The 10 Best R&B Albums of 2015

2015 was the year of experimentation for the world of R&B

The year’s best artists refused to be confined by standards dictated by radio playlists. Instead, they paved their own paths, sometimes revisiting the roots of soul, other times leaning on pop and rock sounds to enliven their music. And others just let their powerful vocals lead the way.

Let’s look back at the year of R&B by honoring the 10 best albums of the past 12 months. Rankings were determined by quality of material, diversity of sound and impact on the genre. Also, this list ONLY includes LPs — EPs and mixtapes from artists like Erykah Badu and Kehlani weren’t eligible.

The best way to keep R&B alive is by moving it forward. These 10 albums do that.

Honorable mentions: Kenny Lattimore, Anatomy of a Love Song; Case, Heaven’s Door, John Michael, Like A Drug

bush10. Snoop Dogg, Bush

Read our review here

Yes, Snoop Dogg released an R&B album in 2015 and it’s WAY better than it had any right to be. Instead of relying on Snoop’s laughable vocals, this album finds its groove by letting The Neptunes’ infectious production lead the way. It’s a fun, funky throwback that refuses to take itself too seriously — and that’s part of its charm.

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unbreakable9. Janet Jackson, Unbreakable

Read our review here

A successful comeback album is nearly impossible when your legacy is as massive as Janet’s. No matter how strong the work, it will always — often unfairly — be compared to the material of her prime. And while Unbreakable may pale to Janet’s heyday, it’s proof that the Rhythm Nation is still a R&B superpower. Unbreakable glides from soul to funk to EDM with ease, creating one of the most richly diverse listening experiences of the year.

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tree of lyfe8. Lyfe Jennings, Tree of Lyfe

Read our review here

Lyfe is one of those artists who rarely strays from his script. You know what you’re getting each time out — in his case, socially conscious themes fueled by authentic soul. Lyfe takes his role as soul soothsayer to heart, delivering melodic tracks with piercing messages. His sixth album stays the course, quietly delivering tracks that provide tough lessons about love and black life. There’s no need to alter a winning formula.

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wildheart7. Miguel, Wildheart

Read our review here

Anticipation was high for Miguel’s follow-up to his acclaimed Kaleidoscope Dream but Wildheart left some fans scratching their heads. Instead of following in the soulful direction of its predecessor, Wildheart took a sharp left to embrace a more eclectic sound. The result is more ’80s rock than ’90s R&B, a sound that meshes seamlessly with his raspy vocals. Wildheart is not the album many fans wanted but it’s exactly what the genre needed.

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cognac6. Teedra Moses, Cognac and Conversation

Read our review here

It’s been a decade since Teedra Moses’ debut album made her a cult favorite among R&B faithful. Her followup builds on that legacy by remaining stunningly simple and pure. In an era where R&B is crippled by oversexualization and immaturity, Teedra’s airy vocals push for loftier themes — love found and lost, motherhood and spirituality. Thrilling duets and gentle ballads make this album a rose among thorns. It was truly worth the wait.

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beauty behind the madness5. The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness

Read our review here

Playa, I can hear some of y’all complaining already: “NUH UH this ain’t REAL R&B.” Yeah, it’s no secret no question that The Weeknd eagerly jumped headfirst into the realm of pop, becoming one of the year’s most successful artists. But the album also showcases plenty of the lustful, atmospheric R&B that made The Weeknd an underground favorite. In fact, the album’s greatest strength is balancing those two worlds, crafting a fresh sound that’s equal parts pop and R&B. Add his soul-bearing  songwriting and it’s easily The Weeknd’s best work.

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ego death4. The Internet, Ego Death

2015 will be remembered as the year The Internet went from indie darlings to the cusp of mainstream stardom. The soul band expertly uses sparse instrumentation, allowing  Syd the Kyd’s lyrics to breathe and take root in the listener’s ears. Funk, rock and jazz are tied neatly into a package that feels like neo-soul but refuses to be confined by labels. Ego Death is just the beginning for The Internet — they’re on the verge of being industry trendsetters.

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black rose3. Tyrese, Black Rose

Prior to the release of Black Rose, Tyrese spent months on end bragging that his album would be the key to R&B’s revival. Well, it ain’t bragging if you can back it up. Black Rose is a tremendous effort that touches on decades of musical evolution. Hip-hop. Gospel. Motown soul. Each track reads like a R&B history lesson, lead by Tyrese’s soothing vocals. If Black Rose is truly Tyrese’s last album, as he’s claimed in several interviews, he’ll go out on the apex of his career.

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reality-show2. Jazmine Sullivan, Reality Show

Read our review here

When this album was released in January, I knew it would be nearly impossible to top. I was almost right. Jazmine’s vocal prowess has never been questioned but it’s the concepts that launch this album above its peers. Playing off the reality show theme, Jazmine uncovers the truths about love and relationships, showing that there are two sides to each story. “Silver Lining” proves that even the most hardened criminal has a conscience. “Mascara” shows the method behind the madness of women obsessed with fame. It’s a great cultural narrative accentuated by Jazmine’s robust, powerful vocals.

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love-life1. Tamia, Love Life

Read our review here

I won’t waste time arguing about Tamia’s criminally underrated recording career. If you’re reading this site, you already know that she’s been a premier vocalist for nearly two decades — and you know that voice has been the magic behind some phenomenal material. So it should be no surprise that Tamia’s sixth album continues that standard of excellence — tender, heartfelt ballads, sweaty bedroom burners and a voice as clear as spring water. Her vocal performances are unmatched. Overlook this album if you must, it just means you missed the best R&B album 2015 has to offer.

What are your favorite R&B albums of 2015? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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