This year saw breakout acts such as Frank Ocean and Alabama Shakes emerge, while veteran R&B artists like Cody Chesnutt made welcome returns. Yet it remains evident that an increasingly decimated music industry, limited radio spectrums and homogenized charts continue to present genre artists with challenges.
The Neptunes singer delivers his nostalgic take on binge drinking with an approachable tone influenced by soul heritage.
Kendrick Lamar is one of hip-hop’s most accomplished rappers, and his debut full-length Good Kid, MAAD City is a cinematic mini movie that paints the picture of the artist’s hometown of Compton, California. It’s a story of street life and domestic tranquility, rife with narrative arcs, mood changes and metaphors. The album is a career-defining work that drew the attention of rap’s royalty, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2018.
As the Black Hippy crew began sewing their seeds for greatness at the turn of the 2010s, the crew’s first hit came in the form of a song called “Turn Me Up.” It featured Ab-Soul and fellow TDE member Kendrick, both spitting bars of ethereal, jazz-infused neo-soul. The beat has a psychedelic boom bap vibe, and both rappers deliver verses full of quotable one-liners that still stick around a decade later.
In the early 2010s, Kendrick Lamar was a guest star on tracks by bigger artists in an attempt to reach new audiences. He hopped on over the stuttering beat of MGK’s “Shottaz” and delivered a swaggering verse that showcased his impressive flow. He was even able to outshine the other rappers on the track, proving that he was a force to be reckoned with.
Lamar and the TDE/Black Hippy crew continued to deliver hits on a consistent basis throughout the rest of the decade. He’d appear on a variety of high-profile albums by artists like the Game’s The R.E.D Album, Tech N9ne’s All 6’s and 7’s, Drake’s Take Care and YG’s Free TC. On the latter album, he’s part of a posse cut with Danny Brown, Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt that’s fueled by hypnotic production from Black Milk. Kendrick’s verse here is truly next level, with inventive rhymes and wordplay for days.
While most of the songs on Good Kid, MAAD City were rooted in the artist’s childhood and experiences, the lead single from the project is a stark, modern reflection on the dangers of gun violence and police brutality. The song’s intensely personal lyrics were a perfect fit for the dark, bleak tone of the record. It also landed Kendrick a Grammy Award in 2015 for Best Rap Song.
Future (aka Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn) defied expectations when he first began dropping mixtapes in 2010. His gravelly voice and moody AutoTune combined perfectly on Pluto x Baby Pluto and his collaborative mixtape with Drake from 2011, both landing within the Top Ten on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and setting him on course for his breakthrough year in 2014. From there, three more number-one albums from Future were released during that decade: DS2, What a Time to Be Alive featuring Drake collaborations respectively before Future released Future and HNDRXX both going platinum in 2017.
Future is one of the most sought-after rap collaborators, having featured on hit singles by Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne and Young Thug among others. Additionally, he contributed two soundtracks including co-producing and staring in “King’s Dead” from Black Panther blockbuster film.
Museum is Oakland duo’s debut major label project and their first single released through Interscope Records, but nonetheless deserves consideration for its soulful ’70s guitar sample production and vocal harmonies. Their lead single “For the Life of Me” marks a distinct change from their previously bottom-heavy muffled sample sound toward more mature, thoughtful lyrics.
Future returned with an astounding success with his 2022 album I Never Liked You, soon collaborating with Drake on two singles; “Tony Montana” and “Used to This”. In 2022 he finished off his decade by earning more Top Ten spots courtesy of high-profile performances such as remixing Kanye West’s “Boys Don’t Cry” remix and album version of Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie,” both which went platinum.
Frank Ocean (born Lonny Breaux) has become one of the most distinctive R&B artists of this decade, known for his unique mix of soulful melodies, catchy hooks, and original production – earning critical acclaim along the way. Hailing originally from New Orleans but relocated after Hurricane Katrina forced his family out, Frank quickly rose to prominence thanks to meeting influential music industry people that helped develop his craft and refine it further.
Frank Ocean released his critically-acclaimed debut album Channel Orange in 2012. This collection of 11 songs showcased Frank’s ability to write and produce music unlike anything else available today. Channel Orange featured various styles like introspective lyrics, smooth R&B sounds and experimental sounds – it sold over 500,000 copies worldwide! Definitely recommended for fans of RnB music.
Ocean’s second album, Blonde, demonstrated his talents not only as a singer but also a rapper. Four years were dedicated to this project that shows its worth through raw emotion and compelling storytelling; featuring R&B and hip hop influences while many songs incorporate gospel into its compositions.
Ocean’s style recalls artists such as Missy Elliott and Janet Jackson. His sound combines old-school with contemporary influences, drawing listeners in with charisma. The album itself is full of emotion and passion that will leave listeners wanting more!
Ocean made his comeback this year after taking a brief hiatus. Blonde and Boys Don’t Cry is an impressive way to end 2015, and Ocean has already announced plans for another album and magazine which are scheduled for release later in July – it seems likely that we can expect even greater things from him in 2017. Definitely an artist worth keeping an eye on going forward!
Toronto crooner The Weeknd epitomizes a new wave of black-and-white R&B. His captivating falsetto pairs perfectly with atmospheric synth washes, crisp beats and eclectic samples to create a sensuously seductive ambience.
Abel Tesfaye first made waves in music with three free mixtapes released between 2011 and 2012. Together with Drake on House of Balloons, these released mixtapes launched him to stardom as The Weeknd became one of the biggest pop artists ever seen today. His success lies in his unique sound and thoughtful lyrics that leave audiences wanting more. His story-telling abilities create an engaging listening experience.
After the success of his mixtapes, The Weeknd signed with Republic Records to release a full-length album. On this record, The Weeknd continued his musical evolution by incorporating elements of rap and pop with collaborations by Kendrick Lamar and Lana Del Rey – it proved an unexpected hit that set The Weeknd apart from other R&B artists.
On “Initiation”, The Weeknd showcases his meticulous approach to production. His drums stutter and slice like Trent Reznor while vocal looping calls to mind Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour; such details allow The Weeknd to distinguish himself as an individual black artist.
Illangelo’s production elevates Tesfaye’s voice to another level on this album, creating an irresistibly sensual atmosphere ranging from the Hong Kong Garden orientalisms of “Outside” to the soulful vocal loopings of “Same Old Song”, each lecherous tale is elevated by his intricate work behind the mic.
Tesfaye attempts to accept his loss but can’t shake the feelings. A fingersnap beat and synths accompany Tesfaye as he vows never to love again in “Moth to a Flame”, an uptempo track which masks its bitterness with synths – highlighting their toxic relationship and signalling Tesfaye’s bitterness toward their former lover.