Top 10 R&B Albums of 2017

2017 started off kind of slow with R&B releases but quickly picked up as the year progressed. There were a good amount of newcomers like SZA and Daniel Caesar who made an impact on their debut projects. We also saw comebacks from R&B vets like Bell Biv DeVoe and Xscape. The Rated R&B editorial team has compiled a list of the top 10 albums of 2017.

Check it out below (please note: these are in no particular order).

Chante Moore – The Rise of the Phoenix

Chante Moore has taken “50 and Fabulous” to another level with her seventh solo studio album The Rise of the Phoenix. Her artistry has aged well over the course of her 25-year career, as she sounds “Moore” confident than ever. While the LP covers the entire spectrum of love, the album’s upbeat, feel-good tracks stand out the most for their radio appeal and contemporary sound. The album’s current sound doesn’t come at the cost of Ms. Moore’s vocals, as she showcases her range (including whistle tones!) on her most tender ballads of regret and vulnerability. Even the interludes deserve a playback! Chante Moore simply delivered, and if you just can’t get enough of this album, then her latest Christmas album should carry you through every holiday season to come. — Nathan

Standout Selections: “Something to Remember,” “Offa-U,” “Saving Grace,” “Pray,” “I’d Be a Fool”

Daley – The Spectrum

Daley is probably one of the most underrated R&B acts out now. Known for his spacey R&B sound, the British singer adds a little color to his sophomore effort, The Spectrum. Feel-good songs like “Sympathy” and “Slow Burn” will have you dancing to the rhythmic production. But don’t let that fool you, though. There are vulnerable moments of heartbreak (“Until the Pain is Gone”) and self-reflection (“True”). — Keithan

Standout selections: “Until the Pain is Gone” feat. Jill Scott, “On Fire,” “Sympathy” and “Second to None”

SZA – Ctrl

Insecurities, fear, and doubt may permeate the lyrical content of this body of work, but SZA is more artistically reassured than ever on her breakout record Ctrl. Sonically gorgeous, the album not only sounds better with each listens, but it feels better with each listen as well. Over time, you’ll find yourself liking songs you didn’t like before and loving the ones you initially did even more. It’s evident that SZA is still adjusting to the overwhelming response of praise for her debut effort, but as the only female R&B artist to find major urban mainstream success this year, it’s simply par for the course of success. If she continues to ride in her own lane, there’s no telling what destinations she will reach by the end of her musical journey. — Nathan

Standout Selections: “Broken Clocks,” “Garden (Say it Like Dat),” “Wavy (Interlude) [feat. James Fauntleroy)” and “Go Gina”

Daniel Caesar – Freudian 

A product of the black church, the Toronto-born R&B singer’s debut album, Freudian, is very much rooted in gospel influences — from the piano-driven sound to solid backing vocals from a full choir. While there is much celebration of love on this album, there are also songs of regret and sorrow, as if Caesar is grappling with his own personal struggles with religion and theology as it relates to a past love. Perhaps, this is why he chose to name his album Freudian. — Nathan 

Standout selections: “Get You,” “Best Part,” “Blessed” and “Hold Me Down”

K. Michelle – Kimberly: The People I Used to Know

K. Michelle has never been one to hold anything back, but on Kimberly: The People I Used to Know, she unveils every inch of herself in an unprecedented unapologetic fashion. The album kicks off with her rapping obscenities and concludes with one of her most soulful records to date – and in between lies an ode to James Brown, a timely Debarge sample-led criticism of mainstream media’s treatment of black women, a jazzy dose of shade to Kirk Frost (and his three or four earrings), and back-to-back country ballads. While this may sound musically sporadic, the flow of the album is quite natural and effortless. Her heart may lie in country music, but she knows how to make a solid R&B record; This is certainly her first album with multiple viable radio singles.The People I Used to Know is less about switching musical lanes and more about shifting artistic gears as the album progresses — leading the Memphis-bred songstress down the road to one of the most complete R&B works of the year. — Nathan

Standout Selections: “Takes Two” feat. Jeremih, “Crazy Like You,” “Giving Up on Love,” “God, Love, Sex, and Drugs”

Mary J. Blige – Strength of a Woman

Capitalizing on her divorce news and cringe-worthy moments that logged the past five years of her personal and professional existence, Mary J. Blige wore her troubled emotions heavily on sleeves of Strength of a Woman. Beginning with a powerful opening track that revisits Blige’s hip-hop soul roots and yields her first-ever music union with Yeezy, Strength scales between claiming back the power she regretfully hid behind the love for her estranged husband-manager to now recognizing how resilient she is well beyond her celebrity status. Blige even found time to be the right amount of petty and unleash a high dose of saltiness topped with sweet revenge over trapsoul instrumentations ushered in by a new school of hungry music tasters like Camper and Prince Charlez who wanted to see her win again. — Antwane

Standout selections: “U + Me (Love Lesson),”  “Set Me Free” “Survivor” and “Telling the Truth” featuring Kaytranada

