Even though R&B releases in 2018 were quite limited, the quality of works coming from the genre was certainly top-notch. This, even though the sound has begun to bend over into Trap territory while also remaining stuck in the era everybody loves so much, the 90s.
And, that’s where we are at in terms of the R&B landscape today and these are the songs that best represent 2018, as it stands.
Here are HipHopDX’s picks for the best R&B of 2018.
R&B Songs Of The Year
10. DaniLeigh — “Lil Bebe”
Up-and-coming artist DaniLeigh had a perfect series of events fall into her lap this year. First, her “In My Feelings” challenge video went viral, next she was slated as the opening act for Jeremih’s Later That Night Tour with Teyana Taylor and lastly, her song “Lil Bebe” had a great moment right before the release of her debut album The Plan.
DaniLeigh isn’t new to the game at all, however. She was handpicked by the late Prince to direct and co-star in his “Breakfast Can Wait” and she is also known for her amazing dancing skills.
“Lil Bebe” is Dani’s entry point into mainstream absorption and the song can be described as a fun Trap&B record that is well-deserving of all the best dance moves.
9. Tory Lanez f. Rich The Kid — “Talk To Me”
Tory Lanez’s third studio album LoVE me NOw? hit the Billboard 200 at No. 4 and his single with “TAlk tO Me” featuring Rich The Kid is one song off the project that has been in heavy rotation on the radio.
The Smash David-produced hit even got a special verse from Lil Wayne on the remix, which was released while Tory was engaging in a friendly lyrical battle with Joyner Lucas.
8. Amber Mark f. DRAM — “Put You On”
Promising R&B singer Amber Mark came through this year with a certified bop featuring DRAM with “Put You On.” The track is a little different from the music heard off her more dark EP releases from the past and leans more towards an authentic R&B sound that’s bright.
Going along with the trend of revisiting the 90s, “Put You On” sounds just as if it came straight out of that era. Like, if the song played right after Jade’s 1992 smash “Don’t Walk Away” and it wouldn’t sound out of place. That’s how authentic to the era “Put You On” is.
Instead of lamenting about the woes of what those dating during that time period may have experienced, she invites those same woes into 2018 where iPhones and Instagram reign supreme. It’s also a grand celebration of her “glow up.”
“I know we don’t speak / But you’re still on my feed / Every time that you post / And I’m liking what I see / It’s been a while but I’m still like before / Only thing that’s been changed / Is my money and my clothes,” Mark sings on the track.
The music video for “Put You On” is just as nostalgic as the song.
7. Anderson .Paak f. Kendrick Lamar — “Tints”
Also to be noted, Dot and Cheeky Andy’s performance of the song on Saturday Night Live this year was absolutely electrifying.
R&B, mixed with Jazz and Funk are all the elements that complete the track while delivering a nice hit of euphoric goodness. As with most songs coming from Anderson, “Tints” dabbles in serious political topics without sounding preachy and the vibe offers an escape from today’s chaotic realities.
6. Normani & Khalid — “Love Lies”
Normani and Khalid share a special friendship and it really shines through on their collaborative single “Love Lies.” The song has nearly a 100 million YouTube views and is certified double-platinum. It also landed at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 40 chart (the first No. 1 for both artists). In its first week, “Love Lies” was streamed over 11 million times.
The incredible voices stemming from this musical magic-making duo, brew together over a guitar-led production. In perfect sequence, they sing back-and-forth about the uncertainty of romantic relationships. The collaboration came quite naturally, according to Normani’s interview with Kode Mag.
“I remember him telling me ‘I want this to be my favorite record, if I were listening, I want it to be something I vibe with that’s just dope,’ which is something I relate to because I listen to our song every day,” the former Fifth Harmony singer recalls. “Issa vibe.”
And, she’s not lying.
5. 6LACK — “Switch”
Produced by Joel Little and with the aid of background vocals hailing from the insanely talented Ty Dolla $ign, the futuristically pounding acoustics of “Switch” transports listeners from a time in 6LACK’s life where he wasn’t that famous to now, where the whole world now recognizes him (even with his dreds cut off).
The music video for “Switch” has been watched over 11 million times by people who love the song and presses play just to get a dose of 6LACK’s enigmatic energy.
4. Khalid — “Better”
The Texas crooner knows melody very well and he’s not afraid to become vulnerable in his music. Like an alchemist, this is the working recipe for what “Better” is, and essentially all of Khalid’s music. It’s why his music resonates with so many as maturely delivered numbers that speak to the youth.
