By Nick Sligh
10. Orion Sun: “Hold Space For Me”
Orion Sun’s second full-length project, “Hold Space For Me,” is an elaborate and dreamy display of a young artist expressing raw emotion and creating great music. With her incredibly smooth voice and delivery, Orion Sun effortlessly floats between different songs and emotions. Her vocal performance and content are put into the forefront, complemented mostly by jazz samples and simple production. “Hold Space For Me” also provides one of the year’s best songs in “Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don’t Leave Me),” a track whose title pays homage to Jacques Brel and Nina Simone. The second album from the young Philadelphia R&B artist is able to capture authentic expression in a refined manner, resulting in a cohesive and quality project.
Favorite Songs: “Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don’t Leave Me)” “Lightning,” “Grim Reaper,” “El Camino”
9. Jessie Reyez: “Before Love Came To Kill Us”
Jessie Reyez’s voice has become one of the more distinct and recognizable voices in music. The passionate and raspy voice provides great range and helps to make “Before Love Came To Kill Us” a fearless, emotional and diverse album from the Toronto artist. There are songs for fans of any genre across the album, with tracks encompassing slow ballads, rap, pop and R&B/neo-soul, among others. Regardless of the type of song, it always feels like Jessie Reyez is pouring her whole heart into every song, and the effort and passion that oozes from her performances makes it hard not to respect and enjoy her music.
Favorite Songs: “Ankles,” “Imported,” “Before Love Came To Kill Us,” “Roof,” “Love In The Dark,” “Do You Love Her”
8. Lianne La Havas: “Lianne La Havas”
Lianne La Havas’ self-titled album masterfully captures the mix of soul and alternative R&B that she does so well. Reasonably, her self-titled effort is very true-to-self and a highlight of everything that has made her into the artist that she is today. Different from many of the albums on this list, “Lianne La Havas” is a composition of primarily minimalistically produced ballads, something from which a lot of modern R&B has transitioned away. Live instrumentation and atmospheric synths lay the production that La Havas’s heartfelt and beautiful vocals fall over, creating an incredible modern soul album that is a must-listen.
Favorite Songs: “Paper Thin,” “Can’t Fight,” “Please Don’t Make Me Cry” “Sour Flower”
7. theMIND: “Don’t Let It Go To Your Head”
Despite past collaborations with artists such as Chance The Rapper, Noname, Mick Jenkins and Saba, theMIND’s solo career has mostly remained very underground. “Don’t Let It Go To Your Head” conceptually follows the relationship between love and wealth/poverty, and provides a humble perspective from an underground creative who does not have the financial resources that many mainstream artists have. Particularly relevant during the time of its release in the COVID-19 pandemic, the sounds of the album drift between feelings of hope and expressions of hopelessness. Production across the album is handled mostly by theMIND himself, and features impressive sampling and influence, even including a masterful looped sample of Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky” on the song “Craig.” Although theMIND creates his art from the accurate perspective of a largely underground artist, the talent evident across “Don’t Let It Go To Your Head” proves that he belongs in the center of the R&B spotlight, regardless of how the forces of music industry politics operate.
Favorite Songs: “Craig,” “Gemini Sh*t,” “Ms. Communication,” “Black Aura”
6. Cleo Sol: “Rose In The Dark”
One of the strongest international R&B releases of recent years, “Rose In The Dark” is the London-based neo-soul artist Cleo Sol’s masterful attempt to shine a positive light in as many ways as possible. The heartwarming and uplifting collection is supported by its unwavering authenticity and the incredible vocals that Sol carries across every effort. Threading old jazz sounds and modern soul is beautiful when done properly, and despite being Sol’s first full-length album, “Rose In The Dark” accomplishes just that.
Favorite Songs: “Sideways,” “Young Love,” “Her Light”
Click here for a Spotify Playlist of some of my favorite R&B songs across the year 2020.
Contact Nick Sligh at nsligh ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.