While society has been nothing short of dismal, one thing has certainly prevailed: R&B and Hip-Hop music has come through with a much-needed wave of high-quality vibrations to get us through the storm.
Whether it be from the fresh novelty of a new artist or from the growth and elevation of a longtime favorite, myriad artists have seized this time as an opportune moment to sharpen their saw and step up their game (which indeed many of them have). With May in the works and June being right around the corner, almost half of this year’s music production has already been created, mixed, mastered, and ultimately unveiled. Some noteworthy highlights to come out of this year so far include Meg The Stallion winning three Grammys, Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars coming together to create the dynamic duo of Silk Sonic, H.E.R. winning an Oscar for “Best Original Song” and concerts/festivals resurfacing with the highly anticipated return of Rolling Loud, which is projected to take place this July. With R&B and Hip-Hop music reaching a relative high, it is only right that we recap the brightest of what both genres have offered up to this point.
The Off – Season – J.Cole
While it is true that Cole experimented more than most would have preferred with the release of his previous project: KOD back in 2018, which garnered mixed reviews from fans, the Fayetteville legend makes it transparent that he is still a leading alchemist in hip-hop. With this record, he maintains his proverbial crown as one of the best to ever do it. After not releasing a full-length album in three years, the 36-year-old rap phenom delivers a 12-track master class on what top-notch, bar-for-bar lyricism should look and feel like. For hip-hop purists, it’s a healthy platter of nourishment. Budding with a palpable fervor and newfound ambition that is unmistakable, Cole manages to take his craft to even higher heights. His wordplay and delivery are sharper and more incisive. Instead of growing complacent and basking in his already-established glory, the self-proclaimed “middle child” is hungrier and more ravenous than ever before. On more of an instrumental tip, there’s nothing flashy or bombastic about this album, which is an essential part of its brilliance. His beat selection is more grandiose, hard-hitting, and eclectic than we’ve arguably ever seen from him since becoming more of a commercial entity. Rooted in modern-day boom bap, they’re minimalistic enough to underscore Cole’s lyrical mastery but turnt enough for one’s interest not to waiver. For someone who has stood firm on amassing exceptional success with no features over his last two albums: 4 Your Eyez Only (2016) and 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014), Cole finally decides to embrace his counterparts again not out of necessity but out of sheer respect. With noteworthy features from a carefully selected bunch (Lil’ Baby, Bas, Morray, 21 Savage, and 6lack), Cole’s lyrical performance is contagious as it demands the absolute best from his counterparts. To add more delight to the bliss of his features, there are some dope, unexpected cameos in this record as well. All and all, The Off-Season is an instant gem among Cole’s discography, and given some time, it is very possible that it might go down one of the best hip-hop records of this decade.
Overgrown – Joyce Wrice
Although many artists have attempted to embody the spirit of early 2000s R&B in the modern era, not many have been able to capture its essence quite like Joyce Wrice has. Hailing from Chula Vista, a small town south of San Diego, the 28-year-old indie artist has propelled herself into the contemporary R&B ecosystem with the release of this record. Cultivating her sound from the likes of R&B icons such as Brandy, Amerie and Tamia, Wrice showcases her sultry, yet reminiscent vocal prowess over a multi-level platter of R&B-inspired instrumentation. From fun-filled, mid-high tempo tracks like Falling In Love (feat. Lucky Daye) and On One (feat. Freddie Gibbs) to slower, more emotionally conscious tracks like Chandler and Losing, Overgrown illustrates that the L.A. based songstress isn’t bound to a single dimension but that she has a solid handle on multiple facets of the landscape. On top of her vocal forte, Wrice’s songwriting is tender, poignant, and relatable. As far as R&B goes, Wrice is a fresh beacon of light for the genre. With such a promising future, it’s safe to assume that she will be a mainstay for years to come.
Just Until… – Cordae
Since the release of his solo debut record: The Lost Boy back in 2019, Hip-Hop’s prodigal son Cordae has been indulging in the fruits of his labor outside of music. Whether it’s been endorsing the PUMA brand, jump-starting his own record label:”Hi Level,” investing in real estate and stocks, or kickin’ it with his girl/upcoming tennis olympian Naomi Osaka, the 23-year-old rapper has been pretty preoccupied with matters outside of musical production. With all these extracurriculars, it would seem as though the Grammy-nominated Baltimore native has taken a slight step off the gas since the release and subsequent success of his first studio project. However for those who may have thought the young Hip-Hop purist fell off, Just Until… is empirical proof that he hasn’t lost his touch one bit. Operating as an appetizer before the entree, Just Until… shines a major light on the personal growth, self-realization, and evolving versatility of Cordae. On this project, he sticks to his guns: crafty wordplay, candid storytelling, and heart-to-heart introspection while also not being circumspect or afraid to step out of the bounds of his comfort zone as he experiments with vocals like never before. In only four tracks, Cordae covers a lot of ground. As far as collabs go, Cordae combines his sincere appreciation for pure, more traditional Hip-Hop (teaming up with Q-Tip on More Life) with his penchant for today’s trap-centric milieu (teaming up with Young Thug). In only four tracks, Cordae covers a lot of ground in a very short span of time. Despite only being a little under 12 mins, Cordae executes on a “quality over quantity” maxim with flying colors.
