Welcome back to R&B Radar, DJBooth’s monthly column wherein we scour the depths of Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube, and everywhere else music resides on the internet, so as to spotlight five of the most promising R&B talents building a name for themselves today.
If you’ve spent any part of April thanking the stars Anderson .Paak pivoted back to R&B on Ventura, wishing Childish Gambino would release an official soundtrack for his visually-stunning film, Guava Island, and/or celebrating the long-awaited return of FKA Twigs, with her new single, “Cellophane,” then I can guarantee this column has something for you.
Alternatively, if you’re simply reeling from the lack of lasting output 2019 has had to offer thus far—as compared to the relative spoils of 2018—then perhaps this column, and its three previous entries, will provide the injection of new music you need to fuel your day-to-day activities.
Regardless: whether you fall into the former camp, the latter camp, or neither, let’s get into it!
From: London, England
Sampha is too singular of an artist to invoke easy comparisons, but so far as it's possible to draw neat parallels between him and anyone else, it’s less of an irrational leap than usual to reference Kaleem Taylor.
Like Sampha, Kaleem’s voice is instantly evocative, artfully strained to tug elastically at your emotions as each song unfolds, but not in a way that seems deliberately manipulative or inorganic.
Further driving home this comparison, Taylor is equally comfortable—just as Sampha is—channeling his talents over EDM compositions, like on his euphoric 2017 song, “Walk Away,” and to gut-wrenching effect on stripped back ballads, like on his palpably arresting track, “Still Love.”
Although both of these songs happened to be featured on Taylor’s debut EP, Version, the artist kept the momentum rolling with last year’s Surface, an equally strong follow-up that showcased his uncanny ability to craft the types of lyrical sentiments that are simultaneously specific enough to feel authentically vulnerable, yet just vague enough to facilitate listeners’ catharses.
From: London, England
It’s easy to overlook in retrospect, but Adele didn’t quite become an international superstar until the release of her second album, 21. The album that preceded it, 19, was hardly a failure, but to act like it featured anything resembling the pop sensation that was “Rolling In The Deep” would be disingenuous. So often dwarfed by its massive sequels, it’s a bit of a shame this is the case because 19 is the only Adele project I find myself revisiting with any degree of regularity.
Admittedly, an Adele comparison is a bit too lofty to do her any favors, but I draw this analogy specifically to say Joy Crookes’ music grabbed my attention initially because it reminded me a lot of 19.
At times whimsical and exuberant, and at times soulful and melodramatic, Crookes’ music distills the feeling of youth into song with a sense of self-awareness that is exceedingly rare to find among songwriters at the outset of their careers.
Furthermore, the comparison holds weight because of the gentle rasp of Crookes’ voice, which brings a jazz-tinged flair to even her most traditional sounding ballads. Just as “Chasing Pavements” distinguished itself from 2008’s slew of pop songs by virtue of the jazzy lilt of Adele’s delivery, so too does Joy Crookes’ recent single, “Since I Left You (Demo).”
If Crookes can preserve this vocal quality while continuing to branch out into more immediately accessible music, her crossover appeal is boundless.
From: Marietta, Georgia
Perhaps the most compelling feature of Kareen Lomax’s music is how her voice sounds permanently like it’s on the verge of breaking, even though it’s clear she’s never actually at risk of losing control. It’s a gripping device she uses to ensure her songs carry high-stakes, even when their corresponding subject matter doesn’t necessarily warrant them.
Lomax has been flexing this skill for almost half a decade now, beginning with her earliest EP, “songs from drowning,” which hit SoundCloud four years ago. Yet, while the seeds of her talent were visibly on display across this early output, her artistry has evolved rapidly over the past year, as her music has finally begun to receive the level of professional polish it deserves.
Across her three 2018 singles, “Muse,” “Been In Love,” and “Clothes On,” Lomax shows an impressive range, retaining her folksy songwriter sensibilities despite branching out onto more colorful canvases—even going as far as to experiment with afrobeats on “Muse.”
The prospect that Lomax is only beginning to round into her artistic wheelhouse now is tantalizing to think about, particularly when you take into account the various gifts she possesses.
From: Los Angeles, California
“Not much is known of the LA-based male/female duo. But it has been speculated that when Adele’s vocal coach and Drake’s engineer met at a bat mitzvah in 2017, the band was instantly born.”
This is how Emotional Oranges describes themselves on Spotify. With such an array of connected people running the show behind them, it’s no surprise the duo has already managed to rack up the endorsement of Michelle Obama, as well as a formidable placement on Ru Paul’s Drag Race as the theme song for 2018.
Whether they’re benefiting from some early nepotism, however, is quite frankly, irrelevant, when you take into account the quality of their music.
A compelling feature of their output, Emotional Oranges’ harmonies call to mind the male/female dynamic of The xx—tranquil yet affecting—setting the duo apart from their contemporaries. Rather than immediately infectious, the music they make is comparatively understated, featuring subtle grooves and fat bass lines that work their way into your bones over the course of multiple listens.
Once you’re able to shake the suspicion the duo is the product of a glossy algorithm engineered explicitly to land songs in Apple commercials, the six singles they’ve released to date make for an incredibly cohesive playlist you will undoubtedly want to throw on in the background while cooking dinner tonight.
From: Greensboro, North Carolina
On paper, Christian Kamaal isn’t drastically different from many of the other 20-something R&B artists that comprise his ilk. Browsing SoundCloud for emerging talent, you learn quickly to avoid the minefield of young men who draw inspiration from Bryson Tiller, PartyNextDoor, and Jacquees, because these artists are a dime a dozen, and often embody the same artistic tropes.
Where Kamaal sets himself apart from the crowd, then, is in the intricate details of his music, scoring enough victories at the margins to stand atop this amorphous pyramid. Simply by virtue of his pleasant vocal tone, his tasteful Auto-Tune usage—evidently driven more by choice than necessity—and his vocal runs, which always resolve neatly, he already ranks within the top five percentile.
These vocal runs are on display all across Kamaal’s various releases to date, lending his music a genuine emotional appeal lacking from the output of some of his contemporaries. Add to this that his displays of vulnerability typically seem far more soul-bearing than they do cynical, and Kamaal is effectively able to transcend the various stereotypes that bog down his less-successful peers.