2023 proved to be a big year for R&B. Whether it was the genre’s mainstays delivering blockbuster projects, rising stars making a name for themselves, or global talents thriving from across the pond, R&B got its shine back after years of question marks over its commercial viability.
With the thematically and aurally ambitious SOS, SZA dominated the year, proving R&B is just as much a vehicle for pop, Hip Hop, rock and gospel. And the crown jewel of the effort, “Kill Bill,” sizzled from its December 2022 release and then dominated the airwaves all year.
Not to be outdone, North Carolina rapper and singer Toosii flexed his crossover potential with “Favorite Song,” and Victoria Monét got her big break with viral hit “On My Mama.”Doechii continued her meteoric rise and confirmed her singing chops on “What It Is,” and Amaarae brought alt-pop back into the conversation.
With that said, please check out HipHopDX’s Best R&B Songs of 2023 below.
Review all of our Hip Hop Award categories and nominees.
Editors Note: Best R&B Songs 2023 selections were restricted to between December 1, 2022 to December 1, 2023. Nominees and honorable mentions are in alphabetical order.
Best R&B Songs Of 2023 NOMINATIONS
- Amaarae — “Reckless & Sweat”
- Doechii — “What It Is”
- SZA — “Kill Bill”
- Toosii — “Favorite Song”
- Victoria Monet — “On My Mama”
The Best R&B Song of 2023 is…
SZA — “Kill Bill”
The fourth single from last December’s stunning and ambitious SOS, “Kill Bill” is a tribute to being pulled under the riptide of a breakup that one finds hard to accept. If the album cover depicting the TDE superstar sitting in the middle of the ocean is the visual motif of the album, “Kill Bill” is the aural one.
The R&B mainstay’s sing-song delivery contrasts delightfully with the violent lyrical content inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 epic. Relatable on so many levels, it begs the question: would you rather live in a toxic relationship than be alone? Regardless of your answer, the one thing everyone can agree on is that this song was stuck in their head at one point or another this year.
Amaarae — “Reckless & Sweet”
Unabashedly alt-pop, “Reckless & Sweet” is an ode to harnessing your inner confidence and sexuality and sharing it — intentionally — with the outside world. The hypnotizing blend of pop, R&B, afrobeats and dancehall is a captivating backdrop for Amaarae’s breathy yet dexterous vocal delivery, and the track also serves as an appropriate entry point to an album that is exquisitely nonconformist in both content and production. The Ghanaian-American singer-songwriter surpasses the high expectation set from her debut with delightfully eclectic sophomore effort Fountain Baby.
Doechii — “What It Is”
Three years ago, Florida’s Doechii established herself as a precocious up-and-comer with her Oh the Places You’ll Go EP and its standout “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake,” which hinted at each facet of the TDE star’s artistic potential. Each choice since has reinforced her reputation as a rapper with a versatile flow, talent for hooks, and art-pop flair. March’s “What It Is” showcases yet a different side of Doechii: her considerable vocal range. Sampling both Trillville’s “Some Cut” and TLC’s “No Scrubs,” the track is a tribute to every stop on the 25-year-old’s creative path and the potential she’s yet to untap.
Toosii — “Favorite Song”
North Carolina rapper and singer-songwriter Toosii earned his first crossover hit this year with the harrowing R&B confessional “Favorite Song.” Sampling the hook from Tatiana Manaois’ “You Might As Well,” Toosii writes a love letter to his significant other that details his commitment to their partnership and the things he’s willing to do on a daily basis to make it last. His grizzly autotune vocals provide the perfect contrast for the melancholic piano backdrop and interspersed gentle guitar strum. Although “Favorite Song” is Toosii’s first to be certified 2x platinum, it marks just the latest in a series of viral hits since being named one of HipHopDX’s Rising Stars in 2021, and appears to be yet another stop on the path to megastardom.
Victoria Monét — “On My Mama”
Although singer-songwriter Victoria Monét’s journey to stardom might not have started out exactly as she planned, the trials she faced along the way forged the artist who is finally tasting mainstream success with her latest album, Jaguar II. After a three-year layoff, Monét emerged from the foliage renewed and ready to rewrite the concepts of motherhood, femininity, and sexuality. Jazz, funk, Hip Hop and dancehall blend seamlessly on a record that takes pride in its intergenerational reference points. Spawning an instant R&B classic, its standout track and viral hit, “On My Mama,” features the best hook of Monét’s already storied career and a captivating vocal that relies on nuance over power.
6lack — “Since I Have A Lover”
Over an undeniable groove, Atlanta star 6lack vocally meditates on life after finding an enduring — and, above all, healthy — life partner. Produced by FWDSLXSH and featuring guitar from Alex Goldblatt, 6lack described the title track from his third studio LP as something of a musical exhale. It’s the opposite of the menacing tone of 2016’s “PRBLMS” — yet another indication that 6lack’s experimentation with alternative Hip Hop is a journey he’s not looking to put to bed anytime soon. With growth this immense, it’ll be exciting to see his next artistic swerve.
Jessie Reyez (Feat. Miguel) — “Jeans”
As she maneuvers an acoustic guitar-laden backdrop, Jessie Reyez hits paydirt with “JEANS.” The unapologetically horny pop-R&B ode to getting it on not only highlights Reyez’s raw lyrical choices, but the incredible chemistry between her and Miguel results in a showcase of harmonic bliss. It’s another moment for the Toronto-born Reyez, who continues her ascent to the top tier of R&B, and extends the resurgence of mainstay Miguel, whose 2010 track “Sure Thing” returned to the conversation in a big way this year thanks to TikTok.
Kali Uchis — “Moonlight”
Armed with stunning visuals, a steady stream of singles, and a discerning taste in musical partnerships, Colombian-American singer-songwriter Kali Uchis strikes again with “Moonlight,” the second single of third studio LP Red Moon in Venus. Production from Benny Blanco, Cashmere Cat, and Leon Michels combine with Uchis’ deliberate and seductive delivery to create an extended metaphor about the high you get being alone with that special someone. The visual is yet another example of Uchis crafting a compelling neo-soul and contemporary R&B moment.
PARTYNEXTDOOR — “Her Old Friends”
It’s been two years since the nostalgia-filled PARTYPACK EP had fans wondering where PARTYNEXTDOOR has been and how much — if at all — he’s evolved. His 2023 single “Her Old Friends” is an honest ballad that places the blame on a lover’s best friends for her deviance. The ‘no fluff, no frill’ track sports a mellow-paced kick and snare while PND croons: “I was supposed to take her out the game” — a familiar cadence both original Party fans and newcomers may enjoy. Words: David Brake
Snoh Aalegra — “Be My Summer”
Flexing luxurious vocals over a downpour of piano chords, Iranian-Swedish singer-songwriter Snoh Aalegra returns to the theme of summer love. The track, which is the lead single of third studio LP Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies, hears Aalegra ask her partner to be summer and protect her from the elements. Vulnerable yet sure, Aalegra reminds audiences yet again why she is a mainstay of contemporary R&B after more than a decade in the game. Ari PenSmith’s production and backing vocal assist is the cherry on top.
Artwork and graphic design by JR Martinez.
Paragraphs written by Nina Hernandez except where noted.