With absolute madness occurring in the world on what seems like a daily basis, fans are most likely needing some comfort music. No genre is more comforting to listen to than R&B, and in 2023 we received some heat from R&B, pop, afrobeats and other genres. Powerhouses such as Janelle Monae, Brent Faiyaz, Asake, Burna Boy, SZA, Daniel Caesar, T-Pain, Sampha, PartyNextDoor, and more delivered some fantastic work. These are some of the best R&B songs of the year so far in 2023.
Struggling to find a list of the Hip Hop Albums that have been shifting the culture? Take a look at our lists for Hip Hop, Rap and R&B to get a complete survey of the projects that are dictating the conversation within Hip Hop.
Need some new songs to throw in the rotation but Spotify and user-created playlists are way too long? We kept it simple and added only the best of the best songs from each month to make sure you get the songs you need without a hassle. Peep the lists below.
Looking for some up and coming rappers and underground gems? We’ve done the work for you and highlighted the short EPs, mixtapes and projects to check out if you’re tired of the mainstream album cycle.
Editor’s note: Songs from this list were released between January 1, 2023 – December 30, 2023.
“Be My Summer” – Snoh Aalegra
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. – Nina Hernandez
“Luces Tenues” – Anuel AA
“La La” – Byron Messia f. Suarez
“Moonlight” – Kali Uchis
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. – Scott Glaysher
“MY HOUSE” – Beyoncé
“Drown In My Love” – Summer Walker
“Not My Fault” – Reneé Rapp & Megan Thee Stallion
“Nice to meet you” – PinkPantheress f. Central Cee
When PinkPantheress, TikTok’s lovable, budding British pop star appears on an Apple commercial with Cash Cobain, the same man who declares on “Hate U Delilah:” “Delilah I really hate this name, I’m calling you thotty it fits on you better,” I chuckle. The pair remind us that romance is for daylight, while temptation lurks on the dancefloor as you’re doing two-step to jungle beats and UK garage. Together, the pair flip Spandau Ballet’s “Gold,” sprinkling off-beat 808s, mis-aligned snares, and sparkling synths to match PinkPantheress’s minimally-autotuned falsetto. Easily adapting to the drill beat, Central Cee recounts a lost love of his own, almost requiring a Cash Cobain beat to indulge a tale of overzealous promiscuity. – Yousef Srour AD LOADING...
“Suffice” – Toosii
“Paper Soldier” – Brent Faiyaz & Joony
“Get Close” – Ari Lennox
“Get Close” is Ari Lennox’s love letter to moonlit evenings in New York City. Over mild electronics, soft snare hits, and the light brushes of a cymbal, Ari’s voice maintains the poise and restraint of a ‘60s lounge singer, forcing herself into an octave range that matches the hum of her electric piano and the plucks of her bass strings. As if singing while hidden from the cabaret, Ari Lennox is a warm ghost in your room, crooning an intimate tune made for just you and her. – Yousef Srour AD LOADING...
“40 Days n 40 Nights” – Mariah The Scientist f. Vory
“Reminisce” – Luh Kel
“Slime Me Out” – Drake x SZA
Drake’s falsettos barely hang onto each note. Before the song even starts, his jokes are patronizing and misogynistic, belittling women’s intuition. Though his first two verses feel clunky and his voice never feels quite on-pitch, Drake bites his lip for the refrain: “Slimin’ you out.” A SZA collaboration seemed unlikely after Drake claimed to have dated her back in ‘08 on Savage Mode II, but the long-awaited guest verse swoons with lust. Her cadence contours between rap and R&B, rhyme schemes and quavering high notes. SZA brings out a coo in Drake’s voice, an obsession with time and the monthly highs and lows in a relationship, veering towards the seasonality of Views and the strict R&B of Scorpion’s B-side. – Yousef Srour AD LOADING...
“Only” – Sampha
“NO SZNS” – Jean Dawson & SZA
h2>”Waterfall (I Adore You)” – Yebba
At this point, Arkansas-based singer-songwriter and producer Yebba doesn’t need Drake’s blessing to drop an R & B soundscape sampled in one of the rapper’s recent hits. But that’s not to say that the public didn’t benefit from his recent nudge, which the 28-year-old vocalist obliged by releasing “Waterfall (I Adore You)” in its entirety. And that’s because the song Drake sampled in “Polar Opposites” is its own beast entirely. Layering her husky vocal over production grounded in jazz, Yebba describes in vivid detail the momentum one feels making the emotional leap into love. Obsessions fade over time, but Yebba’s artistic instinct remains intact. – Nina Hernandez AD LOADING...