Ledisi – Let Love Rule

Shining a fully charged flashlight of hope, Ledisi tunnels her way through all love’s madness on Let Love Rule. Even though the New Orléans native has the voice of an angel, Rule doesn’t digest well on the first or second listen. I say this not bash or discredit Ledisi’s musical abilities but to say, if you’re a frequent radio listener, this album won’t impress you. This record isn’t chasing the minute, ready to serve sounds of R&B. It’s an album that increasingly ages after each playback. With Let Love Rule, Ledisi uses this collection of ballads and melodic compositions to educate hearers about social injustices, how to present in your relationship and the power of waiting for the stars to align in your favor. She doesn’t do half bad either. — Antwane

Standout selections: “Here,” “All the Way,” “High” and “Us 4 Ever” featuring BJ the Chicago Kid

Tamar Braxton – Bluebird of Happiness

Bluebird of Happiness may universally signify prosperity, joy, and delight but Tamar Braxton’s album version has a far deeper meaning. Absorbed by samples from the yesteryears of R&B, the youngest Braxton sister uses her definition of Bluebird to share the private wounds from her dissolving marriage from Vincent Herbert. Balancing the dark and light colors of musical tones, this solid recording not only hears Braxton harping on the foulness of love but finding moments to celebrate its presence and all its other glorious wonders. While being fully against Braxton calling it quits as a solo artist, Bluebird of Happiness definitely leaves a lasting impression in the hearts and minds of her loyal Tamartian fans – for now. — Antwane

Standout selections: “The Makings of You,” “My Forever,” “My Man,” and “Wanna Love Me Boy”

Tank – Savage

Serving as the follow-up to 2016’s Sex Pain & Love II, Tank takes an aggressive approach on Savage. He instantly hooks listeners with the title track before taking them on a musical journey through the bedroom with songs like “When We” and “F It Up.” The album isn’t just about sex, though. There are moments when he’s just singing about love, whether it’s the good times or trying to rekindle an old flame. — Keithan

Standout selections: “When We,” “Good Thing,” “Do For Me” and “Nothing On”

Jhene Aiko – Trip

After making a false start with her 2016 single “Maniac,” Jhene Aiko made a strong recovery with her second studio album, Trip. Released with no prior announcement, the 22-track LP is Aiko’s open diary that uncovers some of her most vulnerable moments. From dealing with the death of her brother to breakups, Aiko takes her listeners on an emotional rollercoaster through love, pain, depression, and happiness. Trip may be her most raw and honest project to date. — Keithan

Standout selections: “Sativa” featuring Swae Lee, “While We’re Young,” “New Balance” and “OLLA” featuring Big Sean

Sabrina Claudio – About Time
**honorary mention**

OK, About Time may technically be a mixtape but Sabrina Claudio certainly made it feel like an album. Laced with angelic harmonies and mesmerizing lyrics, About Time finds Claudio singing about…time (literally). “During the process of writing these songs, I was worried about time for some reason,” she said. “And it didn’t have to do with a relationship — maybe just career-wise I was worried about time and it translated through my music.” — Keithan

Standout selections: “Belong to You,” “Frozen,” “Natural” and “Stand Still”

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Erykah Badu, Miguel and The Roots to Headline Smokin’ Grooves Festival

The performance lineup for the Smokin’ Grooves Festival has been announced. Erykah Badu, Miguel and The Roots are set to headline the event, which takes plance on June 16 at The Queen Mary in Long Beach.

Other artists on the bill include Jhene Aiko, NxWorries (Anderson Paak + Knxwledge), H.E.R., Majid Jordan, dvsn, Tiara Thomas, Lion Babe, Arin Ray, Ravyn Lenae, Omarion and THEY, to name a few.

While Badu doesn’t have a new project out, fans will be expecting to hear her classic records. Miguel and Jhené Aiko will promote their latest albums. The latter artist released her  sophomore album Trip last September, while Miguel delivered his third album, War & Leisure, in December.

Tickets are on sale now at smokingroovesfest.com.

See the complete Smokin’ Grooves lineup below.

Brandy and Daniel Caesar Hit the Studio

Could producer Darhyl “DJ” Camper be the mastermind behind a Brandy and Daniel Caesar duet? According to Instagram, yes. The newly married musician shared studio moments on Thursday (April 19) as he had “revival” with “The Vocal Bible” and “Get You” crooner.

We haven’t heard much solo music from Brandy besides “Beggin and Pleading” and 2012’s Two Eleven, which deserved much more. Back in 2015, Camper revealed he and Brandy were working on a five-track EP. “It’s something refreshing. I’m not putting Brandy in the club. You won’t hear Brandy in the strip club or in elements like that,” said Camper. “When you think of Brandy now, think of stadium status or arenas. Think of like the movie 300 with the Romans. It’s going to be big and classic. That’s what I’m having her around this time around. If you think Coldplay is big, watch what Brandy does.”

As the new kid on the block, Caesar is enjoying his stroll around the music business. He recently released the music video for “Best Part” featuring H.E.R. and even charted on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart with his single “Get You” featuring Kali Uchis.

We can’t wait to hear more about this collaboration from this musical trinity.

Revival.

