There are two words that can describe R&B in 2023: recognition and elevation. The two worked hand in hand over the course of 12 months to place the genre in a brighter light compared to previous years. SZA is the epitome of this recognition as her sophomore album SOS and highlight songs like “Kill Bill” and “Snooze” had their presence felt on the charts throughout the year. It all played a role in a year that Spotify said produced a 25% stream increase of R&B music.
There are other notable and extremely talented contributors to this increase. There’s Victoria Monét and her dazzling Jaguar II album which is also home to the infectious “On My Mama,” a record that quickly became Monét’s most popular track. We also have Janelle Monáe’s splendid fifth album The Age Of Pleasure which made a joyous splash in the industry during this year’s summer months. Daniel Caesar, Sampha, and Jorja Smith made long-awaited returns with their respective albums, Never Enough, Lahai, and Falling Or Flying.
The veterans of R&B thrived in 2023, but so did the newcomers. Look no further than Leon Thomas III’s debut Electric Dusk, Fridayy’s delf-titled debut, and Khamari’s A Brief Nirvana. Artists new and old within the traditional, contemporary, and alternative R&B genres thrived in 2023 and helped bring the genre to a new level, and now, it’s time to celebrate their work.
Here are the 25 best R&B projects of 2023 in alphabetical order.
6lack — Since I Have A Lover
It’s always beautiful to see musicians continuously find new ways to bring their artistry to life with each project they release. That’s undoubtedly been the case for 6lack who finally delivered his third album Since I Have A Lover. Unlike his previous two albums, 6lack combines pop references with his trademark alternative R&B for a body of work that is both freeing and diverse. Through success in love, 6lack finds himself to be a new man with a new outlook on life, all of which is detailed through records that display his loyalty (“Fatal Attraction”), patience (“B4L”), commitment (“Temporary”), and more. Whether he’s rapping or singing, 6lack gets his message across in an effortless and impressive manner. – Wongo Okon
Baby Rose — Through And Through
It’d been a little while since Baby Rose released a full-length project, but that period finally came to an end with her sophomore album Through And Through. The project is a refreshing addition to the musical landscape and Rose’s savory croons and heavy, soulful spirit guide the album that details the various fires she escaped her life. We meet a determined Baby Rose on Through And Through who isn’t afraid to put her hand out for a new foray into love (“Dance With Me” & “Love Bomb”), overcome heartbreak (“Stop The Bleeding”), and show that there are more sides to her than a hopeless romantic (“I Won’t Tell”). Through its 11 songs, Baby Rose offers an elegant and enchanting showcase of her undeniable talents with Though And Through. – W.O.
BJ The Chicago Kid — Gravy
There’s no conversation of modern-day soul music that can be had without mention of BJ The Chicago Kid. The singer has delivered impressive bodies of work for over a decade and that continues with his fourth album Gravy. Made in collaboration with producer Yeti Beats, Gravy soaks itself in 1970s soul with Al Green as its inspiration. With BJ The Chicago Kid in the driver’s seat, Gravy expands into a symphony of sweet trumpets and ear-pleasing strings that accompany his passionate vocals that rest like gravy over the production. Gravy stands in a room of its own among R&B in 2023, and with it, BJ The Chicago Kid continues his streak of top-notch albums – W.O.
Brent Faiyaz – Larger Than Life
Brent Faiyaz’s career has reached new heights after he dropped his second album Wasteland. A year removed from that project came Larger Than Life, which in short, is a celebratory toast to the good life. Faiyaz leans heavily into the perks of his stardom on the 14-track album while paying homage to his DMV home. This toast and moment of gratitude to those who came before him — Timbaland and Missy Elliott, for example — is just a piece of the pie on Larger Than Life. It’s also where up-and-coming DMV artists like Cruddy Murda, TTM Dawg, and Tommy Richman were given the floor to show their talents. Some artists get big and lose touch with how they got there. That’s not the case with Brent whose Larger Than Life is still in touch with his roots, himself, and his supporters. – W.O.
