Best R&B Albums of 2021: Critics’ Picks

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Throughout 2021, R&B listeners were treated to various sounds, including classic and modern R&B/Soul, alternative/Progressive, and rap, jazz, funk, and Afrobeats. From established stars to hopeful rookies to important OGs, the artists who made their mark on the year were as diverse as the musicians who did.

We have compiled a list of the best R&B albums of 2021.

Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, ‘Jam & Lewis: Volume One

Jam & Lewis enlisted the help of their former collaborators to create a melodic, well-produced set that conjures both nostalgia and a modern R&B/soul feeling. In their 40-year history, this is their first collaborative album. Besides its two Adult R&B Songs singles, “He Doesn’t Know Nothin’ Bout It” with Babyface and “Somewhat Loved” with Mariah Carey, Jam & Lewis is filled with captivating performances by Mary J. Blige, Usher, and others. This track proves without a doubt that this legendary producing duo is still capable of crafting a great track.

Jorja Smith, ‘Be Right Back’

Her fans have been clamoring for more music from Jorja Smith for several years after her debut album, 2018’s Lost & Found, became a critical and commercial success. The band was preparing to release their next full-length album when Smith’s Be Right Back EP came out. On tracks like “Home,” the project demonstrates the project’s evolving soundscape as a whole as she sings over more creative song structures. Smith’s silky vocals carry the album’s eight tracks and leave fans hungry for more.

Charlotte Day Wilson, ‘ALPHA’

Charlotte Day Wilson, named June’s R&B/Hip Hop Rookie of the Month by Billboard, followed up the award with ALPHA, an 11-track album that serves as her debut full-length. On songs such as “Keep Moving,” which has an acoustic guitar and a soaring chorus, and “Mountains,” which uses acoustic guitar, the singer’s deep, sensual and emotion-bursting vocals stand out.

Masego, ‘Studying Abroad: Extended Stay’

Masego’s progressive style of R&B completely captivates listeners with its progressive nature, from the tune “Bye Felicia” that features an interpolation of 112’s “Anywhere” to the rhythmic jam “Mystery Lady,” featuring Don Toliver. In his eight-song lyrical project, which features guests Shenseea and Sheléa, among others, Masego explores his love life while addressing his fear of being exposed. Afrobeats and jazz are interwoven throughout Studying Abroad: Extended Stay, creating an ideal atmosphere for a leisurely drive through the countryside.

Silk Sonic, ‘An Evening with Silk Sonic’

The release of their debut album cemented Bruno Mars and Anderson. Paak is the year’s most swoon-worthy dynamic couple. Mars’ buttery-smooth tenor vocals glide over the top of Silk Sonic’s genre-defying style, somewhere between a jam session and a sophisticated gentleman’s club. He uses period-appropriate instrumentation on his songs to reproduce the sounds of yesteryear’s R&B and soul. Silk Sonic opens the door for creating a new classic under Bootsy Collins’ tutelage.

Lucky Daye, ‘Table for Two’

This silky-smooth E.P. by R&B singer Lucky Daye celebrates women and brings R&B back to its roots. Working with little equipment, the New Orleans-born singer collaborated with some of his female R&B peers – such as Yebba, Ari Lennox, and Joyce Wrice – to create soulful duets that explored love’s highs and lows from both male and female perspectives. There are several other thought-provoking moments, including “How Much Can a Heart Take,” “On Reading,” which features Tiana Major9, and Lennox’s “Access Denied.”

H.E.R., ‘Back of My Mind’

Her vocal and instrumental skills are evident in this recording, making it enjoyable. Her 21-track debut album – which is nominated for album of the year and best R&B album in the 2022 Grammy Awards – is nominated for album of the year and best R&B album in the 2022 Grammy Awards. In songs like “Closer to Me” and “Damage,” among others, the opener “We Made It” explores the sadness and hopefulness that comes with love. Ty Dolla $ign, Cordae, and Lil Baby contribute to the album’s hip-hop-infused R&B ambiance, amplified by their appearances.


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