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DC x DC

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4 Songs from Mariah Carey’s ‘E=MC²’ That Should Have Been Number One

Ten years ago, Mariah Carey’s faithful Lambs across the world were pulling out their TI-89 calculators to solve the equation E=MC², the title of her 11th studio album.

The album came three years after The Emancipation of Mimi, Carey’s comeback album and the best-selling album of 2005. The legendary diva won many awards for her 10th studio album, including three Grammy Awards. The accolades that probably meant the most to Carey were her two number one singles: “We Belong Together” and “Don’t Forget About Us.”

The latter tune helped Carey bag her 17th Hot 100 chart-topper, tying her with Elvis Presley for the most number one singles by a solo artist. She beat the rock and roll king’s record two months before the release of E=MC² with her sexually fantasizing single “Touch My Body.”

Speaking to the Associated Press in 2008, Carey praised herself for surpassing Presley.”For me, in my mind the accomplishment is just that much sweeter,” she said. “In terms of my ethnicity, always feeling like an outsider, always feeling different … for me it’s about saying, ‘Thank you Lord, for giving me the faith to believe in myself when other people had written me off.'”

What’s baffling though is that following the commercial success of “Body,” the five-octave Chanteuse pumped out three more singles (“Bye Bye,” “I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time,” and “I Stay in Love”) but none were fortunate enough to be inducted into Carey’s hall of fame of No. 1’s.

Yes, an artist’s name alone isn’t enough to sell a single. Without backing from radio stations and proper promotion, the chances of a single swimming versus sinking are slimmer than Carey’s ‘90s waistline.

But in all fairness: Carey’s E=MC² album potentially had the right formula to equate her 19th number-one single on the Hot 100 and continue her reign as the undisputed queen of the No. 1’s.

Now as we playback E=MC² (and mimic her iconic finger twinkle) on its 10th anniversary, here are four songs that should have topped the Hot 100.

1. “I’m that Chick”

Credits: Mariah Carey / Johnta Austin / Mikkel Storleer Eriksen / Tor Erik Hermansen / Rod Temperton (Writers); Carey and Stargate (Producers)

Who’s to blame for Carey’s dreamy number, “I’m That Chick” not being worked as a single and skating to the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100?

Revisiting the disco era and Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall,” the confident singer tiptoed on the dance floor to enjoy nightlife. Like Usher, Carey found love in the club and used some of the best metaphors to let him know she is everything and more. She also referenced two hip-hop legends Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. to get her point across.

“Take this seriously / Like Pac, all eyes on me / That’s right you are intrigued (I’m that chick you like),” she sings lightly. “I do’s it naturally / Hypnotize like Biggie / But you ain’t havin’ dreams / I’m that chick you like.”

“I’m That Chick” had just the right amount of attitude to dance its way to number one.

2. “I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time”

Credits: Mariah Carey / Aldrin Davis / Mark DeBarge / Crystal Johnson / Etterlene Jordan (Writers); Carey and DJ Toomp (Producers)

It goes without saying that Carey’s flirty single “I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time” was shamefully robbed from basking in number one glory — and this was long before T.I. was enlisted for the remix.

Borrowing remnants of DeBarge’s “Stay With Me” for the hook and playful production, the jaunty love song heard Carey reassuring her then-husband Nick Cannon that it’s not a game and she’s here to stay.

From its timely release just ahead of summer to its proper video treatment and catchy lyrics, the cutesy tune had many qualifications to become a hit on the Hot 100. However, DJ Toomp co-produced ditty didn’t get close the top slot. It only reached No. 58.

3. “For the Record”

Credits: Mariah Carey / Bryan-Michael Cox / Adonis Shropshire (Writers); Carey and Cox (Producers)

Tell me one good reason “For the Record” wasn’t released as a single?

Bridging the sounds of a beautiful violin and a meek keyboard, Carey wanted to rewrite history with a former mate who foolishly let her go. Even though he’s moved on, she decided to let his mistake of leaving her sink in more by reminding him of how far her love went for him.

“For the record / You’ll always be a part of me, no matter what you do / And for the record / Can’t nobody say I didn’t give my all to you,” she sang.

As history shows, the New York native has an impressive track record with slow to mid-tempo songs (“Dreamlover,” “Always Be My Baby” and “Don’t Forget About Us”) leading the Hot 100. “For the Record” would have been in good company — just saying.

4. “Side Effects” featuring Jeezy

Credits: Mariah Carey / Jay Jenkins / Crystal Johnson / Scott Storch (Writers); Carey and Storch (Producers)

Carey has been fully capable rocketing herself to the top slot of the Hot 100 without any guest appearances. Out of her 18 number-one singles, she has 13 without a featured artist(s). But for her E=MC² era, we’re sure Mimi’s Lambs wouldn’t have minded her calling on hip-hop’s Snowman to release their blazing collaboration.

Blended with a knocking beat and techno effects, Carey had taken her final dose of torture from her unruly lover. Although she finished her prescribed bottle of heartache and pain, she still had to deal with the aftermath of the dissolved love affair.

“I kept my tears inside ’cause I knew if I / Started I’d keep cryin’ for the rest of my / Life with you I finally built up the strength / To walk away don’t regret it / But I still live with the side effects,” she sings.

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