The Year In R&B: 2016

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal
There are some years that surpass expectations musically depending on your viewpoint. 2016 was a year that would surprise me with the level of consistency in the music, R&B more so than hip hop. With albums from Beyonce, Rihanna, Frank Ocean, Anderson Paak, BJ The Chicago Kid, Usher, Gallant, Tank, John Legend, Alicia Keys, Maxwell, Joe, Amerie, Bruno Mars, Eric Benet, Solange and many more releasing solid albums, 2016 was a year for the ages in music. There are so many albums from the year that we enjoyed that today, we felt what better way to close out our year in R&B series than to look at last year and some of the monumental releases that came. Let's get into it.

2016 belonged to the Knowles family in a lot of ways. But, it wasn't just about Beyonce and Solange.

Beyonce got pop R&B going again with a masterful album that should've won album of the year at the Grammys. Then, you had Solange putting out an album that surpassed Lemonade in terms of social relevance. Additionally, both albums were equal parts rage against the machine and sing-a-long friendly (who hasn't tried to sing along with "Cranes in the Sky" or tell someone to "call Becky with the good hair?"), making them classics. Yeah, that word gets thrown around a lot, but Lemonade and A Seat at the Table were classics.

On top of the Knowles explosion, we got new work from The Weeknd and Rihanna. Now, neither album really stayed in the R&B genre. The Weeknd went to synth-pop and electronica heaven with his Daft Punk-aided Starboy project while Rihanna played with dancehall even more than before with songs such as "Work." Additionally, both tracks had good ol' fashioned ballads. The Weeknd had "Die For You," which felt like it should've been in another 50 Shades movie, as it felt like a happier sequel to "Earned It." Meanwhile, Rihanna came strong with "Love on the Brain," an old-school song that showcased what many people already knew about her: Rihanna can "sang" just as well as your typical "sangers".

Additionally, do we really need to talk about the fact that Malibu from Anderson .Paak was another classic in the making? No? Didn't think so. And if you need persuasion on the topic, just go back and listen to it. You can't tell me he didn't put everything he needed and wanted into that project.

Plus, we had stuff from the likes of Usher, Frank Ocean, and Drake (because why not count Drake as full-fledged sing-rappy R&B at this point?). All in all, 2016 had a lot of hits with very few misses. I'm sure I'm missing some great projects, but I focused on the biggies for a reason.

R&B in 2016 had a lot of amazing music to come out. Rihanna had making hit after hit from her album "Anti", Childish Gambino gave us "Awaken, My Love", Solange gave us "A Seat At The Table", Amerie (now known as Ameriie) gave us an EP, Frank Ocean dropped "Blonde", and Craig David, JoJo, K. Michelle, Joe, Maxwell, Fantasia and all dropped albums on the year.

Beyonce yet again took another risk musically, straying away from her usual sound with another visual album "Lemonade". She was always changing the game, but this time it was compiled as a short film on HBO. Bey displayed vulnerability on "Prey You Catch Me", anger on "Hold Up" & "Dont Hurt Yourself", carelessness on "Sorry", sadness on "Sandcastles", along with redemption/happiness on "All Night". She did this through not only song but with spoken word between each track as a bridge to the next visual. This body of work had several musical elements like reggae, rock, country, R&B & hip hop. This album caused so much controversy, not so much with the lyrics, but the visuals had a lot of white people triggered by her use of Black Panther outfits, afros, black fists and middle fingers in the air. There were so many directions this album went in, but overall it is a nice body of work.

Alicia Keys came off a 4 year hiatus makeup-less rockin a luscious afro with a new album "HERE". By her image, I knew this would be a different direction for her. Keys goes in with deep storytelling on tracks like "The Gospel", "She Don't Really Care/1 Luv", "Pawn It All" & "Kill Your Mama". She also gives us a look into her personal life on "Blended Family" feat. ASAP Rocky & "Work On It". She spoke on believing in yourself, loving yourself and others on "Girl Cant Be Herself" and "Holy War". She often uses a rapper's cadence throughout the album on boom bap hip hop instrumentals and sounds nice doing it. There are several uplifting interludes of either spoken word or candid conversations including one from the GOAT Nas.

Usher dropped his 10th album "Hard ll Love". This was short of his pop formula that he'd been infusing lately. This was more R&B with a little edge of hip hop and some old school throwbacks. The throwbacks being on tracks like "Bump" sampling Uncle Luke's "Don't Stop" and Ready For The World's "Let Me Love You Down" on "Let Me". I really enjoyed many tracks on here a few being "Missing U", "Make U A Believer" & "Rivals" featuring Future.

Mya released "Smoove Jones" an R&B/hip-hop/pop album with catchy hooks over infections mid-tempo trap beats like "Hold On", "Team You" and "Spoil Me". She laid her soft melodic vocals on some slow production for the slow jam lovers on the songs "One Man Woman", "Welcome To My World" and "Phya".

Tank gave us "Sex, Love & Pain ll". This album was full of dope melodic trap ballads like "Fuckin Wit Me", "You Don't Know" feat. Wale and "She Wit The Shit" feat. Rich Homie Quan. He gave us slow ballads also in "Better For You" & "Relationship Goals". Tank is great at balancing his writing and vocal range over new age production without sounding out of place or trying too hard.

Other tracks I enjoyed from this year:
Beyonce- Love Drought
Alicia Keys- More Than We Know
Ameriie & Fabolous- Everytime
Usher- Downtime
Childish Gambino- Redbone
Mya- Coolin
Miguel- Cadillac
Christina Aguilera- Telepathy
Tank- Already In Love
Solange - Cranes In The Sky
John Legend- Love Me Now
Michael Kiwanuka- Black Man In A White World

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal
-The underground music scene got a boost from some of the albums released this year as well, as we saw Dave Hollister make a comeback, Ro James hit hard, Gallant got some notoriety, Anthony David release a nice project, and of course Eric Benet came with a solid project as expected. In addition to that, the album that most surprised me came from Bruno Mars with his solid release "24K Magic", which exceeded my expectations as well. Bruno took the sound of the 80s and early 90s and gave it a new spin, making his album one to remember.

Women killed it this year as well, as Fantasia and Mya came with solid releases, and the Knowles sisters really owned the mainstream. Solange had a no. 1 album with her Neo-Soul tinged "A Seat At The Table", and of course Beyonce killed it with the Lemonade album. Though Beyonce had the most impact musically, Solange had the better album and one of the best album of the entire year. Alicia Keys released a project that got slept on a bit, but it did feature some solid tracks on it as well. The women held it down as always in the genre.

My two favorite releases on the year however comes from BJ The Chicago Kid and Maxwell. These two Neo-Soul singers came with different albums, but both kept their unique sound in tact. Tracks like "Crazy", "Turnin Me Up", and "The Resume" made BJ's album so great, and "Lake By The Ocean" and "1990X" made Maxwell's album special. Overall, 2016 was a really good year for R&B and music in general, and the artists who made that possible held it down.



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