Neptune – Gallant
After going on hiatus and not producing a full-length project since his sophomore studio album: Sweet Insomnia, the alternative R&B crooner has made a stunning return. Known for his exceptional songwriting ability and lyrical prowess, Gallant has an uncanny way of channeling emotions and getting you in your feels. Across this eight-track EP, there isn’t a great deal to absorb but his soothing, high pitch melodies coupled with a mishmash of electro, laid back instrumentals make it an enjoyable listening experience from top to bottom. As someone who is no stranger to magical collaborations, Gallant teams up with some of his R&B counterparts on this record: Brandy, Arin Ray & VanJess. In spite of this record only being 28 minutes in length, which is ideal for a shower listening or get ready session, Neptune is a stand-out record within this year’s R&B ecosystem and places Gallant on a new playing field: under more of a mainstream gaze. He’s certainly blossomed since his first record: Ology back in 2016 and it’ll be exciting to see how he continues to distinguish himself among today’s sprawling alt-R&B landscape.
Khaled, Khaled – DJ Khaled
On Khaled, Khaled, which is the mega pop hitmaker’s 12th studio album to date, DJ Khaled firmly subscribes to the blueprint that has catapulted him into the premier dream-collab scorer he is today. In spite of knowing what to expect to an extent, it’s always an exciting treat to see who will make his star-studded roster and how they will show up on the project. Given his resume, a major portion of his allure stems from his ability to orchestrate an A-list roster of talent. On this record, he remains committed to his proven formula as this project is replete with enough celebratory bops and anthems to get us through the summer season at the very least. As far as features go, the rollout is expansive and ambitious per usual. Some artists include Lil’ Wayne, Drake, Lil’ Baby, Lil’ Durk, Cardi B, H.E.R., Nas, Jay-Z, Puff Daddy and much more. Without giving too much away, Khaled pushes himself on the arrangement of his collabs to another level. All and all, this record is a hodgepodge of hits and misses but it remains on-par with Khaled’s typical offerings.
Shelley FKA DRAM – Shelley FKA DRAM
Contrary to the hyper jovial and exuberant presence of Big Baby DRAM who hit the scene in 2015, Shelley FKA Dram encompasses the Virginia crooner in more of an intimate and mature ambiance. After taking some time away from producing music to return back to his personal equilibrium, Shelley FKA DRAM has returned in full force as he embraces the sexier, more sensual side of his artistic palette. On this record, his vocals are rich, breathy, and sensuous, which lend themselves to an amorous mood. Moreover, this project isn’t full of lust and superficiality. DRAM explores the various layers of romance in a way that doesn’t feel contrived or overly mushy. Instead, it feels natural, sincere and inviting. Plus, the project illuminates how vulnerable and open the German-born singer is willing to be, which becomes evident swiftly into the listening process. While love and affection are the driving forces of this record, there are some other facets sprinkled on here such as his ludicrous lyrics and moments of reflection at the end of some tracks, as well as, his stellar electric guitar solos. As far as variety goes, the tracklist is a diverse bunch of absolute R&B tracks, thru and thru. On Exposure, there is a smooth, sultry vibe that sounds like something Bilal would have made in his prime. Something About Us is a groovy, lounge track that frets over the age-old dilemma of timing and how the person might be right but the moment isn’t. At its core, Shelley FKA DRAM is a proud, unsullied homage to love and all of its contents. For R&B enthusiasts, this record will definitely hit the spot.
Slime Language 2 – Young Thug & Gunna
After raving reviews from fans over their prototype: Slime Language, Young Thug, Gunna, and their motley camp of rising artists over at Young Stoner Life (YSL) records come together once again for their second installment in the Slime Language series. Similar to their first effort, this record is a home base compilation of artists from the label, as well as, a generous suite of Thugger’s industry friends. Avoiding pitfalls that plagued the quality of Slime Language, Young Thug and Gunna are a bit more tactful with how they execute on collaborations for this album. Some artists featured on here include Drake, Travis Scott, Lil’ Uzi Vert, Big Sean, Rowdy Rebel, Meek Mill, Kid Cudi, and much more. Tackled by YSL’s production dream team of Wheezy, Taurus, and Turbo, the instrumentals on SL2 layout a sublime soundtrack for all the turn-ups bound to stem from post-quarantine summer. Some major highlights worth checking out include “Ski”, “Diamonds Dancing” (ft. Travis Scott), “Solid” (ft, Drake), “Came and Saw” (ft. Rowdy Rebel), and “Warrior” (ft. T-Shyne, Lil’ Keed, and Big Sean) and much more between the original and deluxe version, which comprises over 30 turnt tracks. As far being in alignment with what Thugger is known for, this record serves its purpose and then some.
Leave The Door Open – Bruno Mars & Anderson .Paak
Out of everything to happen in the realm of American music this year, Bruno Mars & Anderson .Paak coming together to make music, let alone, synergizing to craft a full project has been supremely left-field but undoubtedly one of the best collabs to surface within this decade. It’s something that no one really saw coming but now that it’s here, we’ve realized that they’re the all-star tandem we never knew we needed. Released as their debut and lead from their upcoming album: An Evening With Silk Sonic, “Leave The Door Open” is a silky smooth, lush slow jam and modern-day twist on the classic sub genre of 1970s Philadelphia soul. With honeyed cadences and Mars’ silky vocals, there is a natural nostalgia embedded in its DNA that’s reminiscent of legendary soul artists such as Bobby Womack, The Delfonics, and Curtis Mayfield. As a complement to its vintage feel, Mars and .Paak give it a contemporary flare with their tongue-in-cheek, humor-infused lyrics. Moreover, if this track is any indicator of what their full-length project will entail, fans are in for a truly remarkable experience from these two R&B/soul funk powerhouses.