The genre R&B — much like Hip Hop over the past, well, three decades — has come under plenty of scrutiny in recent years. Back in 2022, Diddy boldly declared that the genre was “dead,” sparking impassioned responses from everyone from Chris Brown and Usher to Tank and Lloyd.
The Bad Boy boss has since attempted to take credit for single-handedly reviving R&B with his star-studded project, The Love Album: Off The Grid. But Puff hasn’t done it alone.
2023 has seen an array of artists, both new and old, carry the torch for the beloved genre while illuminating new territory. From SZA’s utter dominance and Sampha’s long-awaited return to Coco Jones and Victoria Monét’s breakout campaigns and Brent Faiyaz giving Future another run for his money as the most toxic man in music, the notion that R&B is on life support is sadly misguided.
With that said, find below HipHopDX’s nominations for Best R&B Albums of 2023, and you can review the rest of our 2023 Hip Hop Award categories here.
Editor’s Note: Nominees are listed in alphabetical order.
Best R&B SINGERS Of 2023 NOMINATIONS
The Best R&B Singer of 2023 is…
Few artists in the entire music industry have had a bigger year than SZA. In fact, perennial pop juggernaut Taylor Swift might be the only one. Released last December after years of delays and anticipation, the singer’s sophomore album SOS has proven to be a blockbuster success, becoming her first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 while demolishing numerous chart records — including those previously held by icons like Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Mary J. Blige.
SZA’s win should come as no surprise with hits like “Kill Bill” and “Snooze” alongside guest appearances on Drake’s For All the Dogs, Travis Scott’s UTOPIA and Lizzo’s “Special.” The former high school outcast confirmed in 2023 what many TDE fans have long suspected: that SZA is a bona fide star.
Brent Faiyaz’s 2022 album WASTELAND was the success that many fans had hoped it would be. Boasting big-name collaborations with Drake, Tyler, The Creator and The Neptunes while fueling his toxic heartthrob mystique, the project marked a new commercial peak for the DMV native and was named one of the best R&B albums of the year by this very publication.
While you wouldn’t blame Brent for basking in his glory and touring the globe to promote the album (which he did), he proved in 2023 that there’s still plenty of fire in his belly. In May, he inked a reported $50million deal with Steve Stoute’s UnitedMasters, allowing him to remain independent while starting his own label and creative agency, ISO Supremacy.
That provided the launch pad for the surprise release of Larger Than Life in October, a “mixtape” fusing the influence of Brent’s DMV heroes (Missy Elliott, Timbaland and The Neptunes) with a number of local up-and-comers. Missy and Timbo even make small cameos on the project, which is very on-brand for a man who’s known to make even the biggest flex sound effortlessly cool.
Coco Jones was practically born to be a star. By the time she was in her mid-teens, the Tennessee-raised singer and actor had guest starred in the Disney Channel series So Random!, performed on Maury and played the lead role in Let It Shine, the most-watched Disney Channel movie of 2012.
The years following were anything but a fairytale, though, as Coco was forced by her label (who later dropped her) into making cookie-cutter music and experienced colorism while auditioning for film and TV roles. Eventually, utilizing TikTok to showcase her singing talents unlocked a new chapter in her career, leading to a deal with Def Jam.
Although Coco Jones had tasted success before, nothing matches up to the heights that she reached in 2023. The standout from her What I Didn’t Tell You (Deluxe) EP, the sonically rich, vocally powerful yet emotionally complicated “ICU,” became both her first Billboard Hot 100 hit and platinum single.
Having already taken home silverware at the BET Awards, Soul Train Awards and NAACP Image Awards, Coco Jones could add more trophies to her collection at next year’s Grammys where she’s up for five awards – including Best New Artist.
Six long years after his Mercury Prize-winning debut Process, Sampha descended from whichever Heavenly cloud he had been serenading angels on and blessed us mere mortals with his new album Lahai — and the wait was worth it.
While Process was inspired by the death of his mother, Lahai – which is both his middle name and his grandfather’s first name – is partly fueled by fatherhood (Sampha welcomed a daughter in 2020) as well as existential topics like time, nature, science, mortality and the need for human connection.
These themes are present in the music itself, expanding Sampha’s sonic palette in alluring new ways. Warm, lush melodies are juxtaposed with jittery drum & bass percussion, and while his sweet falsetto remains the centerpiece, the South London native even showcases his rapping ability with occasional lyrical flourishes. The result is another intimate and beautiful listen that tugs at the heartstrings in ways that few contemporary singers can.
Outside of his solo return, 2023 also saw Sampha continue his streak of A-list collaborations (see: Kendrick Lamar“Father Time,”Kanye West“Saint Pablo,” Drake “4422”) by lending his delicate voice to Travis Scott’s UTOPIA track “My Eyes” alongside Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon.
Bill Withers, Danny Brown, Willie Nelson, 2 Chainz, Sia — all artists whose careers didn’t take off until they were in their 30s (or older). Victoria Monét at 34 became the latest name on this esteemed list in 2023, further proving that there’s no such thing as missing the boat in music.
Prior to this year, the Sacrament-via-Atlanta native had spent over a decade writing songs for hitmakers like Chris Brown, Rodney Jerkins and Ariana Grande. She’d also enjoyed modest success as a solo artist, cracking the Billboard Hot 100 with “Monopoly,” a collaboration with Grande, in 2019 before dropping her debut album Jaguar the following year.
But this was the year that Monét finally stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight, solidifying herself as a star in her own right. The polished and empowering “On My Mama” became her biggest solo hit on the Hot 100 (No. 48) while her sophomore album Jaguar II marked a similar peak on the Billboard 200 (No. 60).
Putting a bow on her breakout campaign, Victoria Monét is up for an impressive seven awards at the 2024 Grammys, including the coveted Record of the Year.
Check out our previousaward winners.
Artwork and graphic design by JR Martinez.
Paragraphs written by Andy Bustard