With so much weighing down on us all in this year, it was incredibly comforting to have some of the game’s brightest voices bless us with the best new R&B albums of 2020. Whether the projects came in the form of musical spiritual cleanses, late night drives, COVID-safe dance parties or much needed cries alone, this year’s top R&B albums hit all the right grooves.
Every year, HipHopDX staff joins in discussions, debates and sometimes heated arguments to come up with a list for our Year End Awards. Review all of our award categories and nominees before the winners are announced beginning December 28, 2020.
2020 Best R&B Album Nominees
The 2020 R&B Album of the year goes to…
After Hours – The Weeknd
Four years after releasing his massively successful Starboy album, The Weeknd returned with a brand new look and sound for After Hours. The LP is a less pop-heavy and more introspective affair, taking listeners into Abel’s world of heartbreak, loss and realization. And if the project’s 14 tracks weren’t enough, The Weeknd kept fans on high alert with an ever-expanding deluxe edition of the album that added new chapters and remixes to his Billboard 200 chart-topping LP. How it didn’t manage to earn a Grammy nomination is up for debate.
Some of Our Favorite R&B Albums This Year
It Is What It Is – Thundercat
The Los Angeles-bred bass impresario returned in 2020 with It Is What It Is — another jazz-funk-R&B-soul hybrid, full of impressive guest features from The Internet’s Steve Lacy, Slave icon Steve Arrington, Ty Dolla $ign, Lil B and more. The most touching moment comes on “Fair Chance,” his heartfelt tribute to the late Mac Miller.
It Was Good Until It Wasn’t – Kehlani
Kehlani stays true to her R&B roots on her sophomore effort, It Was Good Until It Wasn’t. Pivoting from the pop-heavy sound on her 2016 debut album Sweet Sexy Savage, IWGUIW shows the now 25-year-old singer’s maturation and tells a story of the ups and downs of her journey through motherhood, love, her career and just life in general. With 15 tracks, features include Tory Lanez, Jhené Aiko, James Blake, Masego and Lucky Daye, as well as an outro dedicated to and featuring the late Lexii Alijai, who tragically passed away on New Year’s Day 2020.
Slime & B – Chris Brown & Young Thug
Although their degrees of separation are pretty much zero, no one was expecting (or demanding *gasp!*) a joint project between Chris Brown and Young Thug. Not only did they deliver the unsolicited mixtape Slime & B, but they also delivered in the form of quality, fevered dance tracks and overall catchiness. Packed with radio candy such as “Go Crazy,” “City Girls” and “Trap Back,” the project also leveraged the talents of both new (Gunna and Lil Duke) and veteran (E-40 and Too $hort) artists.
Ungodly Hour – Chloe x Halle
Atlanta duo Chloe and Halle Bailey may possess angelic voices, but they have no interest in being society’s picture of the squeaky clean childhood star facade. Nor do they aspire for a raunchy rebellious phase like many others coming from a Disney influenced adolescence. Instead, on Ungodly Hour, the sisters enter adulthood with poise and confidence as young women unafraid to reveal their experiences curving overzealous “fuckboys” and staying strong while dealing with their insecurities. And while their sharp wit and soaring dual harmonies highlight their prodigious talent, Chloe x Halle’s main appeal is how clearly they aren’t trying to be anything but themselves, coming into their own as songwriters wise beyond their years.
Featuring Ty Dolla $ign – Ty Dolla $ign
For the past five years, few singers have been a part of as many hits as Ty Dolla $ign. Whether he writes, produces, sings a hook or lays his silky smooth harmonies in the background of a song, everything Ty touches turns to platinum or gold. Criticisms about Ty have historically centered on his inability to stand on his own as a solo artist because his albums never match up to his features. Playing off the common critique, Ty aptly titled his album Featuring Ty Dolla $ign. Although the 25-track project runs a bit long, the singer gives fans some strong collaborations and memorable songs that can hold their own against any of his features.
Chilombo – Jhené Aiko
Following the release of Jhené Aiko’s “Triggered (freestyle)” and “P*$$Y Fairy” singles, expectations were high for her first official project since 2017. Throughout the 20 tracks on the Grammy Award-nominated Chilombo, Aiko explores themes of heartbreak, loss and acceptance. With contributions from Big Sean, Nas, Ab-Soul, Ty Dolla $ign, Future, Miguel, Dr. Chill and John Legend, the album has no shortage of star power and each feature provides something unique to the album.
Black On Purpose – Salaam Remi
Black On Purpose is an extremely focused album that perfectly fits into our current climate. The project begins by getting straight to the point with Black Thought, Busta Rhymes and more delivering powerful bars on the protest anthem “No Peace.” From there, Salaam and his guests do not let up, continuing to express emotion and delivering potent messages throughout the 17-track project.