“Better” touched the Billboard Hot 100, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Mainstream Top 40 charts. The visual for it has nearly 70 million views.
After listening to “Better,” it’s hard not to run it back just to experience its tenderness all over again.
3. Jeremih & Ty Dolla $ign — “The Light”
When Jeremih and Ty Dolla $ign‘s “The Light” cuts on folks both young and old can really get into it. It has a smooth Chicago two-step vibe that will direct anybody’s drunk uncle to get busy at the family’s summertime BBQ.
That familiar sample heard on the Hitmaka-produced track is from Mary Jane Girls’ 1983 hit song “All Night Long.” Clearly, Ty$ and Jeremih conceived a new joint that was specifically created for the family’s summertime BBQ playlist…and good times too.
2. Drake — “In My Feelings”
Drake’s Scorpion hit “In My Feelings” completely took over the summer, thanks to Shiggy employing the viral dance challenge it was named after. The challenge was so big and worldwide, Will Smith even got in on the fun by showing off his dance skills to the New Orleans Bounce-inspired joint on a bridge somewhere in Budapest.
The music video was rightfully filmed in New Orleans and featured Drake in an iced out grill, along with guest appearances from Lala Anderson as “Keke” and Phylicia Rashad as her mother. Bounce music legend Big Freedia also made an appearance as well as Shiggy and various people dancing to the song all over the city.
For ten whole weeks, “In My Feelings” dominated the Billboard Hot 100 chart and broke streaming records. It also shined a spotlight on Quality Control’s rap duo City Girls, whose vocals can be heard on the song and samples Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop.”
“Keke, do you love me? Are you riding?” Drizzy begins singing on its catchy and notable chorus. This singular line was a source of speculation for those curious as to who “Keke” could actually be. Since Drake is generally open about his love life in his music, many guesses were thrown out such as it being aimed at his former girlfriend Keshia Chante.
Nevertheless, a fan theory suggested the song was about Kim Kardashian, who also goes by the nickname Kiki. This theory was eventually was addressed by her husband Kanye West in a series of emotional Instagram rants.
“In My Feelings” certainly had a lot of people in their literal feelings. Whether it was emotions of excitement from just hearing the TrapMoneyBenny-produced bop or feelings of being personally attacked.
Either way, without a doubt, “In My Feelings” was 2018’s biggest record.
1. Ella Mai — “Boo’d Up”
2018 fell so deep in love with Ella Mai‘s “Boo’d Up.” So deep in love, it hit the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart at No. 1 and has been nominated for Best R&B Song and Song of the Year at the 61st Grammy Awards.
It also had a lot of people in their feelings considering how many artists felt like putting their own twist to it. Plies, T-Pain, Fabolous, and Fetty Wap are just a few rappers who decided to take the platinum-selling single and flip it. The official remix got a hot verse from Nicki Minaj and Quavo.
“Boo’d Up” is a lovable track after all. Who can’t relate when Ella sings, “I’ll never get over you until I find something new / That get me high like you do”? Almost certainly everyone felt that when she belted out, “Feeling all over my body / You know how I like it / Ain’t gotta tell you what to do.”
It’s the “Ba-dum, boo’d up,” that really sets the song off though.
The visual is nearing 300 million views on YouTube and the track itself is already three-times platinum.
No other R&B song that came out this year has been as endearing as Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up.” Catch Ella Mai headling The Debut Tour at the top of 2019.
R&B Albums Of The Year
10. THEY. — Fireside EP
Los Angeles R&B duo THEY., made of Drew Love and Dante Jones, came through blasting with the release of their Fireside EP, this year. “What I Know Now” featuring Wiz Khalifa and “18 Months” featuring Ty Dolla $ign are the EP’s stand out joints.
THEY. offers something different on Fireside. Their sound is unique — it’s a melding combination of haunting Blues, Rock, and soulful melodies in such a way that it doesn’t sound ancient.
The bubbling melody makers are currently opening for 6LACK on his East Atlanta Love Letter Tour.
9. Jorja Smith — Lost & Found
Jorja Smith’s incredible work on Lost & Found earned her a nomination for Best New Artist at the 61st Grammy Awards. It is definitely one of the best R&B projects to come out this year and was highlighted on our Best R&B of 2018 (So Far) list for a reason.
