By Nick Sligh
15. Kiana Ledé: “KIKI”
Creativity and versatility elevate “KIKI” and give Kiane Ledé a very good debut studio album and one of the best R&B releases of last year. The production choices throughout are consistently interesting, and Ledé’s persona helps to build a great collection of music. The Outkast-sampled “Mad At Me” shows a versatility in flow and delivery that is impressive to have mixed into an R&B album. “Chocolate,” a soulful track featuring the great Ari Lennox, shows more flexibility in Ledé’s style and also comes with a hilarious video. Beyond this handful of standout songs, “KIKI” is a collection of quality music that helps make Kiana Ledé stand out in the current R&B scene.
Favorite Songs: “Chocolate,” “Cancelled,” “Mad At Me,” “Forfeit”
14. iyla: “Other Ways to Vent”
A Wu-Tang Clan sample and a feature from Method Man himself on the second song (“Cash Rules”) of an album are certainly unconventional qualities for the start of a modern R&B album. iyla’s unique approach goes beyond just the Method Man feature, though: Her debut project blends styles and sounds consistently throughout the tracklist, providing a diverse listen. “Other Ways to Vent” presents a solid collection of songs and an array of styles that give the project a distinct sound and entertaining listen.
Favorite Songs: “Cash Rules,” “Frequency,” “Bad Side”
13. Gaidaa: “Overture”
“Overture” is unapologetically honest, blending heavy emotional and political concepts with lighter and more playful songs all over a dreamy and soothing R&B soundscape created by an incredible voice and simple production choices. Confidence is one of the defining qualities of this project, as it is clear that Gaidaa feels incredibly comfortable with the music that she is creating and the art that she is forming as a thematic whole. Gaidaa’s soulful debut project brings together her great vocals with smooth, jazzy production to create a very relaxed and quality listen.
Favorite Songs: “Still Water,” “Stranger,” “Falling Higher,” “Ride My Way”
12. RIMON: “I Shine, U Shine”
Youth has been a consistent theme with many of the prominent R&B projects of late. RIMON, 22 years old at the time of this project’s release, certainly continues the trend as one of the figures who should remain most prominent in the genre for years to come. “I Shine, U Shine” offers a beautiful versatility of vocal delivery and variation in styles that show just how effortless RIMON’s artistry is. Transitions between genres and subgenres are smooth and fluid and help to make this project one of the best releases of last year. Every song provides a unique piece of the whole of the project, and nothing at any point of the project feels out of place.
Favorite Songs: “Got My Back,” “I Shine, U Shine,” “The Morning,” “Downtown”
11. Leven Kali: “HIGHTIDE”
“HIGHTIDE” is the epitome of a feel-good R&B album. It’s hard to listen to this project and not feel the radiating positivity and heavy West Coast influence that make it so enjoyable. The album serves as a sequel to Kali’s 2019 debut “Low Tide.” While there has not been a revolutionary shift in his sound since then, it is clear that Kali is finding his groove in what makes his artistry special. The entire tracklist is solid, but “HIGHTIDE” is capped off and highlighted by its outro track, “Homegirl,” one of the most enjoyable songs of last year featuring two great verses from two incredible artists: Smino and Topaz Jones. Leven Kali, a dutch-born but LA-raised R&B artist, is one of the best emerging artists who will be exciting to watch in the future.
Favorite Songs: “Homegirl,” “Rich Girl,” “Perfect is Boring”
Click here for a Spotify Playlist of some of my favorite R&B songs across the year 2020.