MOVIE – DaniLeigh
Ever since the success of the Chris Brown-assisted “Easy (Remix)” in 2018, DaniLeigh has continued to prove she’s here to stay. MOVIE is an album complete with love ballads, potential hit songs and catchy melodies. The Miami-bred singer shows versatility and potential for longevity with her latest effort.
Alicia – Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys continues to effortlessly unlock hearts and minds after nearly 20 years. On her seventh studio LP Alicia, the New York City pianist employs her brand of bare bones lyrics, range of sultry melodies and mountain summit-clearing high notes to prove traditional yet progressive R&B still matters in the trap-dominated Hip Hop world. The album features several heavyweights such as Khalid, Jill Scott, Tierra Whack, Miguel as well as production assistance from Mark Ronson, Sampha and her spouse Swizz Beatz among several others.
Twice As Tall – Burna Boy
Burna Boy is back with a vengeance on Twice As Tall, the Nigerian singer-songwriter’s first offering since his wildly successful African Giant last year. As with his previous albums, the genre-bending artist blends together his interpretations of Afrobeat, Hip Hop and R&B for a worldly sound that has captivated fans from Africa to the United States.
B7 – Brandy
After an eight-year hiatus, “The Vocal Bible” Brandy Norwood makes her triumphant return with B7, the first release on her Brand Nu imprint. Above all, the 15-song effort is about healing and self-love — without sparing any of the emotional lulls along the way.
Dinner Party – 9th Wonder, Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper & Terrace Martin
Sometimes the word “supergroup” is thrown around loosely, but the four-man group known as Dinner Party truly lives up to the description. 9th Wonder, Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper and Terrace Martin combine their talents on an eponymous debut featuring seven captivating tracks and the soulful vocals of Phoelix. Dinner Party is more of an appetizer than a full course meal though, so hopefully they aren’t done cooking.
Teenage Fever – Kaash Paige
Kaash Paige’s ascent has been a veritable whirlwind since her breakout single “Love Songs” spread like wildfire across Tik Tok, landing her a spot on the iconic Def Jam Recordings roster and a management deal with Roc Nation. Following the success of her 2019 Parked Lot Convos EP, Teenage Fever is her fully fleshed out 13-song debut album, working to solidify the dreamy voiced 19-year-old’s position in R&B’s youthful new landscape.
Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas
Lianne La Havas’s refreshing, genre-bending self-titled album is the soundtrack to a new beginning. Her blend of songwriting intimacy, skillful guitar playing and vocal range produce a feeling of serenity and relaxation, even as she pours her heart out about a failed relationship with explicit vulnerability. It never sounds like La Havas is breaking down despite being deeply hurt. Instead, there’s evidence of personal growth and self-reflection, coming out better off than she was before.
The Album – Teyana Taylor
After expressing displeasure with her Kanye West-produced seven-track Wyoming project KTSE, Taylor finally returns with her official debut album and this time it’s on her own terms. The 23-track album has features from Big Sean, Mrs. Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliot and even an appearance from her husband Iman. It seems like Taylor has found her pocket as she continues to grow into one of R&B’s brightest stars.
Modus Vivendi – 070 Shake
070 Shake‘s Modus Vivendi is R&B plus more. It’s an album that certainly deserves a slot on any “Best Of The Year” list so far. The album is genre-bending, unique and includes a bevy of standout songs. Upon its release, Modus Vivendi received a DX review score of 4.0 and was described as a “Mantovani-style soundscape heard in a sensory deprivation salt tank.”
A Muse In Her Feelings – dvsn
The talented Toronto duo returned with a new album to satisfy the craving of their dedicated fan base, who had been waiting since October 2017 for a new project. Throughout the first half of the album, dvsn stayed true to the sound that gained them prominence, but the second half of the album sees the OVO signees experiment with new sounds, melodies and rhythms. The experimentation paid off as dvsn provides a complete body of work with features that compliment them sonically throughout the 16-track album.
03.15.20, Childish Gambino
Donald Glover’s last album under the Childish Gambino moniker arrived after a temporary teaser the week before. Beginning with the slow build-up of “0.00,” the 12-track project once again flexes Glover’s innate ability to get weirdly experimental whether it’s commercially viable or not. But unlike 2016’s Parliament-Funkadelic-influenced Awaken My Love! album, there’s a sense he was at least attempting to be more accessible to a mainstream audience with features from SZA, Ariana Grande and an oddly placed 21 Savage. Overall, the album is another solid addition to the Childish Gambino catalog, if the listener is willing to take that journey.
PARTYNEXTDOOR fans have been waiting (not so) patiently for the release of PARTYMOBILE. After countless announcements and push backs, Party finally dropped the project. With a standout feature from Rihanna and plenty of quotable lines, the album didn’t disappoint his base.
- Fuck The World – Brent Faiyaz
- SXTPE4 – The-Dream
- BARE WITH ME (The Album) – Justine Skye
- JAGUAR – Victoria Monet
- Anniversary – Bryson Tiller
- missunderstood – Queen Naija