Lost & Found is an in-depth album concerning love, self-discovery and embracing self-worth. Jorja shows she has no problem facing these notions head on as heard on “Where Did I Go?” and “On Your Own,” where she threatens to take her love away.
“When we are young / We all want someone / Who we think is the one / Just to fit in / There’s no need to rush / Take your time,” is what she repeatedly chants at the end of “Teenage Fantasy.” It’s a mantra that is right on time during an era where social media plays such a huge role and can infiltrate the potential authenticity of a loving relationship.
Lost & Found is expressive of its title, and Jorja captures it all in 12 beautiful tracks that successfully push the message that love doesn’t have to be rushed.
8. H.E.R. – I Used To Know Her: The Prelude
H.E.R., also known as Gabi Wilson, has to be one of the hardest working R&B singers in the industry and she has been grinding for a while now. As long as she’s been in the game, it’s expected at this point for her music and style to evolve. Her extended play I Used To Know Her: The Prelude delivers this expectation with eight poignant tracks.
The six-song EP broke into both the Billboard 200 and Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums charts upon its debut and her Bryson Tiller duet “Could’ve Been” was the leading single.
The R&B vocalist is currently touring off her latest project and it runs all the way until the end of the year.
7. Teyana Taylor — K.T.S.E.
Nothing about K.T.S.E. is sugar coated or cutesy. It’s a raw form of Tey that listeners haven’t really experienced from the G.O.O.D. Music musician as an artist. It has the potential to age well, which is why it was also named on our Best R&B of 2018 (So Far) list.
Upon its release, K.T.S.E. landed at No. 10 on the R&B/Hip Hop Album charts and entered at No. 17 on the Billboard 200.
K.T.S.E. forced Teyana to break out of her comfort zone. Heartfelt numbers such as “Gonna Love Me” and the gritty “Rose In Harlem” both had their moments this year. Though we were supposed to get a more “completed” album after sampling issues interfered with what was supposed to actually come out, even without those promised additions the album sounds just fine.
6. Ella Mai — Ella Mai
Ella Mai’s sudden rise can be attributed to her breakthrough single “Boo’d Up,” which catapulted into mainstream popularity a year after being unleashed from her Ready EP. Signed to DJ Mustard’s 10 Summers label, the U.K. recording artist took advantage of the unexpected attention and released her debut album Ella Mai shortly after along with a new joint titled “Trip.”
Once “Trip” was released, it didn’t take long for it to break into the Billboard Hot 100 charts and for Cash Money Records artist Jacquees to turn it into his own with a “Quemix.” This didn’t sit too well with Mustard who put an end to his remix quickly. Despite the dramatics surrounding the song, it’s a platinum-selling record just like her Grammy Award-nominated single “Boo’d Up.”
Another stand out track is the Chris Brown-featured “Whatchamacallit,” which hit the US R&B charts at No. 7 and No. 1 on the US R&B/Hip Hip Bubbling charts.
Some view Ella as the savior of R&B and her self-titled effort is an honest attempt at becoming just that.
5. Mariah Carey — Caution
Mariah Carey is keeping up with the R&B girls and her fifteenth studio album Caution is evidence that time will never slow down greatness. Caution stays true to Mariah’s style and lives presently in today’s sound.
Beautifully crooning “How ’bout you get the fuck out,” on the abbreviated track “GTFO,” she sets the tone for Caution, as the rest of the album is an amalgamation of colloquialisms that her Lambs can easily take and use for memes (if they haven’t already).
“Giving Me Life” featuring Slick Rick and Blood Orange is the best song on Caution. Getting Slick The Ruler and Dev Hynes on the same track of musical goodness deserves all the praise. Her song with Ty Dolla Sign, “The Distance,” is also an incredible duet from two R&B talents that makes its mark on the album, as well as the DJ Mustard-produced “With You.”
It made its debut at No. 1 on the Top R&B/Hip Hop charts and entered at No. 5 on the Billboard 200.
4. The Weeknd — My Dear Melancholy,
The Weeknd gave us a bona fide heartbreak album with My Dear Melancholy, this year. It’s his own personal story and that’s exactly why listeners love listening to Abel.
My Dear Melancholy, is a pure example of how an artist should unpack their emotions with music instead of puking them all over social media. As he and longtime girlfriend Bella Hadid had broken up while issues from his relationship with Selena Gomez lingered, the album is a parcel brimming with sorrowful tears. It also breeds the excuse for alcohol consumption and snorting lines of cocaine — something The Weeknd’s music has become notoriously known for.