CARRTOONS — Saturday Night
CARRTOONS was an artist that was entirely unknown to me when I hit play on their new project Saturday Night on a whim. One song — really, the first 20 seconds of that first song — was all it took for the New York producer’s funky, instrumental take on retrofuturistic R&B to burrow deep into my brain and take up residence. Saturday Night quickly gentrified parts of my brain that hadn’t been receptive to new music for at least a decade, in part thanks to guest appearances from underground vocalists like Reuben James, Topaz Jones, and Haile Supreme, but also because of the undeniable, endlessly danceable grooves from the producer themselves. – Aaron Williams
Chlöe — In Pieces
There are many impressive aspects of Chlöe’s debut album In Pieces. First, is the fact that the singer even arrived at a point in her career to release. Her solo career was criticized for more reasons than it wasn’t, but none of that seemed to hinder the body of work that is In Pieces. Actually, it only strengthened it. The critiques and doubts became the backbone of the album which also detailed her recovery from heartbreak. Between the uptempo and bouncy “Body Do” and the captivating “Make It Look Easy,” Chlöe showcased her versatility, her writing, and her evolving vision on her debut album. Though the sky is the limit for her, Chlöe is well on her way to reaching it. – W.O.
Daniel Caesar — Never Enough
If there was any doubt that Daniel Caesar could replicate the glory days of his past, the Toronto singer put them all to rest with his euphoric third album Never Enough. It’s with this album that he took on a bigger producer role as he placed himself in a small town that’s hours outside of Toronto to make the beats that became the landscape of Never Enough. He grapples with wanting love (“Do You Like Me?”) and seeing that it’s run its course (“Let Me Go”) while finding time to shade those who believed they moved on from him to better (“Homiesexual”). Never Enough excellently captures the rollercoaster ride of love and the constant search for perfection, if that even exists. – W.O.
Dende – ’95 Civic
Dende, if not a name you recognize, is a face you may have seen this year. This Houston earned himself a viral moment in 2023 with an impassioned performance of “Nightmares” complete with special effects that gave him bodily injuries as brutal as a car accident. Months later came his album ’95 Civic, which used a journey in the Honda vehicle to represent the rise and crushing fall of a relationship. Dende does an excellent job of portraying the devastation and eventual pain caused by this unexpected loss, and what comes from it is a project that’s emotionally vulnerable and captivating. A relationship’s end can be as unexpected and devastating as a car accident, especially when so much is invested into it. While what happens next remains to be seen, Dende’s story on ’95 Civic is beautiful enough to hear over and over again for the time being. – W.O.
Fridayy — Fridayy
Much of the music world’s introduction to Philly singer Fridayy came through his bellowing hook on DJ Khaled’s “God Did” record with Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, and Jay-Z. Though we received his debut project Lost In Melodyy in 2022, the singer’s debut self-titled album is the proper introduction. Fridayy arrives as a glorious and epic account of the faith he had in reaching this moment he dreamed of. Fridayy switches between his accounts of faith in God and faith in the relationships as much as he transitions in and out of traditional R&B, afrobeats, and contemporary R&B records. With Fridayy, the Philly singer proved that he’s worthy of everything he’s been blessed with, as well as your attention, going forward. – W.O.
Janelle Monáe — The Age Of Pleasure
Janelle Monáe is always worth the wait. The Age Of Pleasure is their fourth album, and their first in five years, and with this record, Monáe is on a higher spiritual plane than ever before. Indulging in hedonistic pleasures, Monáe revels in queer sensuality, embracing intimacy and touch on songs like “Lipstick Lover.” They also celebrate many a win on “Champagne Sh*t,” and embrace their own body as a work of art on the luxurious “Haute.” Through smooth transitions between tracks, The Age Of Pleasure paints a continuous portrait of opulence and sexual liberation within an unapologetically queer, genderfluid world created via Monáe’s multidimensional lens. – Alex Gonzalez
Jordan Ward — Forward
Jordan Ward has long had the potential to crack through the underground ceiling and stand a bit closer to the mainstream world since he released “Lalaland” back in 2017. The success of that record pales in comparison to that of “White Crocs,” his breakout hit with Ryan Trey, but it does show how long the St. Louis native has been working on his craft. “White Crocs” would eventually find its home on his fourth project Forward which is by far Ward’s most polished work to date. If “White Crocs” isn’t your jam, then “IDC” with Joony, “311” with Gwenn Bunn,” “Sidekick” with Joyce Wrice, or one of the other 10 records will certainly provide something you like. That’s just how good and versatile Jordan Ward is. – W.O.
