UK R&B Acts To Watch In 2022
Once again, for those at the back: UK R&B is NOT dead. It’s still alive, still thriving, and continues to grow year on year, with promising new artists popping.
Image via Complex Original/Artwork by Willkay
When this annual list began in 2016, initially as a one-off piece, it couldn’t have been foreseen just how much more growth the British R&B scene would have over the years to come. But with acts like Jorja Smith, Cleo Sol, Sinead Harnett, Ella Mai, NAO, Mahalia and Tiana Major9 flying the flag, the UK has since become a hotspot in the global R&B sphere.
The issue has never been about talent, but more so visibility. The Brit Awards recently announced four new fan-voted categories, including Best Pop/R&B Act, which was understandably met with criticism from the UK Black music scene. “Putting pop and R&B in the same category is really nuts to me and proves that the powers that be once again just do not get it,” Mahalia shared on Twitter upon hearing the additional categories. “I love the Brits. I have since I was a kid. But as an R&B singer/songwriter, this feels completely unprogressive to the whole UK R&B scene.” Platinum-selling pop singer Dua Lipa took home the award.
It would have been great if R&B was respected as its own entity at The Brits instead of merely being an afterthought but, fortunately—despite the continued challenges the genre faces with being fairly represented across the media—the UK R&B movement has continued to grow at a rapid rate with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Here are 14 R&B/soul acts to watch in 2022.
In the two years since dropping his debut single, “Squeezin’ Ya”, North London’s Nippa has been shaking the room for UK R&B. With co-signs from the likes of American super-producer Boi-1da and in-demand crooner Blxst—who had Nippa open his first show in London last year—Nippa’s early success is owed to his fresh and modern take on nostalgic sounds. Growing up listening to his mother’s ‘90s R&B collection and local grime MCs, he was freestyling raps and melodies from the age of 5, and has continued to incorporate influences of rap, grime and R&B—both past and present—into his music and visuals to create his own lane. Breakthrough single “Situation” went viral last year with a music video that recalled the early days of Channel U, while the track saw him sing-rap over a trap-R&B beat. Nippa’s melting pot of influences makes him an exciting addition to the British R&B scene, one with serious global potential.
A must-hear: “Situation”
“‘Situation’ was really just inspired by the environment that I’m around. It’s about asking your people if they’re down for you, but at the same time giving an insight to my environment and what goes on.”—Nippa
Tamera’s sweet, honey-dipped vocals impressed hit-making producer P2J (Beyoncé, Wizkid, Snoh Aalegra) enough for him to produce her whole debut project, last year’s Afrodite. The 5-track EP showed us how versatile Kent-born Tamera is as an artist, giving us everything from Afropop-tinged gems (“Wickedest”, “Good Love”) to sultry R&B grooves (“Strong For Me”, “New Hobby”). Tamera first rose to prominence almost a decade ago as a 16-year-old X Factor hopeful, making it all the way to the live shows and finishing in fifth place. Now a happily independent artist, with creative control to execute her sound and style the way she wants to, Tamera has everything in place to become the next big thing in R&B.
A must-hear: “Wickedest”
“I wanted to make something that sounded powerful, sensual and flirtatious. After a few conversations with P2J, J Warner and Ari, we got into making ‘Wickedest’. It started with the guitar lick that struck inspiration into all of us, and the vibes were just flowing from there.”
In the short space of 18 months, AMARIA BB has created a great deal of buzz in the scene with her seductive, dancehall-infused R&B and tom-boy swag. Raised in Hackney, East London, and born in sunny Jamaica, she unleashed her biggest track to date, “Slow Motion”, in May of last year. Instilled with the cocktail of dancehall and R&B that she’s become known for, it marked the birth of a star. Follow-up tracks “Cheaters” and “Fundz” featuring JA star Skillibeng proved she was far from a one-hit-wonder, both cuts brimming with yet more irresistible melodies, super-catchy hooks and magnetising vocals to whet appetites for her debut set, What’s Done In The Dark. Recently signed to Columbia Records and with new music incoming, 2022 looks set to be AMARIA BB’s biggest year yet.
A must-hear: “Slow Motion”
“‘Slow Motion’ was done in lockdown when the world was in a standstill. I felt seductive and inspired.”—AMARIA BB
[ K S R ]
Roosevelt Kazaula Sigsbert, better known as [ K S R ], is one of Manchester’s brightest young talents, one known to mix his love of dance music with floaty R&B vocals. [ K S R ] has released various tracks and projects since 2017 while building a name in 0161’s underground scene, and he rounded out 2021 with some of his best work to date courtesy of the Peace + Harmony EP. The mesmerising “Lily Apart” is a clear standout, as is “CGWY”, which sees him join forces with soul-rap duo and fellow Manny natives Children Of Zeus, for a reworking of their track “Get What’s Yours”. Occupying its own lane, the project reinforces what an exciting talent we have on our hands in [ K S R ]. We’re ready and waiting for his next move.
