Punctuated by a steady stream of quality releases from Ari Lennox, Jamila Woods, Emotional Oranges, Lucky Daye, and more, the month of May seems to have flown by, offering fans ample opportunities to bolster our R&B playlists, while necessitating little in the way of music discovery.
To assume these spoils will continue indefinitely, however, would be ahistorical. What better time than now, then, to stock up your personal stores for the dry spell that could foreseeably follow this bountiful stretch? Fortunately, our monthly column, R&B Radar, is here to help listeners navigate precisely this task.
Each month since January, we’ve compiled a list of five of the most promising R&B talents deserving of your attention. Some are sitting at the cusp of the mainstream, a mere EP or single away from breaking through this barrier, while others are just starting to build their audiences today, but regardless of which camp they fall into, all are responsible for creating the music that makes you want to sit up and take notice.
Without further ado, here is our collection for June.
From: Virginia, United States
Every time I listen to REECE’s incredible song “Life,” I manually clutch my headphones to my ears, striving for a way to make an already spellbinding song even more immersive. By the time the song’s second chorus rolls around, complete with REECE’s transcendent falsetto and strategic vocal cracks, it becomes more of a spiritual experience than a casual listen, transporting me to another plane.
“It’s like you’re looking at me from inside of my [own] head,” REECE describes his mentality towards songwriting on his Spotify profile. Rarely do I regard these types of self-proclaimed artist descriptions as anything more than meaningless platitudes, but in this instance, I can appreciate what Reece was trying to convey.
His evocative lyricism is on display across the various output he’s released to date, augmenting his one-size-fits-all vocal tone, which he leverages to great effect to infuse his music with vulnerability (“Lost In Translation”), charisma (“Man Down”), and energy (“3AM”), as his production so demands. With a ceiling as high as “Life” and a floor that bottoms out with catchy, albeit generic, EDM crossovers, I don't think it's hyperbolic to say REECE genuinely has a shot at being a star.
From: London, United Kingdom
Of the four entries of this column I’ve penned to date, a whopping three of them have featured talented soul singers from the U.K. who have cited Amy Winehouse and Lauryn Hill among their primary inspirations. Bumping this ratio up to four out of five is Kara Marni, a 21-year-old singer cut from a similar cloth.
In Marni’s case, Hill and Winehouse's influences manifest themselves most prominently in her sultry vocal tone, a tool she wields to great effect across the duration of her 2018 EP, Love Just Ain’t Enough. Elevating otherwise formulaic pop songs like “Gullible” and “Curve,” Marni’s gentle rasp is potentially the greatest selling point of her music, allowing her to experiment successfully with discrete styles that draw as much inspiration from the likes of Florence and the Machine (“Selfish”) as they do Ella Mai (“Lose My Love”).
Endowed with youthful exuberance, vibrant production, and throwback sensibilities, Marni is gradually widening the gap between herself and her aforementioned peers. She may never reach the legendary status of an Amy Winehouse or a Lauryn Hill, but in the race among those vying to get close, she's among the front runners.
From: Long Beach, California
Given his entire catalog comprises just two songs at present, any conclusions one derives about Giveon’s artistry at the moment would qualify as mere guesswork. Fortunately, both songs, “Fields” and “Garden Kisses,” are powerful artistic statements in their own right, allowing such speculation, premature or otherwise, to feel earned.
Overwhelmingly, the statement made by both songs is that Giveon, with his rich baritone timbre, is unlike most artists making R&B today. By simple virtue of his deep vocal complexion, the melodies he sings hit different notes on the emotional spectrum, conjuring an entirely different color palette, even for those, like myself, who don’t possess synesthesia.
The former of these two songs, “Fields,” is a downtempo groove, in which Giveon showcases his knack for lyrical specificity, invoking the imagery of vast expanses of land to highlight the sense of terrifying directionless one often feels when attempting to chart their own path.
“Garden Kisses” enlivens the conventions of traditional neo-soul by using creative innuendo rather than explicit language to sell its sexually charged lyrics. Batting 1000 across these two singles, it’ll be interesting to see how long Giveon can keep this perfect streak going as his output inevitably ramps up.
From: Atlanta, Georgia
Characterized by syrupy vocals, organic compositions, and pretty melodies, Nai Br.XX’s music overwhelmingly sounds like someone who might describe themselves as the spiritual offspring of Erykah Badu and Aaliyah made it. Though I suspect she has never described herself in such terms personally, the way she melds her dulcet falsetto with the earthy tones of her production speaks for her, conjuring the scent of vanilla bean incense as it burns.
Nai is at her best when she lives in the upper register of her vocals. Hearing her execute a vocal run, as she does during the choruses of her standout songs, “Adventure Time” and “DayDream,” simulates taking the first bite into a dessert you’ve been anticipating. The melodies bounce around your skull, lighting up centers of your brain as it processes them, just as the sugar swirls around your taste buds, eliciting a similar rush of elation.
Having matured significantly as a songwriter since the release of her 2016 EP, Wasted Calloway, Nai Br.XX’s next full-length project, presumably arriving at some point this year, has the potential to be a major turning point.
From: Los Angeles, California
Listening to Destiny Rogers’ debut EP, Tomboy, it occurs to me I’m decidedly not the target demographic she was intending to reach when she was crafting this release initially. “North$ide,” for example, with its regionally specific lyrics about her fondness for “fellas” from the Northern part of Los Angeles resonates little with me, a 28-year-old man from a different country. I could say the same for the EP’s title track, in which Rogers talks extensively about her ability to “hang with the dudes [and] get pretty with the girls.”
The fact I can’t stop listening to these songs is a testament to every other element of Rogers’ musicality. A multi-instrumentalist who cut her teeth busking in the streets of L.A., Rogers brings a similar sense of urgency to her music today, structuring each song around a series of infectious moments designed to grab your ear immediately.
Colliding these raw talents with the professional sheen of The Stereotypes, a songwriting and production team who’ve worked previously with the likes of Cardi B and Bruno Mars, there’s a glossy polish that coats Rogers’ output to date, making her music feel more like a finished product than a work in progress.
In this respect, listening to Tomboy feels like listening to SZA’s CTRL, if the latter was refurbished by The Disney Channel and targeted towards the Tik Tok generation. If this doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, I promise it’s only because you haven’t yet hit play.