long Beach native proved that his stay in music wouldn’t be a strictly 2020 thing thanks to his Take Time EP. The project was an early standout thanks to tracks like the comforting “The Beach” intro and the heart-wrenching truth of “Like I Want You.” Giveon won us over in 2020 and the singer has a growing fan base that wants to see him win even more in his career.–W.O.
7. Ty Dolla Sign — Featuring Ty Dolla Sign
In the last three years, if you say Ty Dolla Sign’s name, it was probably attached as a feature to some gold or platinum-selling song. The Cali native quickly became known for his quality-boosting guest appearances on tracks, so much so that he named his third album Featuring Ty Dolla Sign. The 25-track effort is highlighted by club bangers (“Freak,” “Double R,” and “Powder Blue”) and silky smooth R&B (“Nothing Like Your Exes,” “Universe,” and “Everywhere”) — a collection that shows the Beach House artist has a great argument for being the game’s most multi-talented act.–W.O.
6. Brent Faiyaz — F*ck The World
Brent Faiyaz has the voice of an angel, but his music stays on demon time. On his 2020 release F*ck The World, Faiyaz sings the chilling truth about romantic relationships in the most beautiful way. On the gospel-inspired cut “Clouded,” he croons pure toxicity: “All my b*tches know I’m leavin’ at some point / Whether there’s a reason or not / Don’t try givin’ me reasons to stop.” Throughout the project, Brent gives a peek inside his world, including his love for the streets which happens to come with a side of emotional unavailability. “Don’t give my shit away,” he sings on “Been Away.” “I’m just tryna get my people straight.” The album’s title track “F**ck The World (Summer In London)” also offers an air of emotional disconnect, the total opposite of what R&B is traditionally known for. On the fan-favorite “Rehab (Winter In Paris),” Brent sings of his addiction to a woman like being addicted to drugs, and gifted social media with lines such as “I got too many hoes, but they ain’t you” and “If you ain’t nasty, don’t at me.” In fact, F*ck The World is 2020’s most polarizing R&B album.–C.J.
5. Dvsn — A Muse In Her Feelings
Dvsn’s first two albums proved the Toronto duo made flawless music when they dove into their bag of bedroom symphonies. However, with their third album A Muse In Her Feelings, the Toronto duo prove that their palette is much larger than a California king size bed. Daniel Daley and Nineteen85 take listeners to the islands with “Dangerous City” and “So What” and introduce their take of New Orleans bounce with “‘Flawless’ Do It Well, Pt. 3” while bringing their trademark late-night ballads to the table with “Greedy” and “Between Us” for what is their best and most complete project to date.–W.O.
4. Jhene Aiko — Chilombo
Jhene Aiko’s Chilombo is truly a spiritual experience. Like a shaman, Jhene immerses this album in sonic healing properties aligned with frequencies that target the chakras, offering a one-of-a-kind trip only she can administer. Beginning with “Triggered (Freestyle),” Aiko reveales to listeners what a cathartic release filled with honesty sounds like before coming together with her love, Big Sean, on “None Of Your Concern.” Only Jhene can make sneaky links sound as magical as she does on “P*$$y Fairy (OTW).” Songs like “B.S.,” “Magic Hour” and the deluxe addition “All Good,” are like the therapist we all need. The R&B enchantress brings her journey full circle with “Happiness Over Everything (H.O.E.),” a revisit from her 2011 debut mixtape Sailing Soul(s) with Miguel and Future while maintaining her love for tree with “Tryna Smoke.” Aiko does all of the things that made listeners into fans, but at an elevated level. Everything about Chilombo is magical.–C.J.
3. Kehlani — It Was Good Until It Wasn’t
Kehlani’s It Was Good Until It Wasn’t is a phenomenal body of work in the sense that it eloquently shows how normal of a lover she is. Songs like “Serial Lover” and “Hate The Club” highlight the pretty and ugly sides of her relationships, but they’re all situations many of us have dealt with at some point. Unfortunately, due to her fame, her love life gets much more attention than necessary, but this album proves that at the end of the day, Kehlani loves with a heart just like ours.–W.O.
2. The Weeknd — After Hours
The road to After Hours began with “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights,” which were released within days of each other in late November 2019. The latter became the biggest hit of The Weeknd’s career; it’s still hovering around the top of the Hot 100 a year after its release. The singles accurately foreshadowed the quality of their parent album, a nighttime pop journey that brings synthwave to the modern age.–Derrick Rossignol
1. Chloe x Halle — Ungodly Hour
Chloe x Halle really outdid themselves with their debut album Ungodly Hour. Breaking out of their perceived innocence, “Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness,” is how Chloe and Halle Bailey decided to open up their album before diving into fan-favorite “Forgive Me.” The Bailey sisters certainly needed zero permission to give fans and listeners life with their angelic trill. It’s “Do It” that instantly hits a chord of relatability, though. “I beat my face / Moving fast ’cause the Uber on the way,” Chloe pipes. “Taking pictures, make sure you can’t see no lace / That wig secure like the money in a safe / I look like bae.” Accompanied by an easy-to-do TikTok dance, “Do It” was one of the girls’ largest records this year. There’s also “Tipsy” and the title track “Ungodly Hour” that make up the essence of these two incredible musicians. Chloe and Halle bring listeners into their fold while baring their souls throughout Ungodly Hour, showing promise as they continue to enhance their unstoppable and undeniable talent, through proper artists development thanks to Beyonce’s ingenious Parkwood Entertainment.–C.J.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.