A must-hear: “Lily Apart”
“‘Lily Apart’ started off as two separate tracks, but we ended up merging them together with a beat switch. The song itself is about how a person thinks that they’re in love when, really, it’s just lust.”—[ K S R ]
Shaé Universe has been on the tip of everyone’s tongue for quite some time now, but the last twelve months have really picked up for her. Born in Nigeria and raised in London, her music stands out thanks to her deep, rich tone packed with personality, as can be heard on “You Lose”—one of her most popular releases to date. The track was part of the early R&Drill movement (R&B and drill) which Shaé singing and rapping—a testament to her versatility. Having gained traction in the scene with a string of singles and collabs over the last two years, Shaé is continuing her momentum in 2022 and is off to a great start with latest track “Pushin’” and a feature spot on Kojey Radical’s debut album, Reason To Smile. With her own debut project due to drop in the coming months, 2022 could prove to be her most impactful year yet.
A must-hear: “You Lose”
“‘You Lose’ is my most sentimental song to date. Usually, I write my songs upon reflection, but ‘You Lose’ was written whilst my emotions were still fresh, and I think that's why it's my most popular song. Heartfelt lyrics always hit the hardest.”—Shaé Universe
Born and raised in Hackney, East London, Kali Claire—whose polished sound is packed with angelic melodies—was raised on everything from The Beatles and jungle to R&B and hip-hop, which explains the range and musicality that comes through in her work. Alongside the smooth R&B cuts, such as “Temporary Feels” with JVCK JAMES, are acoustic soul tracks (“Wild”) and toe-tapping pop gems (“Real Man”), which have only widened her reach—but R&B remains her true core. As her catalogue of music continues to grow, Kali Claire will be one to watch over the next year, so tap in now.
A must-hear: “Temporary Feels”
“I wrote ‘Temporary Feels’ with Joey XL in 2019. When we were writing this, I had no idea that I’d want to release it until about a year later. JVCK JAMES is someone I’ve always wanted to collab with, so it was just waiting for the right song. ‘Temporary Feels’ is how I feel about life right now, where everything feels replaceable or easily disposable. Nothing seems to stick around longer than a few months—trends, fashion, songs, opinions, scandal.”—Kali Claire
Birmingham-born Reuben James has been steadily rising through the scene with his fusion of R&B, jazz, and neo-soul. His sound is an immersive one, drawing listeners in with interesting compositions that are often boosted by his willingness to work with a variety of different artists, such as jazz trumpeter Keyon Harrold, rapper Jay Prince and fellow Brit-R&B acts like Jaz Karis, Col3trane and Daley. As well as being one of the smoothest new crooners around, Reuben is also an accomplished songwriter (Little Mix, Disclosure, Sam Smith) and produces much of his own material too. Having toured the world as a pianist for pop megastar Sam Smith, it’s clear his level of musicianship is already at a high level. With a new project set to drop later this year, Reuben James is hoping to be next on your playlist.
A must-hear: “All The Things”
“‘All The Things’ was one of the final songs I wrote for my sophomore EP, Slow Down. Being from a jazz background and obsessed with harmony for this joint, I really wanted to go deep with the lyrics on the love song. Songwriter/producer Phairo and I tried to be as poetic as possible to match the smooth neo vibes to create one of my favourite songs from the record. It felt amazing to finally have a song which centred around the Rhodes!”—Reuben James
Karl Benjamin impressed R&B fans and critics last year with the release of his short-but-sweet debut EP, D.R.I.S.T. The project was a solid introduction to the West London artist, with standout tracks including the catchy, soul-infused “Apricot Sky” and “Moon”—the latter sampling Omar’s 1990 smash-hit, “There’s Nothing Like This”. Aside from the notable sample, we get to hear his impressive vocal range as he flexes his stunning falsetto throughout. With it being almost a year since the drop of D.R.I.S.T. and new music expected in the coming months, it’ll be interesting to hear what he’s been cooking up in the studio and the direction his sound goes in next.
A must-hear: “Moon”
“The inspiration for ‘Moon’ came from the journey of falling in love with my best friend. It was one of the easiest songs I’ve ever written because it was so real. I literally wrote it in a day with PRGRSHN, one of my favourite producers. ‘Moon’ represents the progress that two people can make together, rather than apart.”—Karl Benjamin
This time six months ago, Elmiene hadn’t even released his first single. The Bournemouth-based artist first caught our attention late last year when a then-unreleased song of his appeared during the late Virgil Abloh’s final show for Louis Vuitton. The overwhelmingly positive response of the track led to its official release in December. Titled “Golden”, the slow-roller highlighted him as not only a gifted songwriter, but a phenomenal vocalist too. Before “Golden” came to be, 20-year-old Elmiene was showcasing his vocal prowess on Instagram and TikTok with covers of R&B classics by legends such as D’Angelo and Maxwell. The general consensus from those that know is that he’s easily one of the best vocalists in the UK today. Don’t believe us? Hit that play button.
