A List of Today’s Best Alternative R&B Artists
Alternative R&B is a sub-genre spearheaded by artists like Erykah Badu, D’Angelo and Frank Ocean, whose experiments pushed R&B into new directions. Inherently restless and often hard to pin down, alternative R&B marks a stylistic shift that you know when you hear it. It’s music that can’t be put in a box, more experimental than it’s traditional R&B counterparts.
Who Are The Best Up-And-Coming Alternative R&B Artists Right Now?
For me, alternative R&B is a distillation of the best parts of what I like about R&B as a genre. In the interest of expanding your musical horizons, here’s a rundown of some of today’s best-kept secrets in the field of alternative R&B. While many remain underground and under the radar, I think they’re poised for big things in the near future.
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April + Vista
April + VISTA is a Washington D.C-based duo that toggles between wildly disparate worlds: April George’s classically trained violin and piano skills are met head-on with mattVISTA’s production chops, creating lush soundscapes that fuse string arrangements with dense textures and captivating storytelling. Their 2021 album, Pit of Dreams, was one of my favorites of the year, a forward-thinking alternative R&B album full of swelling sounds and intricate arrangements fused with lingering elements of alt-rock, soul and classical, lending itself to a genre-bending sound that is at once nostalgic and new.
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The title of Sam Houston’s debut album under his BLK Odyssy moniker is a nod to the influence that old soul has had on his music. BLK VINTAGE taps into a potent combination of politically-charged anthems, party-ready funk jams, and top-down, head-bobbing beats that’s an incredibly impactful blend. From the opening track to the last, Houston bursts into the world with thoughtful, vulnerable messages, singing with a sultry tone over production that ripples with jazz, soul, funk and gospel inspiration.
Washington D.C. native dreamcastmoe is quickly becoming one of the DMV’s most exciting up-and-coming artists, using his unique falsetto to craft spacey, electronic-inflected R&B music with enough bounce for weekend warehouse raves. His sound is filled to the brim with lush vocals underpinned by music that combines boogie bass lines, upbeat rhythms and dreamy, lo-fi synth sounds. His debut album, Sound Is Like Water, features an incredible quartet of tracks which drift in and out of soul, R&B, and electronica.
Related Reads: dreamcastmoe – After All This Album Review
Ibeyi is an Afro-French-Cuban musical duo consisting of twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz. Their music draws on African cultural influences, fusing elements of Yoruba, French, and Afro-Cuban music with jazz, beats, and samples from traditional instruments. Ibeyi’s 2022 album, Spell 31, has a subtle, visceral and compelling kind of power that perfectly captures their experimental and expressive style of alternative R&B. A fusion of gospel, traditional rhythms, neo soul, deep resonant bass, and electronic syntheses, it’s musically refined and conveyed with stunning clarity that can only be achieved from the formidable vocal talents of the twins, who are at the height of their musical craft.
Related Reads: Ibeyi – Spell 31 Album Review
Dallas-based artist MATTIE’s music is a bass-heavy, nocturnal slice of contemporary lo-fi that entrances and then unsettles. Hand picked from the darker side of a moonlit Dallas night, MATTIE’s debut EP, Jupiter’s Purse, is a fearless and uncompromising exercise in sonic expression. Featuring trip-hop textures and thick, sludgy beats supplied by Dallas producer Black Taffy, MATTIE’s voice cuts through the darkness with an assured and beguiling note.
Beloved in Toronto’s alternative R&B scene for her commitment to experimentation, Maylee Todd is not your average singer-songwriter. She’s a musician and technophile who challenges audiences as she pushes boundaries creatively and lyrically. Her 2022 album, Maloo, is her most unbound work yet — a futuristic virtual reality concept album that explores the mental health implications of our technologically-saturated existence.
Related Reads: Maylee Todd – Maloo Album Review
MMYYKK (pronounced “Mike”) is a man of many sounds. He blends his love for experimentation into music that explores the intersectionality of R&B and funk as well as lines that are straight out of the crooning playbook. His music is uniquely eclectic and forward-thinking, syncing analog synthesis with neck-breaking rhythms amalgamated with sonic alchemy. MMYYKK’s musical explorations center on love, humanity, healing and higher consciousness. Think Prince meets Erykah Badu meets Roy Ayers, and you’re getting close to pinning down the wild style of MMYYKK.
PSA, the debut album of Houston-based singer-songwriter Peyton, is a musical tribute to both her Texan roots and her grandmother—the Grammy Award-nominated gospel composer Theola Booker. The album blends Peyton’s love for pop music with the sounds of modern R&B, hip-hop and gospel. Her music, built around layered drum beats and synths, is a cleverly constructed, potent blend that’s poised to appeal to both underground and wider audiences.
Multi-instrumentalist and singer Sudan Archives mixes beats with violin and experimental electronic sounds to create a fascinating hybrid of genres. She draws inspiration from Sudanese fiddlers (she taught herself to play the violin), and her music combines elements of R&B, experimental electronic music, and beat-making. Since leaving her hometown of Cincinnati for the bright lights of Los Angeles, Sudan Archives has released some striking EPs and two full-length albums (including 2022’s highly lauded Natural Brown Prom Queen) alongside creative visuals which have helped her stand out in an already busy music scene.
Spanning the musical stylings of soul singer Sade, and the Afrofuturist stylings of jazz bandleader Sun Ra, Wayne Snow bridges a bright future between contemporary music and his Nigerian roots. His music is real, honest and irresistibly interesting. Wayne Snow’s musical vision is a striking one; his musical heritage and upbringing in Nigeria listening to artists like King Sunny Ade, Marvin Gaye, and Fela Kuti shines through, creating a one-of-a-kind brand of alternative R&B infused with afrofuturism. Wayne Snow’s debut album, Figurine, melds and bends beats with a sense of experimentalism and wonder, brimming with lush, thematic compositions boundlessly enriched by Snow’s intercontinental influence.
Related Reads: Wayne Snow – Figurine Album Review