Of all of the genres tacked upon by the mainstream music industry in the past decade or so, R&B is perhaps the one that has seen the greatest expansion and evolution. It’s dominated during the early to mid-2000s and it’s arguably going to dominate again during the mid-2010s. Featuring a variety of smooth men and women that possess a skillful and nuanced vocal delivery, slick beats, and undeniable rhythm, it is hard to deny that modern day R&B is something of a work of wonder. There are so many sub-genres of R&B that have exemplified themselves as standouts in the modern era, from “throwback” soul produced by the likes of Mayer Hawthorne and others, to “indie” R&B, as has been popularized by such ‘now’ celebs as Frank Ocean, to the popular neo-soul genre that once defined the better half of a decade, performed by such popular names as John Legend, and to what can be described as pop-crossover, which has been exemplified in recent times by Justin Timberlake, Usher, and many others.
The question now is, as R&B now comes into a newer, greater phase, looking propped to take the entire market by storm once more, which artists will be leading the pack – and not necessarily in terms of just sales, but in terms of inspiration? The list below is meant to name-check some of the greatest names of this year who, arguably, each have a shot at continued relevance as they inspire an entire world of future artists to hop off of their duffs and try their hand at stardom. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy the read!
5. “Side Effects of You” – Fantasia
It’s no secret that Fantasia Barrino hasn’t lived the most scott free life, and she owns that much herself throughout her latest album release, “Side Effects of You”, especially within its titular track, which deals with the potent subject of abuse, including the subsequent depression because of it which had almost lead to a pill-induced suicide for the 29 year-old “Idol” winner. It’s not just her own self-admittance that gets her on the list, though that in and of itself is impressive, it’s that the album is genuinely good- arguably her very best release thus far -featuring a variety of smooth, fun, rock and jazz-infused rhythm and blues which accentuates just why she won “American Idol” in her year to its greatest extent. Lyrically, the album is clever, and in its arrangement, it is truly sophisticated and sweet.
With a Grammy Award and a recent #2 best-selling album release in tow, it seems like Fantasia is finally on the up-and-ups, and not only that, but she’s wholly deserving around it. For her remarkable bravery and ability to turn herself around in a complete one-eighty from her past dysfunction, having produced what could be described by some as the definitive album of her career by all means thus far, Fantasia nabs herself a well-deserved spot on this list.
4. “Kaleidoscope Dream” – Miguel
Miguel may have been shooting for a spot in the mainstream music biz since 2000, but due to a series of unfortunate events which eventually lead to an even greater opportunity for him, he didn’t release his first studio album, “All I Want Is You” until November 2010. Even with that said, it can be argued that real success didn’t come his way until the release of his sophomore effort, “Kaleidoscope Dream”, just short of two years after the release of his aforementioned first full studio release in September of 2012. Its lead single, “Adorn”, became an instant hit that has undoubtedly hit many R&B enthusiast’s obligatory 2012 releases already, and while it was indeed a 2012 release, the album which it comes from won’t be the last released near the end of the past year making this list, and each for the same reason: it is arguable that they hadn’t hit their real stride until 2013.
For the new age neo-soul singer, it’s arguable that his entire career didn’t necessarily completely hit its stride until 2013. Now, everybody, R&B enthusiasts and general fans of the term “music” in general know of and admire the name “Miguel”. It takes a lot to be recognized just by a singular name, and the man has been able to do it in a remarkably short amount of time since the release of his new album. Just giving the sexy and catchy sounds of either of his two albums released thus far, it really is no surprise just why that is. Of all of the R&B acts introduced in the 2010s thus far, Miguel proves thus far to be the most notable, perhaps having already sealed the deal for his continued relevance as an artist with an especially notable song release as a featured guest of Mariah Carey’s on the 2013 hit “#Beautiful” under his belt. Miguel’s career is the type of career aspiring artists may want to have their hand at emulating to a point: finding success and establishing relevance very early after their mainstream career has been established.
