Retrospective: R&B Music In the 2010s

By @TrueGodImmortal

R&B music has been declared dead for quite some time now. To be honest, I don't really blame most people for making this declaration. Music today lacks a bit of soulful clarity, along with emotional energy to captivate and draw the listener in. What R&B once was in the past, it only shows glimpses of. Is that a bad thing per se? No, in some ways it isn't, as it seems quite possible to allow a genre to evolve into something. However, evolution should be a method of progression. While music in general has regressed in a lot of ways, there are still some forms of progression in the genre.

Today, I wanted to take a look at R&B in the 2010s, and break the artists who shape the decade so far down into three categories: The Big Names aka the established artists still going strong or the newer artists who reached a form of stardom and consistency, The Rising Stars aka the artists who are making their presence felt with perhaps one album (or mixtapes) and garner a lot of attention, and of course the Slept On Artists aka the artists preserving the legacy of R&B in some way and not getting the ample credit they might deserve for it.

The Big Names
-The big names in R&B could either be keeping the genre stagnant or helping it stay alive. It just depends on your perspective. For one generation, more so the current generation, these big names are legendary in music, and keeping it alive. For some, probably a tad bit older generation, some of the names on this list might be holding the genre back or at least don't preserve the genre and the authenticity of R&B. The list is extensive in some way, but I'll only include the big names that truly made some sort of wave through the 6 years of this decade.


-The biggest female artist in the game honestly. She's powerful and while not the epitome of R&B, her music does fit into that category. With the release of 3 albums since 2010(4, Beyonce, and the recently released LEMONADE), Beyonce has truly carved out a legacy for herself that seems to get bigger and bigger as the years go by. Her album rollout has gotten much better and more exclusive over the years also, as we watched her drop a surprise album with her self titled project and change the game up. She teeters the line between R&B and pop, but when you're that big in the game, you can do that.

-The most consistent male R&B artist of the 2010s hands down. 3 albums, all different and all great, Miguel has found himself in the driver's seat musically. From his first album All I Want Is You to his near classic follow up Kaleidoscope Dream to his most recent and slept on Wildheart, Miguel keeps the eccentric essence alive along with a bit of soulful flare. To me, Miguel is the best artist in R&B from a mainstream perspective in the 2010s.

*The Weeknd 

-I'm just recently warming up to the music of the Weeknd, though I have a tough time labeling it R&B officially. It's pop, with R&B sensibility, with an almost emo feel to me as well. His style isn't traditional R&B and neither is his voice. While I don't really appreciate the odd comparisons to Michael Jackson, I did enjoy his most recent album and I like some of the House of Balloons music from earlier in the decade. I think he's growing as an artist some, and hopefully the music continues to improve and takes on a more upbeat tone than his earlier stuff.

*Alicia Keys

-While not as active this decade as she was the prior one, A. Keys has managed to keep her name buzzing by appearances on Empire and in films, along with her 2012 album and single "Girl on Fire". She just released her new single "In Common", so there could be more on the horizon.


-While she, like Beyonce, teeters the line between R&B and pop, her music still registers under the category. This decade hasn't seen her really captivate as strongly, but her ANTI album that was just released seems to be popular and has garnered a lot of acclaim. She remains a force and very influential on the public.

*Trey Songz 

-Trigga has had a strange decade so far. He's gotten away from his usual slow, bedroom heavy ballads as the template for his music, and most of his singles have been rooted in pop or a hybrid of hip hop and R&B in some way. His albums have considerably gotten worse with this decade, as both Chapter V and Trigga missed their mark, but Intermission saw him get back to form in some way. Will he recapture that Ready/Anticipation glory? Doubtful, but we shall see.

*John Legend

-Starting the decade off with his collaborative effort with The Roots, "Wake Up", John has seen his success and name sustain through the year. He's had some music placements in movies over the last few years and to be honest, his Love In the Future album is one of the best R&B releases this decade. It's an amazing listen and fits what you'd look for in R&B: love, heartbreak, complexity, and understanding. His huge single "All Of Me" is probably one of the biggest singles this decade.

