Favorite 2018 R&B Album Playlist
Last year, the hip-hop world delivered some pretty “okay” albums to say the least, but it’s often overlooked sibling, R&B, came out the gate with several heavy hitters. While Jacquees ruffled some feathers with his end of the year declaration that he is the “King of R&B” — which is far from the truth — there were some artists who came a lot closer to donning that title in 2018. Several artists released albums in 2018 that not only had hit songs, but also served as breakout records (like Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up”). While these albums are just a few of my top picks, they in no way speak for the whole breadth of R&B music that came out last year. So, if you loved Mariah’s album and I didn’t… it’s all good. I’m not judging you.
In no particular order, check out this list of albums with a favorite track attached.
This 21-year-old multitalented singer and musician had a breakout album in 2017 that featured a song with Daniel Cesar called “Best Part,” but that wasn’t the beginning of her musical journey. The artist, who has been secretly moving her way up the musical ladder since she was 16 years old, released two EPs in 2018 titled I Used to Know Her: The Prelude and I Used to Know Her: Part 2.
“Boo’d Up” could have been enough to put Ella Mai on the top spot of anyone’s R&B album list last year, but it was songs like “Trip” and “Naked” that helped me connect on a deeper level to her self-titled album. The artist who was discovered by DJ Mustard via Instagram, who probably ran across your social media before she became famous enough for other artists like Jacquees to get in trouble for remixing her songs (Is this your King? *insert Killmonger, Black Panther meme*).
Masego! This is probably how everyone I know sounds when they say his name. While he’s not super well-known on the mainstream level like some of the other artists on this list, he’s a singer who has a strong following. His album titled Lady Lady featured “Tadow,” the song that had everyone like “who is this?” when they first heard it on the radio. Other songs, like “Silk,” “Queen Tings” (featuring Tiffany Gouché) and “Old Age,” proved this was one of those albums where you don’t skip a song.
English born singer, Jorja Smith, first earned our attention with the song “On My Mind,” but it was the album titled Lost & Found that allowed us to connect with her angelic voice. The album gives underground neo soul vibes even though it earned a good amount of mainstream buzz in 2018. Songs like “On Your Own” remind us that the R&B sound doesn’t have to be traditional, or fit into a specific box.
Teyana Taylor’s second studio album, K.T.S.E. (Keep That Same Energy), is worthy enough for Billboard to call it one of the best R&B albums released last year. The album itself was highly-anticipated, as its been years since her last project, VII — and while many of her fans were nostalgic for a similar sound, this one held its own. It’s bluesy, sexy, and reflective, and songs like “Gonna Love Me” show growth in her musical capabilities.
Nao fans have been waiting since 2016, when For All We Know came out, for a new album from the artist who blends soul, R&B, and funk effortlessly together. The song “Another Lifetime” grabbed fans by their entire soul, with lyrics that made us want to say sorry to all our exes (maybe). The album itself is an elevation from her previous work. Could 2019 be her year?
The openly Queer singer’s third studio album was very timely for 2018 because it spoke to major themes, such as women’s empowerment, gender fluidity, and confidence. “PYNK” and “I Like That” made the Grammy-nominated album feel sexy and relatable. It wasn’t your typical R&B album either, but it felt like an ode to Prince and a F**k you to the system.
Alternative R&B coupled with some electronic trance vibes — that’s Kelela Mizanekristos or Kelela for short. She’s an up-and-coming singer with Ethiopian roots who released her debut studio album, Take Me Apart, last year. Her remix project titled Take Me a_Part, the Remixes showcases Haitian-Canadian DJ Kaytranada, along with other newcomers.
“Black” or “Six Lack,” or however you want to pronounce the name of Atlanta rapper who was born Ricardo Valdez Valentine (known as 6lack). I’m personally new to his music, and to be fair I haven’t had a chance to truly fall in love with his work, but his latest album titled East Atlanta Love Letter delivers true trap soul feels with major features — including Future, J. Cole, Offset and Khalid. Make sure to listen to his album, East Atlanta Love Letter, and his track, “Pretty Little Fears.”
So, which R&B artist did you vibe out to in 2018?
— Charmaine Griffin