3. “Unapologetic” – Rihanna
The Barbadian recording artist’s seventh studio release certainly turned some heads upon the unveiling of its name. To critics and listeners alike, it became even more obvious upon the release of “Unapologetic” that the context of the album’s name and its songs’ lyrics could very much be attributed to the uneasy life which she has recently been living. Say what you will about her controversial ties with Chris Brown and others, but at the very least, it had ended up having its hand in producing some of the most relevant and moving songs of her career thus far. Most notably, the love/breakup ballad “Stay” has been lighting up the charts since its release as a single up to this very day, sparking international acclaim for the album as a whole, with aspiring artists around the world producing covers of the song out of their respect and love for the 25 year-old’s meaningful release.
As we come to the turn of another era in music where it seems as if the R&B industry is making another turn for the better, it seems clear that Rihanna’s name will continue to be one of supreme relevance. The issues surrounding her life and her honesty about them in some ways are inspiring, and for many, between that and her ability to craft one great song after another, notably “Stay”, which has just now gained its greatest stride in 2013, gets her a spot on this list.
2. “Girl on Fire” – Alicia Keys
Like “Unapologetic” before it, Alicia Keys’s “Girl on Fire” album may have been released near the very end of 2012, but it’s been making its biggest splashes in the industry in 2013. Her song of the same name is still a chart-topper in terms of airplay and, like with “Stay” but to an even greater extent, “Girl on Fire” has reached international recognition and is probably one of the top most professionally-covered songs of the entire year, ranging from performance features on “The Voice” and “Idol” to slews of YouTube-based renditions and performances by other established artists at their own gigs as encores.
In short, Keys made a comeback by all means with her 2012 release and managed to seal the deal with her continued relevance for years upon years to come, and in a way arguably more massive than any of the other artists recognized on this list thus far. It’s been one of the top-selling and most critically acclaimed albums of the year, and giving even just the sophisticated totally piano-driven opener “De Novo Adagio” a whirl, it’s entirely obvious just why that is. For crafting a touching, heartfelt work from beginning to end and connecting with an even larger audience than ever before, Alicia Keys easily earns her number two spot on this list, as we are absolutely sure that from the start of her career up to this very date, she has proven herself to be an amazing inspiration for aspiring artists still gaining their legs in the industry again and again and will continue to do so.
1. “The 20/20 Experience” – Justin Timberlake
After such a stunning write-up for Ms. Keys above, one might almost challenge her number two placing and ask just who could plausibly take the number one spot over her, but here’s your plausible answer presented to you in but a single word: Timberlake. If you’ve been alive in the year 2013 at all, you’ve heard the former *NSYNC star’s name uttered at least a thousand times by today’s date, and it’s all for a good reason: having taken a step back from his successful acting career to return to the music business for some amount of time, Justin Timberlake has officially succeeded in taking the entire world by a massive storm with, first, the release of his comeback single, “Suit & Tie”, and its subsequent album in early 2013, “The 20/20 Experience”. Arguably, “The 20/20 Experience” is a true masterpiece that signifies Timberlake’s return to musical form alongside famous producer Timbaland, and that much shows in its sales as well, not only being the best-selling album of the year internationally thus far by a supreme long-shot, but by being the best-selling album of the past several years internationally by a supreme long-shot.
That “20/20 Experience” doesn’t just end with the first album, either. It was recently revealed that a second part to the album, entitled “The 20/20 Experience (2/2)”, is being released later this year, and we’re sure it’ll be just as big of a hit as his past album, if not an even bigger one. Many an aspiring artist must be inspired by the man, and some may perhaps even want to be him, or at least half the singer, performer, actor, lady’s man and/or entrepreneur that he is. He’s inspired arguably two whole generations of artists and listeners across the globe thus far, and “The 20/20 Experience” confirms that he’s going to be sticking around to inspire a third. With such widespread acclaim, there was virtually no chance whatsoever that Justin wasn’t going to nab the number one spot on this list- just like in the real world right now, we’d argue. There’s probably not a doubt in anybody’s mind that Timberlake, had he never done so in the past, has successfully solidified himself as a superstar and legend to be remembered for decades to come at this point, and with that said, his careers in music, movies, and inspiring the masses are far from over.
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