*R. Kelly

-The Pied Piper of R&B was very active this decade oddly enough. It's one of his more active decades as an artist to be fair. He hasn't released great music, but he's been consistent with decent to good songs, and he's been more hilarious than ever, as evidenced on his albums Black Panties and The Buffet. Kells doesn't take breaks.


-He's been less active than the others, but his presence has always been felt more in his songwriting than his actual music. Still, he maintains a level of relevance and though the late 2000s and very early 2010s was his heyday, he still is anticipated by a good amount of his fans.

*Chris Brown

-When you speak of hits, hooks, consistency, and relevance, there is no one more important to the 2010s from a male R&B side like Chris Brown. Love him or hate him, he's been responsible for a number of hits, has remained at the forefront of R&B and manages to create headlines every time he does something. Troubled? Yes. Talented? Yes. Vital to the genre in this decade? Hands down. While his albums aren't necessarily classics, Brown has continuously hit us with single after single and hit after hit.


-The man who debuted in the 90's is still going strong with music. His most recent album was a true R&B album and his previous work with Tank and Ginuwine in the TGT group definitely was R&B at its more pure form. While he's never been the highest seller, he's always been consistent and a major name in the game.


-Black Messiah. 15 years after the release of his classic second album Voodoo, D returned and put out a near classic album to further his flawless yet small discography. Just that one album has been powerful enough to bring him back into the lexicon and his Prince tribute performance was also heartfelt and amazing. Here's hoping he doesn't make us wait 15 years for the next album.


-Truthfully, Ciara took a hit to her career as the decade progressed, but she still makes decent music. Her last album was a bit middle of the road, and though she's been in the middle of ongoing drama with her ex Future, her music hasn't been winning as often. However, I'm sure her relationship with Russell Wilson and issues with Future will spark some interesting music coming up...... right????

Rising Stars 
-The Rising Stars are already stars in their own right and some have been around for a while, but just haven't been able to get over to that NEXT level. They're either right there or very close to it, but just haven't yet. It could be because they're newer, or just haven't crossed over yet completely, but they're still successful regardless. Who fits this criteria? Let's take a look.

*Jazmine Sullivan

-Her voice is amazing, her soulful style is flawless in some way, but she hasn't cracked through that glass ceiling to become a star. She has experienced a good amount of success and I expect her to continue to do so. She's truly R&B, with relatable topics for some, and her voice once again hits you in the soul.


-It's odd that at one point, Omarion would be on the list as a big name. However, his stature hasn't grown since his B2K days, and while he's released some interesting projects, he hasn't managed to make enough big waves over the years to sustain. Make no mistake about it however, he's managed to put out a few decent hit songs and a solid album release. Still, one wonders if O has what it takes to make a true R&B classic. The same can be said for many of these rising stars.


-This man is about one hit album away from being a big name in R&B. He's knocking on the door, and while his brand of music isn't necessarily the greatest to me, he's definitely growing as an artist and his stature is rising. He's come a long way since his "Birthday Sex" introduction.


-I think she's on this list more so for her looks than the actual music. While she's got decent music, it teeters right into that R&B pop lane, that in some way, is an issue with the genre. She has a nice singing voice however, and has potential to be more than what her first few songs and project have shown.

*Bryson Tiller

-Honestly, I've yet to get the hype of this dude. I like the single "Don't" and the "Exchange" song is cool, but he might represent a small issue with R&B today: too much genre crossing. His album is TrapSoul, which takes trap esque drums and puts them with his simplified vocal singing and boom.... you've got hits on your hands. His music isn't bad. It isn't special either. I think that's the issue with the genre. Too many safe artists, with meme caption lyrics and genre mixing and Bryson is the model of that, thus why he's become popular.

*Tory Lanez

-Though he has a hit with "Say It", Tory walks the line between singer and rapper, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, it just isn't executed as well as it should be. He's similar to Bryson in some way, but yet they're polar opposites. Originality isn't the key in R&B it seems now, and Tory just stays in his lane. He wins with his formula, but once again, it's a bit safe for this current music climate.

