Snoh Aalegra justifiably dominated headlines last month with her excellent new album Ugh, those feels again, but August was a sneakily great month for R&B, featuring outstanding releases from Baby Rose and Hope Tala, the arrival of Drake’s Care Package, Summer Walker’s best single to date, and more.
Let's keep the momentum rolling, shall we? As per our monthly tradition, here’s our latest list of five burgeoning R&B talents for you to keep an eye on going forward.
From: Breda, The Netherlands
Featuring just the gentlest whisper of a rasp, Gaidaa’s voice—both textured and intimate—mimics the ASMR phenomenon, giving you the sense that she is singing directly to you and you alone.
In addition to her resonant tone, it was this skin-crackling sensation that drew me in on my first listen to "A Storm On Summer's Day," Gaidaa’s staggering collaboration with the producer Full Crate. To his credit, Full Crate reigns in his wide-reaching sound on the record. He elegantly tailors his house-inflected percussion to allow Gaidaa’s vocals to float atop it, complementing her spellbinding timbre with a fittingly sparse canvas.
Considering she’s released just two songs to date, it's difficult, at present, to draw any sweeping conclusions about Gaidaa's artistry. Still, trends have begun to unravel, identifiable across both "A Storm On Summer's Day," as well as the second of her releases, "Morning Blue." Exhibiting all the same selling points as the former, "Morning Blue" sets itself apart by drawing influence from Gaidaa’s Sudanese background. The record introduces an element to her toolkit I'm excited to see her utilize more extensively in future releases down the road.
From: Westchester, New York
"I never fit in boxes, but fitting in is stupid," Myles Cameron croons appropriately on "Picket Fences," the opening track of his impressive debut EP, Lonely Suburban Blackboy. Indeed, his music does defy easy categorization, unfurling its tentacles outwards from R&B and flirting with several vague reference points. Musically, he’s Khalid, but less indistinct; Kid Cudi, but less psychedelic; Daniel Caesar, but less earthy. Lyrically, he's Camp-era Childish Gambino, but more secure in his identity; a poet who traffics in youthful sincerity, but somehow doesn’t come across as cloying.
Amorphousness aside, Cameron’s music is far more accessible than I’ve painted it as thus far. His wheelhouse includes everything from traditional ballads (”Yellow,” “Caged Bird,” etc.) to experimental songs that transform themselves mid-way through (“Nothing Gold”), all of which showcase his remarkable pop sensibilities. Little miniature flourishes are virtually begging to be sung along to. The way he sings the phrase “DMs, DMs, DMs” on his song “Lonely Suburbia," for example, is so infectious that it’ll swirl around your brain, completely unprompted, for weeks to come.
Flexing a uniquely deep vocal tone, Cameron is full of surprises, continuously unveiling new features of his artistry with each new song he releases. Having listened to his EP several times through, I can confidently confirm that his assertion about "never fit[ting] in boxes," is a bit of an understatement. I doubt his music would fit in a hexagonal prism, let alone a box.
From: N/A, Barbados
Instagram (Twitter: N/A): @krisirie
If I had to put money on it, I’d wager—given their shared heritage and genre sensibilities—that lazy comparisons to Rihanna are going to follow Krisirie around for a large part of her career. Allow me to apologize in advance, then, for being one of the first culprits to indulge in this reductive criticism. As much as I’d like to focus exclusively on all the identifying features of Krisirie’s music that make her a unique artist—and there are many—I must mention the aesthetic overlap she shares with Rihanna.
This comparison is driven primarily by the pair’s similar approach towards crossover R&B—and the way they both emphasize their Caribbean heritage—but the similarities often underline their sonic resemblance in much more subtle ways. I detect such similarities in their vocal phrasing, observing them in the moments where Krisirie’s faint accent pokes through her delivery ("Long Time Love"). Similarly, I notice commonalities during the many instances when Krisirie peppers her music with playful vocal cracks, as she does on “All of My Lovin’” and “Wind Blows” to great effect.
Fortunately, the areas where the pair depart from one another’s sensibilities are just as easy to spot. In contrast to Rihanna’s comparatively maximalist ethos, Krisirie’s music is far more understated. She conveys a jazzier tone that is thankfully just as infectious, but not quite as urgent as Rihanna’s. In many ways, her song “For You” is the perfect distillation of this contrast. Inspired more by neo-soul than anything in Rihanna’s catalog, the song’s gentle cooing and sparse production offer a blueprint for Krisirie to follow to put an end to all comparisons. Of course, for as annoying as these comparisons may eventually become, I imagine Krisirie will set this blueprint to the side—at least for now—knowing there are certainly far worse artists we could compare her to.
From: Chicago, Illinois
In writing this column, I often exhibit a bias towards subversive R&B that isn’t altogether fair. My preference as a critic is towards ambition. I tend to over reward acts that display this trait, even if they don’t always satisfy the high degree of difficulty their music regularly begs. I present this oversight at the expense of a crop of emerging artists who consistently deliver great music operating within the conventions of the genre, while frequently reminding listeners why these conventions initially took root. Enter Chemical Ghost: a Chicago-based singer/producer duo, who are the perfect reminder of why it’s so misguided to overlook this vintage.
While Chemical Ghost makes the type of music that fits seamlessly alongside today’s brand of mainstream R&B, I don’t think it’s overly simplistic to write that they happen to be better at it than their peers. They set themselves apart from other emerging talents by optimizing their abilities at the margins. They ensure their vocals are pleasant, their melodies are pliable, their production is adventurous—but not overly so—and their songwriting is dynamic yet crisp. If this combination of characteristics conjures comparisons to The Weeknd’s early output, you’re not alone.
Similar to THEY. on songs like “Sign” and “Questions,” Chemical Ghost’s music is plug and play comfort food. It offers listeners a great deal of payoff for the comparatively low amount of effort required to get into it.
From: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
I listened to the song “S T R E T C H” at least 15 times before I realized that Orion Sun is one person and not a band. That I held onto this assumption for so long speaks to the strength of Orion Sun’s talents as a multi-instrumentalist. The organic nature of her compositions sounds too systematic to be the product of just one mind.
After arriving at this belated realization, I began working my way backward through Orion Sun’s catalog. To my delight, I discovered that, in 2017, she released A Collection of Fleeting Moments and Daydreams. The fittingly titled album packs lyrics that sound like journal entries (“Orion”) and grooves designed to throw on while you drink a fresh cup of tea and recharge your creative juices (“Antidote”).
From a vocal perspective, Orion Sun reminds me of a more refined Willow Smith, wielding a jazzy tone, an elastic range, and a slight proclivity towards the avant-garde. Whereas Willow’s music often suffers because she loses control indulging her outsider whims, Orion Sun finds a way to reconcile the beauty of her music. With her experimental tendencies, she creates a collection of genuinely stunning songs in the process.