Putting aside the bloated mess that was Chris Brown’s 32-track monstrosity, Indigo, and the mixed effort that was Daniel Caesar’s sophomore project, CASE STUDY 01, June was mostly devoid of high-profile R&B releases. For those craving their fix of rhythm or bass, quiet months like this are why I write this column. True, you can always revisit old favorites, but nothing quite simulates the feeling of digging into something new.
The formula of each R&B Radar entry is simple: I scour the internet on your behalf to introduce you to five of the most exciting young artists making R&B music today. As always, feel free to check out the archives if you’ve yet to do so. Otherwise, without further ado, let’s get into it!
From: Rome, Italy
A criticism I often hear regarding contemporary R&B is that, from a lyrical perspective, today’s output is occasionally plagued by an unbecoming moodiness that has enveloped the genre in recent years. Gone, such critics say, is the frequently playful tone the genre conveyed in the ‘90s, deprioritized in favor of bleak outlooks, manipulative vulnerability, and hedonistic worldviews.
A welcome departure from this trend is the music of Italian/British crooner, BVRGER. With digitally processed vocals and production that draws influence from the United Kingdom’s storied tradition of garage music, BVRGER makes music that is frequently lighthearted and dancefloor-inspired, zagging in the direction of silliness when so many of his peers are zigging.
BVRGER’s recent single “KISS & TELL” is the perfect example of this approach. Taken from his 2019 EP, BRAINFOOD, the song tells the story of BVRGER meeting a girl at a club and then realizing his attraction to her is undercut by her lack of physical coordination. Infectious and upbeat, it’s a song that doesn’t take itself too seriously, perfect for house parties and breezy summer nights.
Balancing BRAINFOOD out with more emotionally resonant songs like “NO SLEEP,” BV RGER is far from beholden to this lighthearted approach. Sacrificing nothing in the way of accessibility, “NO SLEEP” recalls the vocal stylings of early-2000s Craig David—as does much of BVRGER’s music—satiating a craving for a style of R&B I didn’t know I missed until I rediscovered it.
From: London, United Kingdom
Cooing her dulcet melodies in an almost lazy drawl, Hope Tala’s vocal tone features an arresting quality that props up her sweeping choruses—many of which tend to swirl around your head for days after you’ve heard them. Effortlessly unaffected, this striking vocal tone more than compensates for Hope Tala’s relatively limited vocal range, allowing her music to embody the carefree feeling of a relaxed Sunday morning.
Paired with jazzy and organic production—be it the gentle guitar strums of “Blue” or the bossa nova vibes of “Lovestained,”—the effect is a string of incredibly delicate, cerebrally written songs that have garnered the attention of publications like Rolling Stone and Complex, suggesting a widespread appeal.
From: London, United Kingdom / Los Angeles, California
“I can change your life (yeah) don’t doubt it,” Taliwhoah sings in the opening seconds of her 2019 song, “Love Cycle.” Indicative of the natural confidence her music often conveys—both lyrically and sonically—this lyric is less a flex than it is a matter-of-fact declaration, delivered by an artist in clear command of her artistry.
Whereas her 2017 EP, New Wave Order Vol. 1, drew faint echoes to Kelela, with its pulsing production and subtle melodies, Taliwhoah has come into her own on recent releases, crafting a more accessible brand of R&B across the singles she released in 2018, and the EP she released earlier this year, SOLAR.
Bolstered by standout tracks “Juice” and “Run Along,” this recent slate of releases demonstrates Taliwhoah’s ear for song structure, showcasing her ability to craft songs around winning hooks and strategic earworms that enliven her verses and bridges.
From: Toronto, Canada
In 2017, Liza released her debut EP, February 29, a project that lacked polish around the edges, but garnered tens of thousands of online listens. The success of the project, which she released without professional engineering, is a testament to Liza’s pliable singing voice and penchant for vocal modulation. Across the EP’s four songs—most successfully on its closing track, “Let You Know What”—Liza wields this tool to great effect to create the types of dynamic melodies that continue to feel fresh, even as you listen to them dozens of times over.
In applying these same talents to the three singles she’s released over the past year, Liza has leveled up artistically, complementing her skills with a sense of professionalism for their benefit. Of these three singles, “Morning Glory” is the definite highlight, featuring a neo-soul canvas that is the perfect showcase for her honeyed vocal tone and pining lyrical sentiments.
From: Los Angeles, California
To say R&B groups are rarer today than they once were would be a bit of an understatement. Even rarer are R&B groups featuring both men and women, which is a bit of a shame. Leveraged effectively, the juxtaposition between male and female voices can create the types of gorgeous vocal harmonies that add a layer of depth to a song’s listening experience.
Filling this massive void in the current R&B landscape is JAMESDAVIS, a trio of siblings composed of fraternal twins, Rey and Jess Reynolds, and their brother AusTon. With professional expertise shaped by the twins’ previous experience in the music industry, the trio makes glossy, harmony-filled music that traffics in several styles, but feels cohesive to their group identity.
Consider their most recent EP, MASTERPEACE, released earlier this year. Few groups could successfully make the jump from a song like “Dodger Black,” which sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack of a blaxploitation film, to the neo-soul vibes of “On The Way,” but with the palpable chemistry they share between them, JAMESDAVIS achieves this seamlessly.
Currently signed to Motown Records and racking up a wealth of positive press, JAMESDAVIS could potentially inspire a return to the R&B group dynamics that once seemed so prevalent just two generations ago.