Is R&B primed to have a massive year in 2020? While everyone is discussing what’s next in rap, we shouldn’t forget that R&B has been steadily rising throughout the years as well. Nielsen’s 2019 year-end report showed another increase in the total volume of music consumption in both rap and R&B, but beyond data and statistics, there’s a lot to be excited about this year. We’re just a month into 2020, but artists like SZA, the Weeknd, PARTYNEXTDOOR, and Alicia Keys seem to be prepping for solo album releases. And it’s possible we could see a return of superstars like Rihanna and Frank Ocean, while a burgeoning class of newcomers are looking to leave their own mark.
Anything can happen in music this year, but the Complex Music staff broke down why R&B could have a big 2020.
Commercial and critical success is trending upwards
According to a 2018 year-end-report published on music consumption data site BuzzAngle, which provides data on R&B separate from rap, the genre’s song consumption rates increased by 19.7 percent between 2016 and 2017. According to Rolling Stone, R&B accounted for 10.6 percent of all album consumption in 2018, which increased from 8.7 percent the year before. The following year, albums like Over It, the critically-acclaimed project from Summer Walker, broke streaming records. In its debut week, Over It earned 154.7 million streams, earning the distinction as the largest streaming week for an R&B album by a female artist in over three years. The record was originally set by Beyonce’s Lemonade in 2016 with 115.2 million streams.
There has been an uptick in critical success, too. H.E.R.'s self-titled LP and Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer earned nominations for Album of the Year at the 2019 Grammys, making it the first time two R&B albums made it into that category since Usher and Alicia Keys in 2005. The Recording Academy has continued to show love to R&B albums this year, nominating H.E.R and Lizzo in the Album of the Year category (although she is often grouped with pop stars, Lizzo’s album, Cuz I Love You, is considered by the Academy to be an R&B project that incorporates hip-hop, pop, funk, and soul). —Jessica McKinney
The 2020 R&B class is booming
There is an exciting crop of new artists who are about to bring new energy to R&B. Similar to what we did for rappers, we’ll take a moment here to highlight some emerging R&B artists that should be on your radar as well. Che Ecru, whose song “Before I Die” was sampled in Chris Brown and Drake’s “No Guidance,” has been proving that Bryson Tiller isn’t the only worthwhile vocalist hailing from Kentucky. Baby Rose whose has been using pensive mixtapes to prove why her invitation to the Dreamville sessions was mandatory. Lucky Daye has been thriving as the polar opposite of fellow New Orleans star NBA YoungBoy with beautiful records like “Roll Sum Mo.” Brent Faiyaz, who stole the show on “Crew” and impressed with Sonder Son, is continuing his momentum by dropping new music. And Kaash Paige will resume showing the world that she’s found a lane by penning low-riding hits like “64.” The list could go on, but trust us, there is a powerful rookie class of R&B artists coming in 2020. —Kemet High
R&B’s sound is expanding
R&B no longer has just one distinct sound, and as it evolves, all kinds of new fans are being drawn to the genre. In the mid-2010s, projects like SZA’s Z, Tory Lanez’ Chixtape III, PARTYNEXTDOOR’s P2, Jhene Aiko’s Souled Out, and Bryson Tiller’s TRAPSOUL helped set the tone for new artists who prioritized an album’s feelings over its harmonies. Traditional R&B no longer stood on its own, as a number of sub-genres popped up that each catered to different audiences. Speeding things back up to 2020, emerging artists have continued to follow those unconventional footsteps, and as a result, R&B has more flavors now than it ever has before. Because of R&B’s broader reach, the genre has grown tremendously in terms of popularity, which is also due to pop artists like Normani, Justin Beiber, Khalid, and Ariana Grande pushing the sound into the mainstream. There’s no longer a black and white blueprint for how to make R&B music. Instead, the color palette has diversified, pushing the genre’s reach to new heights. —Kemet High
Mid-tier artists are bringing new energy to the genre
Back in December of 2018, Jacquees made a daring statement by calling himself the “king of R&B.” That sounds crazy at first, for sure, until you consider that with so many shifts in sound over the years, the title now belongs to no one. His sentiments, likely provoked by “B.E.D.” and “You” going platinum in the years before, sparked a well-needed conversation. With former chart-runners like Trey Songz and Chris Brown loosening their grip on the throne, a whole new crop of up-and-comers had room to stake their claim as new stars. Mid-tier artists like SZA, Ty Dolla $ign, Kehlani, and PARTYNEXTDOOR have all announced new projects dropping in 2020. Meanwhile, SiR, Ari Lennox, and Summer Walker will continue to capitalize off of the momentum from gems like Chasing Summer, Shea Butter, Baby, and Over It. And quiet faces like dvsn and 6lack will also be dropping new albums, ready to brawl for the throne. All this new energy has brought new levels of competition to the genre, which has only helped it to grow. —Kemet High
Heavyweights are expected to make a comeback
We’ve seen a growing interest in R&B thanks to emerging artists and everything else highlighted on this list, but some of the genre’s biggest stars have been noticeably missing from the conversation. Rihanna taunted her fans with fashion and beauty releases while largely dodging questions regarding the whereabouts of her next album (after previously saying it would arrive in 2019). Frank Ocean dropped a series of singles last year, but has yet to mention an official album release date. Beyoncé released the compilation soundtrack, The Lion King: The Gift, but the Hive has been buzzing for a new solo album. And artists like Usher, Trey Songz, and Brandy have been missing, aside from a few guest appearances here and there. While their absences have made room for rising stars like Kehlani, SZA, Ari Lennox, and Jacquees to strive for R&B royalty, this could be the year we see a lot of our favorite heavy-hitters making a comeback. With middle-tier artists becoming superstars at the same time that some of R&B’s biggest acts are about to return, it looks like 2020 is about to be a huge year for the genre. —Jessica McKinney