“Demons” – Doja Cat
“On My Mama” – Victoria Monét
“Moment Of Your Life” – Brent Faiyaz
Laced with innuendos, every line in Brent Faiyaz’s new single with Coco Jones is dipped in lust-draped double-entendres. His voice lulls in harmonious waves, brushing his deep baritone against Coco Jones’ high-reaching soprano. The instrumental is deceptively simple, with an acoustic guitar riff that mimics Faiyaz’s suavity; the strums glide with ease as they ascend and descend up the scale, but they dare not roll past the bass drum, submitting to Brent’s listless seduction. – Yousef Srour
“Snooze” – SZA
“Forever” – Charlotte Day Wilson & Snoh Aalegra
“Party Girls” – Victoria Monét f. Buju Banton
Driven by echo and pulsating reverb, KAYTRANADA’s drum kit texturally defines Victoria Monét’s glassy vocals as she ventures into the escapism of deep house. The bass kicks for the first three beats of every measure, coming to a full stop by the fourth, popping-and-locking Monét into place amidst the tongue-in-cheek steam of her lyrics. The hypnotic repetition in the drum pattern paired with Monét’s breathy exhale of the words, “alright” and “tonight,” join together to create sexual tension, itching to be released. – Yousef Srour
“Cheat On Me” – Burna Boy f. Dave
“Resentment” – PartyNextDoor
“Tiny Garden” – Jamila Woods
Not everything needs to be a maximalist ordeal. Jamila Woods understands this and knows how tending to something small with consistency can elevate it to its potential. On “Tiny Garden,” the Chicago song rids herself of the idea of a fairytale romance and likens her growing love of someone to the daily nurturing required to build a garden. Woods sings with an awkward earnestness that neatly encapsulates the way honeymoon love builds at the start of a romantic relationship. – Louis Pavlakos
“Wasted Eyes” – Amaarae
“Big 7” – Burna Boy
“Forever Is A Thing” – Keyshia Cole
R&B mainstay Keyshia Cole memorializes her late mother in the soul powered ballad “Forever Is A Thing.” Backed by a contemporary soul groove, Cole reflects on the shock and pain of losing a parent, the uncertainty she feels about how to move forward, and the eventual acceptance and understanding that comes with time. “How would I know? That you didn’t want to stay. You were ready to leave. I guess I’m just a fool to think forever is a thing.” While clearly profoundly personal and deeply felt, “Forever Is A Thing” has the timeless quality of an R&B classic that can tell a different story to each listener. – Nina Hernandez
Bad Bunny – “Where She Goes”
Beyoncé F. Kendrick Lamar – “America Has A Problem (Remix)”
“Blade” – Arlo Parks
British singer-songwriter Arlo Parks wanted to create something danceable when she teamed up with producer Paul Epworth on “Blades.” The single from her upcoming second LP My Soft Machine features the same lyrical intimacy that rocketed the 22-year-old to fame, but over a club beat instead of her usual indie vibes. Not only is the style switch-up a pleasant change of pace, but it fits neatly into the song’s theme of seeing an ex flame across the room at a party. – Nina Hernandez
“Rollercoaster” – Burna Boy f. J Balvin
“Let Me Go” – Daniel Caesar
“GLU” – Usher
Let the Usher revival tour begin. On “GLU,” the 44-year-old R&B singer fully leans into his raunchy side, finding inventive ways to sing about his most intimate moments with his lover. Yet, the debauchery feels conspicuously tasteful. Despite lines about licking, arching, and finding a myriad of different positions, Usher sounds like he’s singing a wedding track. His serene falsetto over the guitar-driven instrumental might be deceptive once the lewdness of the lyrics settles in. – Louis Pavlakos
“Tennessee Whiskey” – T-Pain
“Save Your Soul” – Tink
“Kill Bill” – SZA
The fourth single from December’s stunning and ambitious SOS, “Kill Bill,” is a tribute to being pulled under the riptide of a breakup one can’t accept. If the album cover of SZA sitting in the middle of the ocean is the visual motif of the album, “Kill Bill” is the aural one. The R&B maintstay’s singsong delivery contrasts delightfully with the violent lyrical content inspired by the Quentin Tarantino epic. Who among us has not, at one point, felt they’d rather be in hell than alone? – Nina Hernandez
“I Won’t Tell” – Baby Rose & Smino
“Nightmares” – Dende
“3 Boys” – Omar Apollo
Negotiating relationship boundaries in the polyamory age isn’t easy. That’s where we find 25-year-old freshly minted pop star Omar Apollo in searing new single “3Boys.” The recent Grammy nominee conveys in his typical combination of soulful vocals and blunt lyrical content the agony of wanting just one person — who in addition to our protagonist wants a couple other parties in the mix. It’s apparent from “3Boys” that as Apollo grows in human experience, his formula of agonized direct appeals to wayward lovers will continue to shine. – Nina Hernandez
“Do You Like Me” – Daniel Caesar
“Still Work” – OG Parker f. Ty Dolla $ign, Muni Long
“Her Old Friends” – PartyNextDoor
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 latest 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 PND fans and newcomers may enjoy. – David Brake
“Forever” – Vedo
“Find Out” – Liv.E
“Love Shit” – Enchanting
On her second single of the year, “Love Shit,” Enchanting lays the bars aside to deliver a contemplative R&B number. It’s not her first try at a melodic track given her past works like “Summer Night” and “Luv.” The newly signed 1017 rapper begins “Love Shit” with a confession which falls into an infectious bass and drum Enchanting walks on with charm. – Devon Jefferson
Contributing writers: David Brake, Yousef Srour, Nina Hernandez, Jeremy Hecht, Devon Jefferson, Anthony Malone, Holly Alvarado, Louis Pavlakos & Josh Svetz.