By Nick Sligh
5. Brent Faiyaz: “F*ck The World”
“F*ck The World” is the toxic R&B masterpiece of 2020. Despite ridiculously smooth and incredible vocals, the content of “F*ck The World” is mostly cold and heartless. Brent Faiyaz elaborates on many of the same concepts of “DS2”-era Future (toxicity, swagger, womanizing), but with a heavenly voice and an elegant delivery. It’s almost as though Brent is just what Future would be if he had been born with world-class vocals. Destructive behaviors, ignoring consequences and disregarding feelings are just some of the constants in Brent’s music — but he makes them sound incredible. The vocal performances throughout are close to flawless, and the songwriting is consistently solid. The production, though pretty minimalist and not very complex, is likewise solid and complementary. Beyond providing many toxic one-line Instagram captions, the music on “F*ck The World” showcases a reflective and introspective side of Brent at a handful of points. With a voice and unwavering swagger like Brent’s, it is hard to create an album that is not great — and “F*ck The World” proves just that.
Favorite Songs: “Clouded,” “F*ck The World (Summer in London),” “Lost Kids Get Money,” “Been Away,” “Let Me Know”
4. Elah Hale: “Room 206”
“Room 206” is one of the best debut R&B debut projects of recent years, and certainly one of the best projects of 2020. The title comes from Elah Hale’s dorm room in her sophomore year of college, what would be her final year in school before signing a publishing deal with Interscope Records and beginning her full-time pursuit of a music career. A fantastic voice, versatility in delivery, raw emotion, skillful writing and a great ear for production are just some of the aspects that make this release so special. Fusions of pop, jazz, blues, soul and R&B are done masterfully by Elah Hale, showing practically no limits in style and sound. “Room 206” contains a heartfelt ballad in “Holding You Close,” wavy pop records like “My House” and jazzy R&B like “Saab,” showing extensive diversity with the type of songs that she can make within R&B. Only 20 years old at the time of release, it is incredible that Elah Hale was able to put together such an impressive debut at a young age. Undoubtedly, Elah Hale is one of the most exciting figures to watch in modern R&B for years to come.
Favorite Songs: “My House,” “Holding You Close,” “Posters,” “Saab”
3. TOBi: “Elements, Vol. 1”
I feel comfortable in saying that TOBi is one of the more talented and versatile artists not only on this list, but in the entire music scene today. “Elements, Vol. 1” is an incredibly refined and creative effort, an improvement from an already very good 2019 debut “Still.” Versatility has obviously become a theme in the albums in my R&B rankings, but no other album on this list makes such drastic changes in style which seem so creative and natural. Within the span of the first four songs, triumphant, feel-good hype rap music such as “Made Me Everything” transitions to soulful, heavily-jazzy R&B on “Conquest” and then to trap music with “Family Matters.” Then there are transitions back to emotional ballads, more jazzy R&B and smooth alternative R&B. TOBi is capable of doing anything as an artist, and “Elements, Vol. 1” is an excellent album providing proof of that talent.
Favorite Songs: “Made Me Everything,” “Conquest,” “Matter,” “Shine,” “Beige”
2. Chloe x Halle: “Ungodly Hour”
Chloe x Halle immediately asserted themselves as a prominent duo in modern R&B and pop music with the release of “Ungodly Hour,” an incredible expression of maturing emotions and artistry. The rise to prominence for the Atlanta duo has been rapid, and the past few years have positioned them into pop icons who are only going to get bigger. Both Chloe and Halle Bailey began their rise to fame with minor acting roles, music covers posted on the internet and Disney Channel appearances. In the present, this has grown into prominent acting roles, a co-sign and support from Beyoncé herself and a studio album with mass acclaim. This album displays elite versatility and innovative twists on contemporary R&B all throughout. The vocal performances of both are consistently great, and the diversity of styles and sounds keep the album entertaining. Chloe and Halle both show that they are more than just musicians, with incredible thematics and an array of elaborate music videos such as “Forgive Me,” “Ungodly Hour,” and “Do It.” “Ungodly Hour” is an album with finesse and precision way beyond the age of the fantastic duo, and an effortless display of incredible talent from both Chloe and Halle that shows they are more than ready to be in the spotlight of pop culture.
Favorite Songs: “Tipsy,” “Ungodly Hour,” “Wonder What She Thinks Of Me” “Lonely,” “Forgive Me”
1. The Weeknd: “After Hours”
A global superstar and icon, no introduction is needed for The Weeknd. Abel Tesfaye has been making some of the most high-quality and relevant R&B music since his 2011 release of his debut mixtape, “House of Balloons.” The thematics and character adopted by The Weeknd entirely for the narrative and cinematics of this album have been some of the most dedicated and meticulous that music has seen. Every song, live performance and music video has been perfectly in line with the character that The Weeknd has developed in coordination with “After Hours.” It is probably impossible to find a performance of his over the past year and a half where he is not donning his signature “After Hours” look: the red blazer, the bloody and damaged face and the various casino imagery. The Weeknd has held many of the most captivating moments in music over the past year, with a Super Bowl Halftime Performance, wild music videos like “Save Your Tears” and historically great live performances like “Scared To Live.” On top of the thematics, the quality of the music is at the top tier of contemporary R&B. As someone who has been a constant innovator and mover of the sonic boundaries of R&B music, the experimentation and mastery of a variety of sounds is ever-present on “After Hours.” There are no bad songs on the tracklist, and many of the songs stand alone as some of the best R&B/pop music released in the past few years. “After Hours” not only continued The Weeknd’s run of quality, but provided one of the best releases in the entirety of his catalog, and one of the better contemporary R&B albums.
Favorite Songs: “Scared to Live,” “Save Your Tears,” “Snowchild,” “In Your Eyes,” “Alone Again”
Click here for a Spotify Playlist of some of my favorite R&B songs across the year 2020.