It’s hard to deny that R&B’s newest voices made the biggest splash in 2018.
Ella Mai and H.E.R. not only saw breakout success on Billboard with their big hits, but they also earned several prestigious nominations for them, including Grammy nominations at this year’s show.
Much of the music heard from newcomers in 2018 sounded distinctively different than its doo-wop days. Though it’s those fresh melodies and harmonies that helped soar many new faces to greater heights, especially on the mainstream scope.
Now that there has been a resurgence within the genre over the last few years, it’s drawn much attention to critics and listeners who have placed bets on who’s next.
Like 2018, this year has the power to manifest more exciting moments and usher in endless opportunities for new talent to make their mark. Here are nine R&B artists we think you should watch out for in 2019.
Kiana Ledé is no stranger to this music thing. She was signed to RCA Records at 14 and parted ways from the label three years later. To get some momentum going, she posted covers on YouTube, including Drake’s hit song “Hotline Bling.”
Ledé’s consistency landed her a deal with Republic Records, giving her a second chance in the temperamental industry. The bohemian singer captures the essence of the ‘00s with her use of notes and melody, creating recognizable energy with her music. Case in point: starting at the second verse of “Take It All,” the organs make a guest appearance and a choir comes into play, taking it to church like back in the day.
Last summer, her debut EP Selfless was met with affirmative reviews so hopefully, a new project is on the horizon this year. Ledé will be joining forces with Lucky Daye to open for Ella Mai on the Debut Tour, completing a line up you absolutely don’t want to miss.
Take a listen to: “Take It All”
Xavier Omär has been singing about the tenderness and vulnerability in relationships way before it was cool again.
In a world where people seem to be more in touch with their feelings, he is making music for those who want to experience that exact thing. Hailing from San Antonio, the singer-songwriter tends to experiment with and sample different genres while keeping R&B at the base with some gospel influences.
Since 2013, Xavier has been releasing music but gained traction in 2016 for Hours Spent Loving You, his collaborative EP with electronic producer Sango. His songwriting ranges from poignant to inspiring; emotive, one could say, but even amongst the feels, his ability to make you hopeful about love is a breath of fresh air.
This winter, Xavier will be opening for Nao on her U.S. tour to promote her recent album. It sounds like a perfect opportunity to witness him croon and leave his heart on the stage.
Take a listen to “Afraid”
When listening to any Summer Walker song, it’s as if she read your journal and penned your innermost thoughts.
Seemingly appearing out of nowhere, the elusive singer knows just what to say and how to say it with no regrets. One reason why her music hits home is that she’s unapologetic and brutally honest with her lyrical delivery, making you reevaluate and lament on whatever type of situation you’re in. Walker’s airy vocals glide across the hazy, stripped-down trap-adjacent production with much emotion that permeates on her Last Day of Summer EP.
The first lady of LoveRenaissance, better known as LVRN, is a mysterious one but she bares it all on every track.
Take a listen to “Karma”
Even though he’s been dabbling in music since the age of seven, Brooklyn-based singer Joshua Karpeh has been a full-time musician for about a year.
Better known as Cautious Clay, Karpeh took a chance and quit his real estate job around August 2017, dropped his debut single “Cold War” shortly after and hasn’t turned back since. The single, which has hit more than 19 million streams on Spotify, and his two following EPs (Resonance and Blood Type) landed him a song placement on season three of HBO’s hit series Insecure, as well as his first televised performance on the 2018 Soul Train Awards.
Earlier this month, he announced that his third EP is almost done and with his world tour on to a fresh start, it would only be right for his debut album to follow soon after. Blending electronic sounds and necessary instrumentation with a blues undertone, Cautious Clay brings quite an innovative perspective to the genre.
Take a listen to “Joshua Tree“
Smooth. Sultry. Silky. All proper words used to describe the melodic voices of Ivana and Jessica Nwokike.
Mirroring late ‘90s R&B/neo-soul vibes mixed with modern electro-house sounds, VanJess embodies a synergy that hasn’t been exemplified in R&B music since Zhané. Their self-released debut album, Silk Canvas, placed more eyes and ears on the pair all before they signed a new deal with Keep Cool/RCA Records, sharing a label home with fellow listed artists Lucky Daye and Normani.
Executing harmonies with ease, the ladies have made a favorable first impression, leaving both fans and critics interested to see what’s next from the sister duo.
Take a listen to: “Control Me”
After taking a chance to listen to I, his first EP, Lucky Daye is definitely worth the gamble.
Originally from New Orleans and currently based in Los Angeles, it may be hard to believe that at one point in time Daye wasn’t aware of the musical greats like Earth, Wind & Fire and Prince. Up until he was eight years old, he was raised in a cult where secular music was forbidden. Once he and his mom left, he immersed himself in all the music he missed out on by going backward.
His adolescent plunge into the classics speaks volumes to his musical style: vintage funk and soul supported by live instrumentation with a modern feel. Whether drifting on ‘70s-influenced production on “Late Night” to yearning over a beautifully dramatized slow jam with “Concentrate” or experiencing “Karma” with his most recent track, Daye is an artist that makes fans excited about music again.
Take a listen to: “Concentrate”
This soulful Washington, D.C. singer knows just how to draw you in with her velvety sweet voice and genuinely relatable lyrics.
Lennox’s musical style fuses old school R&B and neo-soul to create a sound that simultaneously feels new and comfortably familiar. Since signing to Dreamville in 2015, she has been off and on the road for the last few years, getting familiar with the stage and new fans while opening up for the likes of 6LACK and her label founder J. Cole.
Lennox has been spotted in the studio with her labelmates and industry peers, collaborating on the upcoming Revenge of the Dreamers III compilation album. Her first single of 2018 “Whipped Cream” has received abundantly positive reviews and after dropping a number of stirring tracks to lead up to her debut album, which is slated to be released this year, it’s safe to say Lennox’s contribution is refreshing and much anticipated.
Take a listen to “Grampa”
It appears that the R&B heartthrob position has been empty for a little while, but Tone Stith might be able to fill it.
From being signed to RCA Records to leaving young ladies screaming their heads off on H.E.R.’s I Used to Know Her Tour and closing out the year by dropping his Good Company EP, the New Jersey native had quite an eventful 2018.
Stith’s falsetto alone is guaranteed to catch your ear but his knack for emulating the late ‘90s and early ‘00s R&B tone from an original place speaks to the reverence he has for what he does and where he comes from musically.
Recently, Stith received a writing credit for Chris Brown’s new single, “Undecided” and has worked with Chris in the past, co-writing and producing “Liquor” and “Make Love.” With generous helpings of new music on the way, he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Take a listen to: “Doin’ It For Me”
As the former member of pop group Fifth Harmony, all eyes are eagerly on Normani.
Without an official solo single, she easily has one of the most anticipated albums of the year. Even though the duet “Love Lies” with her best friend Khalid went to No. 1 on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40 chart last September, she definitely has her sights on a new sound.
In an interview with Billboard, she stated, “I think that 2019 is gonna be a really big year in terms of R&B and where music is going…and hopefully I can be part of it.” As the first artist under the Keep Cool/RCA Records imprint, Normani confirmed that she’s working in the studio with Pharrell and Missy Elliott and if that’s any indication on the music she’s going to release in the near future, we’re in for a treat.
Between working on her debut solo album and opening for Ariana Grande on the Sweetener Tour, 2019 is looking bright for Normani.
Take a listen to: “Waves” featuring 6LACK