Editor’s note: The point of more extensive genre lists is to help give shine to albums that wouldn’t make it into the overall best albums list. So, despite the rap-specific list — where ranking is still next to godliness — we’ve opted to leave the albums that appeared on the overall best list off the genre-specific lists. But even for rap, some albums made the cut for their impact on the that sphere without cracking the best of list. After all, the point of these lists is to examine the way music has changed or moved throughout the year, and our year-end framework will continue to reflect that impetus. Though it is meant to highlight the best work in this genre, hopefully, you can also make some discoveries through this list.
R&B as a genre has had a rough couple of years. Once staples of Top 40 radio and chart mainstays, rhythm and blues and soul music have taken a backseat to warbling rappers, “urban”-influenced pop singers, and an EDM explosion that have relegated the artform to “adult contemporary” stations and supermarket slow jams compilations.
However, as many licks as the much-maligned genres have taken, R&B and soul have never quite thrown in the towel and have, slowly but surely, begun laying the foundation for a resurgence. While rougher-edged voices have straddled the line between R&B and hip-hop, some — like Ty Dolla Sign — are starting to lean back toward the former in an effort to differentiate themselves from the glut of crooning “rappers.”
Meanwhile, the recent resounding successes of Beyonce and her sister Solange opened the door for more exploration of diasporic sounds and political messages. Frank Ocean’s rapturous comeback in 2016 has led to an outbreak of similarly talented tenors exploring more cerebral themes and deeper emotions, like Brent Faiyaz and Daniel Caesar.
R&B never really went anywhere, but it seems to be making a comeback all the same. These are the artists currently carrying the flag for rhythm and blues as it continues its return to pop culture prominence.