What does the word RnB mean to you?
If it’s some amalgamation of Mariah Carey’s screeching, Robin Thicke’s sleazy lyrics, and Nicki Minaj’s “buns” then you too, my friend, are in dire need of RnB rehab.
For a while now, contemporary RnB has been synonymous with heaps upon heaps of cheese and innuendo that would make post-‘Bump-N’-Grind’ R. Kelly blush. Essentially, the soundtrack to every bad night out in Central London.
So, where are these cool, edgy, non-Jason-Derulo-y RnB songs that will inject some much needed funk and soul back into your Spotify playlists?
Well, it just so happens that I’ve done the hard work for you. Here I present to you three still relatively unknown, up-and-coming artists that are giving RnB back its street cred through their authenticity of style and talent.
Nick Hakim has a voice that will do strange and pleasing things to you. As a self-described alternative soul artist, he really is just about that – the soul. Accompanied by the bluesy trickles of a piano and an electric guitar, his songs have that hushed, dreamy quality that leaves you feeling a little woozy and intoxicated after every listen.
So far, Nick Hakim has released two EPs, Where Will We Go, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2, both of which were adored by music critics for their signature ethereal charm. He released these albums on his own label, Earseed Records, but word about his talent is spreading. Jump on the bandwagon; I promise you won’t regret it.
Listen to: Sleep
Daniel Caesar is young and brimming with promise. With a voice that you’d be forgiven for mistaking for Frank Ocean’s, this dazzlingly gifted singer is somehow taking RnB to new, unfamiliar ground while still firmly keeping it in its grassroots. What particularly resonates with myself, and probably many others who hail from religious families, is his strong connection to gospel. Assured, yet reserved, he brings the hope and resilience of black church music into an otherwise deeply personal exploration of his own love life.
Daniel Caesar’s debut EP is aptly titled Praise Break, and boy, is it a masterpiece. It features a sample from Zero 7’s ‘The Road’ and is laced with enough gospel to send your heart soaring. You’d be a fool not to give it a listen.
Listen to: Violet
Emily King is technically not a newcomer, but she is so painfully underrated that she might as well be. Her first EP, East Side Story, is a classic RnB staple that will send you into a neck-bopping, finger-snapping frenzy; it justly earned her a Grammy nomination. Her sophomore effort, The Seven, however, is on a whole new level. After a four-year gap between the release of East Side Story in 2007, Emily King returned with this album in 2011, boasting lush vocals that were more confident, productions that were more refined and a new, short-cropped hairdo to match her musical makeover.
The Seven sounds (and crackles) like a 1950s R&B vinyl record that has been sprinkled with a bit of folksy pixie dust, but Emily King has a voice that transcends time and genre. Recorded in her own home after she parted ways with her label, this was clearly the real debut she wanted, or at least was supposed, to make. The fact that this album received no due recognition at the Grammys is by no exaggeration one of the greatest injustices in the history of RnB.
After another few years off the radar, Emily King recently released a new single, ‘Distance’, and it’s promising more of the same sultry, timeless magic. Here is to hoping she does a Robyn and finally gets the recognition she so deserves.
Listen to: Distance