Jorja Smith — Falling Or Flying
On her highly-anticipated sophomore album, Falling Or Flying, Jorja Smith soars. Categorically, the body of work is labeled R&B, but the sonics explored on Falling Or Flying are boundless. Singles “Little Things” and the title track are just samplers of how far the branches of the entire tracklist reach. Though the album was written solely as a healing exercise for Smith, somehow, fans come out on the opposite side as a better version of themselves, having experienced life through her eyes. – Flisadam Pointer
Kali Uchis — Red Moon In Venus
Kali Uchis’ third album Red Moon In Venus is without question her best album to date. Maybe it’s because she’s more in touch with herself than ever or maybe it’s because she’s more at peace than ever. The result of either, or maybe both of those observations, is a 15-track body of work that captures Uchis majestically and graceful float through elements of R&B and pop, while also tapping into her Spanish roots, to make what sounds like Uchis’ idea of paradise. Whether it’s “Fantasy” with Don Toliver, “Deserve Me” with Summer Walker, or solo efforts like “All Mine” and “Moonlight,” Kali Uchis’ Red Moon In Venus has plenty of music to get lost in and find your own paradise. – W.O.
Khamari – A Brief Nirvana
The lone newcomer on this list is singer Khamari, who delivered his debut project A Brief Nirvana to kick off the unofficial start to summer. The 11-track project is a sweet combination of nostalgia and a fresh breath from a new artist to the game, and his sampling of Al Green’s “Love And Happiness” on “On My Way” for an honest tale about loneliness is a perfect example of that. Even when through completely original compositions like “Doctor, My Eyes,” Khamari’s artistry shines through vivid lyricism that’s aided by emotive production. The Boston-born singer has earned comparisons to Frank Ocean and his A Brief Nirvana debut is a great start to hopefully one day reaching the status of the celebrated singer. – W.O.
Kiana Ledé — Grudges
Kiana Ledé returned as a woman frustrated with the recent occurrences in her love life for her second album Grudges. While some write about heartbreak from the perspective of pain, Ledé uses the 17 songs on Grudges as a venting session during the journey of recovery. Whether it singing “I don’t trust you and I don’t trust these hoes” on “Jealous,” grappling with an insufficient lover on “Focus” and “Damage,” or struggling to have hope with love on “Same Type,” Kiana Ledé tackles it all to make an album that every hopeful romantic can relate to thanks to honest songwriting, elegant production, and a voice that stands out in today’s R&B landscape. – W.O.
Leon Thomas — Electric Dusk
Leon Thomas III is the mastermind behind some of music’s biggest hits, including SZA’s fan-favorite trackSnooze.” Now that he’s ready for the spotlight, others should be on high alert. On his debut studio album, Electric Dusk, which was inspired by Los Angeles’ longest-running drive-thru movie theater, Thomas puts all of the creative parts of himself that he’s lent out to other artists on full display. When his mentor and label head, Ty Dolla Sign, said that listening made him want to redo his own work, it wasn’t an exaggeration. Across the album, Thomas provides men with an emotionally safe space to display vulnerability, make mistakes, and grow within romantic relationships while trying to find a footing in their careers. Although the project might’ve been snubbed during the 2024 Grammy nominations, its impact will surely ripple throughout the genre for years to come. – F.P.
Mahalia — IRL
Four years removed from her debut album, British singer Mahalia is back for round two with sophomore effort IRL (In Real Life). Its 13 tracks portray a woman, now 25 years old, who is more courageous and firm in her beliefs than ever. Though IRL may be a bit broad of a title, but its songs are anything but that. She avoids and calls out manipulation in love on records like “It’s Not Me, It’s You” and celebrates breaking free from a relationship that no longer serves her on “Wassup Wassup.” Mahalia isn’t always the tough girl she is on “Terms And Conditions,” as “Lose Lose” portrays, but in the end, all that matters is the mere attempt day in and day out to be that strong. IRL is empowering and motivating as it is vulnerable and honest, a mix we could use more of in music. – W.O.
Masego — Masego
Masego’s magnum opus arrived more than a decade into his career and it’s fitting that it’s for his self-titled sophomore album. The project’s 14 songs are a masterful combination of the elements that make Masego an artist we’ve come to love. The tropical side of his discography comes alive through “Say You Want Me” while his jazz and funk roots are wrapped around records like “You Never Visit Me.” With Masego, the singer proves that the music will never be a concern for himself. Since day one, he’s impressed fans repeatedly with his talents, and now with his second album, Masego perfectly combined those talents for a body of work that couldn’t be more representative of himself. – W.O.
