Y’all already know, this year has been a cavalcade of calamity. Between outbreaks, lockdowns, financial stress, sudden deaths and the usual social media stupidity, I totally understand if it’s been tough to keep an eye on some of the year’s best music releases.
That’s why I’m here to help.
I’ve spent the past 11 months documenting the best (and worst…) R&B has offered but, as I mentioned above, this year has kinda been nuts, so even some things slip from my grasp.
Let’s take a moment to show love to five albums I haven’t had a chance to discuss here in the hallowed halls of Soul In Stereo – great releases that didn’t make my Top 25 albums of the half-year list or albums that missed getting a full review. All five should find a home on any R&B lover’s playlists.
Victoria Monet, Jaguar
Victoria has spent years making stars, penning hits from Ariana Grande and Chloe X Halle to Chris Brown and Fifth Harmony. Now, it’s her time to shine. Victoria’s debut, Jaguar, features the same pop prowess and funky harmonies that made her the secret weapon for so many stars. Jaguar’s best asset is its diversity, seamlessly mixing genres but maintaining consistency across the project. And, as you’d expect, they lyrics shine with her hallmark confidence and empowerment. R&B is in dire need of starpower and Victoria has enough of it to spare. Easily one of the most underrated releases of the year, regardless of genre.
Kem, Love Always Wins
“HEY GURRRRRL!” Yeah, if you know Kem, you know exactly what you’re getting with each release, but with consistency comes comfort. Love Always Wins, Kem’s fifth LP and first after a half-decade hiatus, repositions him as R&B’s most dependable crooner. The mellow atmosphere and gentle vocal delivery remains Kem’s hallmark, but it’s the understated passion that really helps these tracks resonate. Love Always Wins doesn’t stray far from Kem’s playbook, but when you already have a winning formula, there’s no need to tinker with success.
Yeah, I’ve heard the “56” jokes and I’m sure Slim and Mike have too. Standing as the last vestige of the once-mighty R&B quartet, the duo have a huge legacy to live up to. But their first outing as a duo under the 112 banner proves that the group’s legacy is still strong. While the group’s latter-day releases struggled with inconsistency, the Forever EP is 112’s tightest release in years, advancing the group’s sound while remaining authentic to their roots. Even though the runtime is brief, it’s a surprisingly satisfying experience. Slim and Mike happily prove that it takes two to make a thing go right.
Durand Bernarr, Dur&
It’s hard to define Durand Bernarr’s daring album Dur&. There are inflections of classic funk, ’90s R&B and ’00s-era neo-soul, sprinkled with the diverse delivery of Prince and the humor and attitude of Nate Dogg and Thundercat. Yeah, seems like a weird mix, but that’s what makes Dur& so unique and appealing. Each track is a new sonic experience, ranging from hilarious to heavy to heartfelt at a moment’s notice. Durand is truly an artist and Dur& is a compelling portrait of what he has in store for us.
Ledisi, The Wild Card
It kinda feels a bit ridiculous to call Ledisi underrated when her career has such highlights. Nine great solo LPs, more than a few top 10 singles, 12 Grammy nominations – yet sometimes it feels like props still come in short supply. Well, if you haven’t before, it’s time to pay homage. The Wild Card is not only Ledisi’s first independent release, it’s one of her strongest projects in recent memory. The Wild Card is a masterclass in R&B – a soaring journey that blends genres and sounds into compelling relationship commentary. Each cut here is sturdy – there are no gaps or filler – making for a complete listening experience. The Wild Card makes a very strong case for best R&B album of 2020. Less underrating, more appreciating.
What are some of your favorite underrated R&B releases of the year? Let us know below.