*Jhene Aiko

-I've never gotten the hype of her music. I get the hype of her looks, as she's a beautiful woman, but musically, she doesn't stand out to me. However, many of her fans would disagree. They relate to her form of emotional complexity art, and I feel like every man has heard his woman say "I don't need you, I don't need you", or play that song at loud volumes when they're arguing. Jhene is good for those type of songs, and while not memorable to me, her fanbase feel her brand of eccentricity is ideal and captivating.

*Janelle Monae

-She's eclectic. Eccentric. She's a bit odd in some way, but regardless, she's dope. Her music embodies funk, soul, and style like we haven't seen in quite some time. Her albums are solid through her whole career and she takes risks that the average artist doesn't. Definitely a viable artist for the genre.

*K. Michelle

-Tapping into that Mary J., Keyshia Cole hoodrat scorned fanbase, she's made a name for herself, usually for the wrong reasons. Not too familiar with her music, aside from a song or two I heard in the car, but she's garnered a fanbase that seems slightly loyal. That counts for something.


-Aside from her PND and Kyrie scandal, I know very little about this attractive chick, besides a mixtape that garnered some acclaim and a video with Chance The Rapper. Doesn't seem to have longevity, but could shock us all.

*August Alsina

-He's fallen off some, but he still maintains a slightly high profile as far as music goes. He came into the game and captivated the audience, mainly women, but had a slight street appeal. His voice and music feel like R&B, but it lacks a bit of soul and rawness. It's tailored to women one moment, the streets the next. While this works at times, it also misses the mark a bit.


-While personally, I'm not too familiar with her music (I've listened in passing), I know she's making waves and seems to be popular. The TDE songstress has a very nice voice and her EPs released during the decade have some solid music on it. She's got potential to become a big player in the genre.


-I honestly am not sold on this dude, but he has a cult like following. Grouped into this circle of oddly emotional yet trap sensible/dark R&B music with The Weeknd and Bryson, he has garnered some acclaim and a fanbase. He made headlines for a few of the wrong reasons this year, but his work on Drake's Views album was solid. It remains to be seen what be has to offer next.

*BJ The Chicago Kid

-This guy is amazing. His Pineapple Now and Later mixtape was solid, and his recent album is one of my favorites of 2016 so far. His voice sounds full of pain yet soul and optimism, and his songs and features are always top notch. He could become a big star if given the right promotion.

*Frank Ocean

-The crazy part is, Frank would likely be on the Big Names list if he actually released another project. He's been inactive for too long, and though I think his music is a bit overrated, there's no denying that Channel Orange and Nostalgia Ultra are solid projects. He brings a bit of genuine energy to his music that drew people in, and has them waiting for the next project feverishly. Only time will tell.

*The Internet

-While not 100% R&B, this descendant of Odd Future, is the best thing going in music. With a group of talented early 20 somethings who can play instruments and sing their ass off, the group has been shining this entire decade. Their biggest moment to shine came with their truly amazing album Ego Death, a 2015 favorite of mine, and possibly the best album that year honestly.

*Mack Wilds 

-The actor turned rapper/singer. I feel like that narrative is ran into the ground in some way. However, Mack Wilds jumped on the scene with a bit of NY flare and his music was actually pretty good. It wasn't the best by any stretch, but it was definitely enjoyable and it earns his a spot. Who knows what he has in store next?

Slept On Artists
-In many ways, the Slept On Artists are keeping R&B alive. With music full of soul, emotional, and most of all, love, these artists bring us true to life R&B in its most purest form. For all the fans who say R&B is dead, check some of these artists and their projects from the decade out and see that R&B is alive and well.

*Lianne La Havas

-Some people have said she's more alternative and contemporary than R&B, but there's so much soul in Lianne's music that she takes the cake as my personal favorite R&B female of the decade. From the moment I've heard her music, I was instantly drawn to it, and her albums are mostly flawless. Her raw emotion in her music, her sadness, her voice, it all flows together and you feel it. For those unfamiliar, check out songs "Wonderful" and "Lost and Found", both soul stirring classics.

