Like the gang of neosoul singers who ruled the early aughts, alt R&B has sprung up as a countercultural form of soul music, sung by artists who are wary of labels. FKA Twigs has railed against the alternative R&B label about as vehemently as D’Angelo distanced himself from the category back in the day, likely because both terms have been used as catchalls to describe black creatives who sing indie music. But beyond the debate about what to call it, alternative R&B has unquestionably produced some of the most exciting music of the decade, from The Odd Future spin-offs (Grammy-winning Frank Ocean and Grammy-nominated the Internet) to the Saint Heron crew (a slew of Solange Knowles-endorsed singers, including Kelela and Sampha). Here, a round-up of the emerging names set to further redefine alt R&B this year.
Made up of vocalist Jillian Hervey (daughter of actress Vanessa Williams) and producer partner Lucas Goodman, Lion Babe are hardly new. But five years into their existence as a band — and three years after releasing their debut hit ‘Treat Me Like Fire’ — they’re just beginning to have a global impact as they make the summer music-festival rounds promoting their freshman album, “Begin.” Their mix of ’80s soul and funk, which has been touched by the likes of Pharrell Williams and Childish Gambino, resonates strongest when played live, and Hervey, a former dancer, truly understands the power of performance.
The New York-born, London-raised, Atlanta-affiliated singer became famous while popping bubblegum, whipping her ponytail and rolling around in a bed full of stuffed animals in the video for her club hit, “Roses.” And while she’s most closely associated with the ATL rap scene after being signed to the male-dominated Awful Records, her music brings to mind a different scene and era altogether: the raw, lo-fi house music of New York during the days of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Vogue has already christened her a fashion-industry favorite. Expect to hear her newly released EP, “Princess,” on a New York Fashion Week catwalk or two come September.
Chloe x Halle
Chances are you saw them before you knew them: the Atlanta teenage sisters had a guest starring appearance in Beyoncé’s “Lemonade.” Shortly after, a string of high-profile appearances with Mrs. Carter followed: a visit to the White House one minute, a string of shoutouts on her Instagram account the next. You see, the two signed a $1 million contract to Beyonce’s Parkwood Entertainment. The sisters have since earned press from everyone from Elle to Rolling Stone, and they haven’t even released an album yet. But judging by the sound of their EP, “Sugar Symphony,” a whimsical and atmospheric mix of ballads and up-tempo house, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
From a collaboration with Rihanna on the track “Consideration” to a critically approved appearance at Coachella, Sza (born Solána Rowe) is having a good year. Not to mention her collaborations with labelmate Kendrick Lamar, as well as Willow Smith and Nicki Minaj. The buzzy partnerships have sufficiently raised anticipation, and expectations, for more of her sleepy, highly listenable soprano with her full-length album, “A,” due out this summer.
The Grammy-winning New York-native singer had us at Tituss Burgess. If you haven’t seen her video for the single “BYIMM” featuring the “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” star, then stop what you’re doing and Google it now. Her new album, “The Switch,” has even more of the same: her light and husky vocals set to a tight soulful beat and retro instrumentation. It’s a little Prince and a little Stevie Wonder — soulful, but slightly skewed. Her vocal stylings are as unmistakable as her trademark quiff.