A must-hear: “Golden”
“The idea for ‘Golden’ came from my grandma. She used to always talk about the golden era of our home, Sudan, and when I watched her talk about it, she would always look and sound so vibrant and excited. She used to paint her younger years like a fantasy, and I loved it, so I started romanticising my life as well, even when just looking back at the day before.”—Elmiene
Willum Maindo writes and produces music that spans acoustic ballads, contemporary R&B, and boom-bap rap. The artist, born and raised in LDN, grew up listening to ‘90s R&B and hip-hop and began recording original songs over his own production after being directly inspired by neo-soul icon D’Angelo. All of these influences can be heard throughout his debut LP, 2020’s A Voyager’s Motion; album highlight “Heaven” has an old-school R&B feel to it, and showcases his graceful lyricism and lush vocals. He’s also a talented rapper, as can be heard on the jazz-hop-tinged “You Buggin’”, a stark contrast to some of his more recent material, such as the heart-tugging ballad “We All Fall Sometimes”. Mr. Maindo is a triple threat artist you need to know.
A must-hear: “Heaven”
“The inspiration behind ‘Heaven’ is the same trauma that follows me to this day—it’s rooted in abandonment, whether it’s me bailing on an idea, something, someone, or being abandoned myself. The mental gymnastics that remain active after years keep you wondering: what if, and why.”—Willum Maindo
Debbie was raised on gospel artists such as Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary but makes the most stunning, intimate R&B music. The London-born artist only arrived on the scene last year, but it’s already clear that she has an exciting future ahead of her. The song that put her on the map was “Is This Real Love?”, produced by PRGRSHN, which placed a spotlight on Debbie’s warm, soulful tone and gripping lyrics as she questioned what real love is (her nod to J Hus’ “Did You See” was also a touch). Debbie’s sound will likely appeal to fans of fellow Brit-R&B act Tiana Major9—who also works closely with PRGRSHN. But make no mistake: she’s in her own lane. Following up her debut with the jazzy “Summer In December” proved there’s still so much more to come from the 0207 Def Jam signee. Go, Debbie! Go.
A must-hear: “Is This Real Love?”
“I was frustrated with how much the definition of love is fantasised. I found myself getting really passionate about the subject and getting lost in research. In my findings, one thing that stood out was to have a stable relationship, it takes more than love.”—Debbie
Rasharn Powell has been bubbling on the UK R&B circuit for a few years now, making his potential known with early cuts like “Settle Down”. In 2018, the East London native connected with award-winning producer Gianluca Buccellati (Lana Del Rey, Arlo Parks), and the fruits of this team-up came in the form of Dusk & Dawn, Rasharn’s debut mixtape released last year. Rooted in future-R&B and synthy soul, the 11-tracker was well-received, and from Buccellati’s adventurous production to Rasharn’s arresting vocals and sophisticated pen, it’s not hard to see why. Must-hear tracks include “Hiroshima” and “Burning The Sky”, but the upside of working with one producer on a project is that it ends up being more cohesive, better consumed in its entirety. Rasharn Powell has a lot to live up to with his follow-up project, but we have faith.
A must-hear: “Burning The Sky”
“Sometimes, feelings move you enough to bask in the moment, and the love I met at this point of my life caused me to capture it vividly and effortlessly. Liberation happened when I realised those past feelings turned to embers. ‘Burning The Sky’ is my unrequited anthem.”—Rasharn Powell
Canning Town born and raised, tendai made his debut last summer with the song “Not Around”. The most impressive element of the track is its dark, atmospheric production that slowly builds, drawing the listener in further and further as it goes along. It was also entirely self-produced—which bodes well for tendai’s future as an artist. Being able to produce his own music has led to him creating a sound that sits outside of the typical confines of R&B, as further evidenced on follow-up single “Infinite Straight”, which has a slight rock lean to it. Both tracks aren’t easy to categorise but, ultimately, it’s just great-sounding music with lots of interesting production choices. It’ll be interesting to hear what tendai has in store for us for the rest of the year.
A must-hear: “Not Around”
“‘Not Around’ came from a place of experimentation, trying to see if hard-hitting almost electro drums can comfortably exist alongside a more soulful, ambient piano. Being a fanatic of painters, I guess I wanted to see if I could use one of their techniques to make a slightly different type of art. ‘Not Around’ is my version of chiaroscuro in music.”—tendai