*Foreign Exchange

-Phonte Coleman is one of the best MCs I've ever heard rap. He's also a versatile artist, writer, and a talented singer. Nicolay is a hell of a producer. Together, they make up The Foreign Exchange, a smooth laid back group that provides R&B music with a more mature touch. Though I personally think their best albums came from the mid to late 2000s, they still have released some good music this decade, with Authenticity being their best of the 2010s.

*Mayer Hawthorne/Tuxedo

-Mayer is a beast. He's in the Robin Thicke wave of smooth sounds, but fits more so with the funk and soul sound of artists in the past. Once you get beyond the fact that this is a white dude making soulful music, the projects he released are amazing. His Tuxedo album with Jake One is top notch and one of the best releases in 2015 also.

*Eric Roberson

-Grammy nominated yet Stull underrated, he's the embodiment of smooth and laid back music. While I'm not the biggest fan of Eric personally, I recognize what he's brought to the table and his music is solid. He needs more exposure and attention.


-In all honesty, I couldn't put Bilal in the big names or rising stars, because he's essentially just the most underrated R&B artist of our time. He's amazing with a voice that commands attention, lyrical eccentricity, and creativity beyond the norm. His albums and appearances this decade have only seemed to increase his greatness and fanfare.

*Luke James

-This is a guy who I am surprised didn't blow up when he first dropped. Maybe it was lack of proper handling on the part of his label, but his music was perfect for the R&B scene at the time and what was needed. "I Want You" and "Make Love to Me" are both amazing songs. A shame he hasn't broke through yet, but there's always time.

*Antoine Dunn

-I wanted more for Antoine. I'll be honest. I wish he would have gotten more attention and acclaim. He deserves it. When I first heard his post breakup song "Miss My Love", at the time, it stuck with me. I still love the song and his voice reeks of the church and the pain behind it is soulful. I really want to see this guy win, he's a talented artist.

*Ro James

-I recently became familiar with this guy and I respect his music. His song "Permission" is dope, and his music prior to that is also great to listen to. He's got potential ahead if he can finally have that solid breakthrough.

*Raheem Devaughn

-The DC crooner is as consistent as they come. He rarely drops a bad song or project, has maintained his fanbase for the most part and keeps supplying music. What more could you ask for in R&B?

*Stacy Barthe

-This songstress has an alluring voice and I first heard her personally on John Legend's album in 2013. I've looked more into her music and she's a solid artist and one that deserves more attention.

*Eric Benet

-This is the man. Eric Benet in the 2010s dropped a classic and a near classic, and doesn't get the credit he deserves. Lost In Time is a timeless album, one that stands as a top 5 2010s R&B release for me, and The One is another great album to follow up.  Whatever Benet decides to drop, you can be sure I'm listening.


-The most slept on female artist I've heard this decade. She worked a lot with Foreign Exchange and Darien Brockington, but she's got a career of her own as well and has an absolutely beautiful voice. Give this lady a listen and you won't be disappointed.


-She fits more into the mood of R&B than anything else, but this singer is another solid one, who is slept on criminally. Beautiful voice and eclectic style, her music is raw and her talent doesn't seem to know an end.

Is R&B dead? It depends on who you ask. I'd like to think that while R&B is where it was in the 90's or the 80's for that matter, that it is still viable. There are many artists who aren't on this particular article like a Kelly Rowland, Anthony Hamilton, Tank, etc who keep R&B booming, as well as newer hybrid artists like Ty Dolla Sign. Though not on rhe list, all have a solid impact. The genre and what's popular can change with generations, but even the newer generation still has an appreciation for classic R&B. There has to be a balance of these new seemingly Drake inspired hybrid R&B artists and traditional classic R&B artists. I think this list and this article gives you enough choices to listen to and enjoy for that good R&B. If you like the newer stuff, there's that here. If you like the hybrid stuff, there's that as well. If you like classic R&B or just smooth R&B, that's here as well. So is R&B dead? No, it just lives in variation. Perhaps that's how the genre should be?



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