Throughout the EP, The Weeknd admits to infidelity and croons on about how wrong it was to leave him for it because, at night, he cries. As a matter of fact, the entire EP is one big cry. Songs such as “Call Out My Name” and “Wasted Times” basks in Frank Duke’s dark production, bringing back the fondest House of Balloons memories.
Lost in a vortex of unfaithfulness, My Dear Melancholy, shows how the Toronto native compartmentalizes his actions and emotions to create a masterful account of everything he feels.
3. Jeremih & Ty Dolla Sign — MihTy
Each track, blessed by the direction of Hitmaka, is a certified bop. From top to bottom, it’s a feel-good album that does a great job of owning the 90s R&B sound in 2018. It’s become a trendy thing to interpolate classic New Jack Swing vibes as of late, however, the work heard on the Billboard-topping MihTy perfectly draws out those nostalgic feels. They’ve essentially fine-tuned the magic formula to hit that 90s R&B sound sweet spot.
Hitmaka’s use of samples like Dru Hill’s “In My Bed” as heard on “New Level” and the use of familiar melodies, such as the one lifted from Ahmed’s “Back In The Day” as heard on “The Light,” assists in creating the aforementioned vibe. Other joints like “Take Your Time” and “Surrounded” featuring Chris Brown and Wiz Khalifa take on a life of their own, however, and make it a thoroughly enjoyable R&B project that offers a variety of sounds.
MihTy is more than just an album lounging on the topics of love and heartbreak. It’s a consummate display of what brilliant-level album making sounds like, as it was made for the casual R&B listener.
2. 6LACK — East Atlanta Love Letter
6LACK undeniably put out one of the most cohesive and solid R&B albums of 2018 with his sophomore effort East Atlanta Love Letter. Boasting a high DX review score of 4.5, the entire project sounds as if it’s merely an extension and upgrade to his Grammy Award-nominated debut album Free 6LACK.
The musician, born Ricardo Valdez Valentine, was fully in his bag while recording East Atlanta Love Letter. The album boasts of beautifully crafted and self-reflective cuts such as “Switch,” “Let Her Go,” “Sorry,” and “Pretty Little Fears,” which has an impeccable guest verse from J. Cole. The album’s eponymous track sees fellow East Atlanta rap star Future break out with his own vocals, a la HNDRXX, and they’re layered neatly atop 6LACK’s voice to create a celebrated Zone 6 duet. Fitting, as his proclamation on “Scripture” is, “I’m a R&B nigga with a Hip Hop core.”
As a whole, the album embraces not being perfect and 6LACK has a Dear Diary-way about sharing what he’s gone through that’s endearing. It taps into the struggles beholden to the human consciousness; the tug and pull of doing what is right versus being held accountable for lazily made decisions.
And it makes sense for the 26-year-old first-time father. The cover art for the album is a picture of him in a makeshift studio with his daughter Syx Rose Valentine, affectionately showing who he does it for.
1. Anderson .Paak — Oxnard
Anderson .Paak is a true musician and his third studio album Oxnard, named after his hometown, contains all of the elements critics say are missing from music nowadays. Paak’s raw voice, coupled with live instruments, a rarity, make this album easy to groove to. And honestly, that’s exactly what Oxnard was made for — in all its West Coast sunshine and Funk-Soul glory.
Oxnard‘s lead single “Tints” featuring Kendrick Lamar offers fans a welcoming interpretation of what his actual hometown of Oxnard would sound like if it were a song (just in case they’ve never been): a funky, beachside city that is both carefree and woke.
Oxnard also does a great job of invoking all types of emotions through the use of live instruments. Anderson, as a poet, brings listeners upon a carousel of happiness, passion, pride, and rage through his dynamic voice and lyrics. It’s songs like “6 Summers” and “Brothers Keeper” featuring Pusha T that really take fans on a Blues trip, conjuring up feelings of pain and hurt into the form of song.
Anderson .Paak certainly took great care in the electrifying sound, sequencing and lyrics heard on the album. It peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard 200 chart and No. 6 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. To complete the package, his Andy’s Beach Club World Tour is expected to kick off on February 11.
Needless to say, Oxnard is the year’s most well-put-together R&B album and the experience is absolutely invigorating.