Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer has finally arrived, signifying the latest in a long line of stunning projects from the forward-thinking creative. Throughout her entire career, Monáe has done much to push R&B forward, expanding the definition of the genre by incorporating elements of classical music, futuristic synths, disco-y grooves, and much more into her own sound. Until now, she’s kept a constant storyline that linked her first three projects Metropolis: The Chase Suite, The ArchAndroid, and The Electric Lady, telling the story of the android Cindi Mayweather as she falls in love with a human, breaking the cardinal rule of her robotic society. On Dirty Computer, however, she’s stepping out of that timeline, putting herself in the spotlight to directly engage with her listeners.
Monáe’s innovative spirit is always appreciated here at Ones to Watch, so we decided to highlight a few rising artists who are following in her footsteps to change what we consider R&B. Read on to see our seven choices, and keep them on your radar to be in touch with the future of the genre.
NoMBe’s debut album They Might’ve Even Loved Me finally arrived in March 2018, after the German artist spent much of 2017 releasing one single a month in one of the most cohesive rollouts in recent memory. The 18-track album hosts a bevy of sounds and styles, making for an engaging listen through from start to finish. The adrenaline-pumping “Signs” is a standout thanks to its indie, rambunctious energy, while “Wait” slows the tempo over more controlled, measured production. However, the acoustic “Rocky Horror” is perhaps the most distinctive song on They Might’ve Even Loved Me, with an eerie, haunting timbre that throws an intriguing wrench in the progression of the album. Stay tuned for NoMBe’s All Eyes On video, coming out next week!
The futuristic essence of Janelle Monáe is equally apparent on the music of Kelela, with booming, crystal-clear production that allows her music to heavily resonate. Additionally, her fully-formed sense of empowerment is evident in her music by way she presents herself, with a stark, unafraid confidence that’s visible all the way down her Instagram feed. Her newest album Take Me Apart turned heads by bringing all this and more to the table, with songs such as “Waitin” providing an electronic twist onto contemporary R&B. The perfect late night soundtrack, there’s plenty to like about Kelela, and plenty of reasons why she’s at the forefront of the new wave of R&B.
The Soulection platform is filled with rising artists who are making noise with a unique, individualized sound, and singer-songwriter/producer Naji certainly fits that category. His earnest, everyman vocals give his music increased relatability, while the off-kilter, almost humorous character of his production doesn’t hurt either. Look no further than “10 Cubed” to see his essence distilled into just over 100 seconds, showcasing plain, unassuming lyricism about everything from his lack of hygiene to his “need to pee.” A versatile, multi-faceted musician, everything about Naji is built to succeed in the current direction of R&B, and should make him an interesting name going forward.
QUIÑ is another artist skillfully blending electronic production into her sound, while adding a twist of funk to make the output entirely unique. Hailing from Los Angeles, she got her start with music in kindergarten as a member of her church’s gospel choir, yet didn’t see it as a possible career path until years later after building her self-confidence and growing comfortable with the attention commanded by her voice. It took only five songs on her DREAMGIRL EP to prove why music was the right choice for her, however, with the Buddy-assisted “HAPPENED TO HAPPEN” worthy of special praise with it’s unfaltering, chic groove throughout.
Kyle Dion interchangeably uses instrumentation as well as synthesizers to supplement his soulful vocals, which impress on songs such as the recently-released “Brown.” He’s already collaborated with Kehlani on 2015’s “How We Do Us,” while also touring with PARTYNEXTDOOR on a few UK stops of The Infinity Tour. His 2016 album Painting Sounds revolves around a retro core, seamlessly modernized for a refreshing sound that slots into the current landscape beautifully. Singing in a high-register and falsetto throughout, his notes strike a chord on songs like “Cool Side of the Pillow,” a sultry track where Dion’s voice takes center stage and commands all attention.
With a powerful, overwhelming voice that blasts through the speakers, Eryn Allen Kane could probably release an acapella album and still draw an eager audience. Belting out lofty notes on “Sunday,” the song harkens back to gospel roots and makes the dreary week she describes in the song truly engaging. Elsewhere, “Honey” could easily double as an impressive solo in your favorite musical theater production, rising throughout with an eager, pure energy. Finally tipping over the edge on the outro, it’s an invigorating song that’s sure to put a smile on your face.
A list of artists who are bringing a fresh sound to R&B simply wouldn’t be complete without SiR, whose vocals are sure to be ubiquitous in the industry sooner rather than later. His TDE debut November is still one of the brightest releases of the year, with an airy, relaxed sound centered around a traditional bottom line. SiR finds new ways to tell stories of love, showcased on delicate songs like “Summer in November” that ease the listener into agreement. A throwback album revamped for 2018, it’s further proof that although music moves in cycles, its possible to add something new at every turn.