Phabo — Don’t Get Too Cozy
Before 2023, you’d have a hard time pointing out a bad song from Los Angeles singer Phabo and that’s still the case with just weeks left in the year. Don’t Get Too Cozy, the singer’s second project, lives within the pursuit of love as its title alludes to staying on your toes and never relaxing even when romance is found. What amounts from that is bulletproof confidence and a tunnel-visioned focus that Phabo not only presents through this album, but in his career as well. Calls for a woman to “Swing My Way” are followed by the discovery of an enthralling summer love on the other side of the country on “Stay.” The pursuit continues in the bedroom through “Luv Songs (Unruly)” and “Express Yourself,” and by the end of it all, there’s no doubt that the mission is successful. Don’t Get Too Cozy is equal parts charismatic and intimate, and a recipe that places Phabo in an appealing light. – W.O.
Raahiim — BUT IF iiM HONEST
Of the many artists to come out of Toronto’s talented R&B landscape, Raahiim is one to take note of. His second project BUT IF iiM HONEST, which recently received the deluxe treatment, is the epitome of honesty and transparency — for better or for worse. His tender voice cascades over moody and timid production that delivers accounts of a real situation Raahiim faced — or was too afraid to face — in his life. Between questioning a partner’s sudden change in behavior on “Famous (Lost To LA),” detailing the flaws in a partner’s contribution to a relationship on “Friend Zone,” and struggling with the absence of love on “Lonely,” Raahiim lives up to the album title on BUT IF iiM HONEST and its the type of authenticity we can appreciate. – W.O.
Rory — I Thought It’d Be Different
If you ever needed proof that R&B is alive and well, aside from the numerous impressive solo albums that arrived in the genre this year, look no further than Rory’s compilation project I Thought It’d Be Different. The 13-track release takes some very talented names in the alternative and traditional R&B world — Ari Lennox, DRAM, Alex Isley, dvsn, Raahiim, Shantal May, Pink Sweat$, Sinead Harnett, and THEY., just to name a few — and pairs them together with knowledge of how each artist caters to another. What comes next are records that touch on romance, heartbreak, and the many other possibilities that exist between those two realms. Rory excellently steers the ship that is I Thought It’d Be Different, and what comes from it is a well-crafted body of work that shines a light on alternative R&B and delivers a sweet gift to those who love the genre. –W.O.
Sampha — Lahai
At long last, 2023 was the year that Sampha emerged from his humble abode to release his sophomore album Lahai, the long-awaited follow-up to 2017’s Process. Where Process was drowned in feelings of loss and grief, Lahai finds Sampha on the other side of the wall, filled with hope, optimism, and acceptance. He grapples with time from start to finish on the album, but the most important takeaway with Sampha’s second album is that the London singer remains as good as ever, and arguably better, in the time that has passed since his debut. Evidence of that lives within “Only,” “Can’t Go Back,” “Spirit 2.0,” and much more. – W.O.
SZA — SOS
Yes, this album came out in 2022, but with most of its success taking place in 2023 and the fact that it came after our 2022 lists, it’s only right that SZA’s SOS makes the cut here. Five years removed from her debut album, SZA returns to a world riddled with troubled waters that people from all over hoped to survive and swim out of. Through the album’s expansive 23 songs, SZA guides us on a journey of surviving life’s elements, the lessons learned along the way, and what it looks like to make it to shore. The ups and downs of life, growing pains, and artistic struggles are all present on this album, and it’s even more impressive that she made its 23 songs not feel like an absolute drag. It was a long time coming for SZA, but boy did she arrive. – W.O.
THEY. — Nu Moon
THEY. — the duo comprised of singer Drew Love and producer Dante Jones — entered a new era with the release of their third album Nü Moon. The project is the duo’s first independent album, and the freedom to create as one pleases that comes with this independence is hard to ignore through the project’s 14 songs. With Nü Moon, Drew and Dante give us another take of their trademark alternative R&B style and it’s one that seems to live under the night sky. With records like “In The Mood,” “Riptide,” and “Wait On Me” which features the incomparable Kacey Musgraves, THEY. present no sign of sunlight while proving that even in the darkest moments, love can still exist. Searching for it, having it, and losing it; it’s the theme of THEY’s Nü Moon which strikes as their best and most complete body of work to date. – W.O.
Victoria Monét — Jaguar II
After years of working behind the scenes as a songwriter of many pop hits, Victoria Monét finally got to shine on her own this year. This past summer saw Monét release her debut album, Jaguar II, on which her hitmaking prowess continues to hold up. While the album maintains its cohesiveness throughout its 11 tracks, nearly all of them can be a single — including the kiss-off “Stop (Askin’ Me 4Sh*t),” the surprisingly pleasant break-up ballad “Good Bye,” and of course, the dirty south tribute, “On My Mama.” – A.G.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.