Hey, look y’all, I’m officially 10 years old!
In honor of 10 years of talking trash and delivering blunt honesty about our favorite musicians online, I shared the 10 best hip-hop albums from my years as a music reviewer, 2008-2018. Go check that out.
Today, let’s give R&B some love.
As most R&B fans know, the past decade has been a time of extreme transition for the genre. R&B itself keeps getting reclassified and retooled in an attempt to stay relevant in the eyes of disinterested younger fans. But when artists refuse to chase trends and stay true to their talent, we still get magic, each and every year.
Don’t tell me there’s no good R&B out there. These 10 albums prove that the genre is still moving forward. Ten years strong.
2008: Jazmine Sullivan, Fearless
R&B fans have been dying for Jazmine’s breakout moment for nearly a decade now, and their love affair with her music began right here. Consider Jazmine’s debut a concept album that delves into the listener’s personal fears – whether it’s rejection, unrequited love or the struggles of achieving success. Extremely well-written and sung magnificently, Fearless proved that Jazmine is a star in the making. We’re just waiting for the world to catch up.
Honorable mention: Ne-Yo, Year of the Gentleman
2009: Maxwell, BLACKsummers’night
We’re currently in a weird fast-food-centric music culture, where we demand new music from our favorite artists fast, cheap and on our terms. Maxwell never operated like that. After an eight-year hiatus, Maxwell finally returned with the first installment of his BlackSummersNight series, and even though the R&B landscape was totally different from his early 00s heyday, he had no problem adjusting, releasing one of the most beloved albums of his career. In the past decade, we’ve only gotten one more release from this guy. You can’t rush greatness.
Honorable mention: Alicia Keys, The Element of Freedom
2010: Janelle Monae, The ArchAndroid
Before she was starring in Oscar-winning films, Janelle Monae was just our quirky little secret – a woman with a stellar voice who dreamed of a fantasy land with robots n’ stuff. The ArchAndroid is a daring musical journey, using a fictional narrative to tell stories of love, acceptance and empowerment. You’ll often hear critics claim that an album “transcends genres” or “pushes boundaries.” Yeah, those are usually exaggerations. This album crushes, rebuilds, and redefines those very genres and boundaries. In a world where anything with autotune slapped on it is described as “futuristic,” Janelle’s debut set the standard for afro-futurism.
Honorable mention: Cee-Lo Green, The Lady Killer
2011: Marsha Ambrosius, Late Nights and Early Mornings
Transitioning from group talent to solo star is daunting, but Marsha’s transition was as smooth as silk. Her debut LP is filled with the aching vocals that made Floetry a force in the early 00s but it’s Marsha’s sensuality that really takes this too another level. Her debut is among my favorites of the decade and came *THISCLOSE* to grabbing that coveted 5-star ranking. And the best part is that even more greatness was yet to come.
Honorable mention: Mary J. Blige, My Life 2: The Journey Continues (Act 1)
2012: Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream
2012 was a great year for music across the board and Miguel and Frank Ocean were in a dead heat for the top spot for R&B. Frank’s Channel Orange certainly has gone on to build the better legacy but it’s Miguel’s sophomore album that pulls slightly ahead due to it’s air-tight consistency. A case could be made for “Adorn” being THE best R&B song of the past 10 years. But this album is much bigger than one hot single. Kaleidoscope Dream has become Miguel’s magnum opus and has set the bar for R&B releases for the past six years.
Honorable mention: Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
2013: Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady
Honestly, I worried about this album at the time. I didn’t think Janelle’s sophomore effort could reach the heights of her landmark debut. I was wrong. Janelle takes the listener on a journey through decades of music. ’70s Motown, ’80s funk, and ’90s R&B all get a futuristic spin, with lessons of self-love, acceptance and empowerment mixed in. It doesn’t try to be like anything else out there. It lives by the individuality it teaches. Not only was The Electric Lady at the top of the R&B class in 2013, it was the best album of any genre, bar none.
Honorable mention: Chrisette Michele, Better
2014: Marsha Ambrosius, Friends and Lovers
The first time I finished listening to Marsha’s sophomore album back in ’14, I texted my boys at YouKnowIGotSoul.com said “We have our album of the year.” And when have I ever been wrong? Marsha’s album was the perfect mix of sexuality and introspection — a look at relationships that proved to be more than skin deep. And, of course, she just sounds fantastic on every track. It’s easily R&B’s best contribution to the year of music, no contest.
Honorable mention: Toni Braxton and Babyface, Love, Marriage and Divorce
2015: Tamia, Love Life
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 had to offer.
Honorable mention: Jazmine Sullivan, Reality Show
2016: Bruno Mars, 24K Magic
The greatest story of 2016 is that a pop artist did what your favorite R&B artist couldn’t – bring the fun back to R&B. On 24K Magic, Bruno’s third album, he takes his infatuation with all things ’80s even further, crafting album that branches out from his usual ’80s pop stylings and cabbage patches right into early ’90s New Jack Swing. In an era where moody R&B with sour lyrics and dour production rule the charts, the game was in dire need of some levity. Thank Bruno for reminding us why we love music in the first place. 24K Magic is absolutely spellbinding – if there was a better album in 2016, I haven’t heard it.
Honorable mention: KING, We are KING
2017: Daniel Caesar, Freudian
Caesar pricked the ears of R&B critics a few years back with a couple of critically acclaimed EPs, both of which built upon his gospel roots. Freudian, Caesar debut LP, keeps the momentum rolling – and is blessed assurance that young Canadian vocalists can bring more to the table than hollow “trap&B.” Thoughtful songwriting and superior instrumentation prove that quality R&B hasn’t gone out of style.
Honorable mention: Avery Sunshine, TwentySixtyFour
2018 SO FAR: Jessie J, R.O.S.E.
First, a few disclaimers: While Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer is the year’s superior album, it feels much more like a pop record than her previous outings so I excluded her from this R&B-centric list. That left Tamia’s Passion Like Fire, Lloyd’s Tru and Marsha Ambrosius’ NYLA in a four-way race with Jessie J for the top spot. But since those three previous albums were still too new to properly weigh at the time of this writing, Jessie gets the top spot. For now.
Breaking your LP into four tiny EPs released over the course of a week might seem like a weird marketing ploy but hey, it’s 2018, and anything that gets people to pay attention to good R&B is fine with me. And when it comes to good R&B in 2018, Jessie J is near the top of the list. Jessie wears her heart on her sleeve on R.O.S.E., drifting from issues with former management to issues with former boyfriends. But the prevailing message is hope, and thanks to the production of DJ Camper, makes for an enthralling listen.
Honorable mention SO FAR: Tamia, Passion Like Fire; Lloyd Tru and Marsha Ambrosius NYLA
Now it’s time to share your lists. What are you favorite releases from 2008-2018? Share ’em below.