And That’s A Wrap: R&B Ends One Of Its Best Years Even Stronger

R&B music enjoyed quite a renaissance in 2013. Throughout the year, artists brought their A-game to the genre and created songs and albums that will soon be considered classics, if they aren’t already. As we continue to chatter and debate over the year’s best, we have to look back at the musicians and music that kept us entertained and enthralled and brought some soul back into R&B.

The ladies of R&B kicked 2013 off strong and kept the momentum going all year long in heavy rotation on our playlists. Getting many spins was Janelle Monáe who continued her winning streak with the release of her third album, The Electric Lady. Led by the empowering jam “Q.U.E.E.N.” featuring soul sister Erykah Badu and following up with the smoldering Miguel duet “Primetime,” the petite CoverGirl had us grooving to the next chapters in her Metropolis series and has already been honored by the MTV Video Music Awards and Soul Train Awards and finished a successful concert tour run. Numerous women wowed us on record and on stage with their albums and subsequent tours. Kelly Rowland‘s Talk A Good Game, India.Arie‘s SongVersation, Amel Larrieux‘s Ice Cream Everyday, Alice Smith‘s SHE and Laura Mvula‘s Sing to the Moon were phenomenal releases that simply came alive on the concert stage and during television appearances. Ledisi‘s performance of single “I Blame You” on Black Girls Rock! and Lalah Hathaway‘s awe-inspiring “chords heard round the world” on the GRAMMY-nominated live recording of “Something” with band Snarky Puppy were two examples of soul singers breaking out and turning loose as we know they can.

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Tamar Braxton dominated radio and the R&B charts throughout the lead up to her Love and War album release in September and opened for Best R&B Album nominee and past GRAMMY winner John Legend on his 2013 tour. The baby sister of the Braxton clan’s hard work and perseverance paid off, ending the year with three GRAMMY nominations, a BET Award, three Soul Train Awards and the release of a Christmas album. The reality television star wasn’t the only songstress to make the leap from TV to the top of the charts, with Love & Hip Hop Atlanta and Love & Hip Hop cast member K. Michelle using both VH1 programs to her advantage to chronicle her struggle to get a record deal through the making of her debut album, Rebellious Soul, and her first headlining concert tour. We’ll see more R&B singers on the small screen soon with Chrisette Michele, who released the Best R&B Album GRAMMY nominee Better, and Leela James, who dueted with GRAMMY winner and current nominee Anthony Hamilton on “Say That,” slated to bring soul and sass to the cast of R&B Divas LA. Ciara took the scripted television route in 2013 with a guest appearance as herself on The Game, but more importantly she released her long-awaited eponymous album this year and enjoyed a bonafide hit with the single “Body Party” featuring her husband-to-be Future.

Reality competition show American Idol once again proved to be a rich talent pool with everyone from season 12 judge Mariah Carey dropping her own Miguel duet with “#Beautiful” and season 12 champion Candice Glover releasing her debut single “Cried” to past winner Fantasia releasing Side Effects of You and grabbing three GRAMMY nominations in the process. Fellow American Idol champions Jordin Sparks and Ruben Studdard, who got bit by the reality TV bug again with a stint on The Biggest Loser, released new singles. Idol alumna Jennifer Hudson starred in the dramatic musical Black Nativity and hooked up with super-producer Pharrell Williams on her funky dance party “I Can’t Describe.”

Pharrell had one of the best years of his career as both a producer and artist in 2013. He brought smiles to faces young and old with his solo track “Happy” from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack and is the man behind some of the biggest GRAMMY nominated songs of the year, including Daft Punk‘s disco revival “Get Lucky” and Robin Thicke‘s catchy chart buster “Blurred Lines,” both Record of the Year nominees. Thicke’s album Blurred Lines also proved to be his most solid and accessible R&B set to date. Not to be outdone was Justin Timberlake who released not one but two volumes of his The 20/20 Experience and grabbed a handful of GRAMMY noms across multiple genres for his soulful offerings on songs such as “Suit & Tie” with Jay Z and “Pusher Love Girl,” both of which he performed live at the 55th GRAMMY Awards telecast.

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Several “blue-eyed soul” acts brought forth great music to the R&B landscape with touches of soul, pop and electronic music mixed in. Mayer Hawthorne‘s “Her Favorite Song” with British export Jessie Ware on supporting vocals was a smart choice for the lead single from Where Does This Door Go. Ware was fully in the forefront on her debut album Devotion, which received a US re-release this year. Additional acts to cross over the Atlantic with their stirring R&B and soul records and albums included Alice Russell with To Dust, Jamie Lidell with his funkdafied self-titled album, Scandinavian Marie Dahlstrom‘s Renditions and Gloom EPs, Sam Smith, Daley and soulful electronica duo Disclosure with their smashing debut album Settle, which garnered a Best Dance/Electronica Album GRAMMY nomination.

The Father of British Neo-Soul, Omar, returned to the R&B scene with his first album in seven years, The Man, while Incognito and Reel People vocalist Tony Momrelle delivered his solo debut project, the EP Fly, to tide fans over until his LP release. R&B crooners Donell Jones and Jaheim both bounced back from three year breaks between albums, while artists such as PJ Morton and Mack Wilds both snagged GRAMMY nominations on their major label debuts. The new kids had to share the block with veterans like Charlie Wilson, R. Kelly and Joe, who all released new albums this year as did John Legend, Bilal and Raheem DeVaughn, whose A Place Called Love Land was one of the year’s best. Bringing soul-inflected jazz to the fore were the albums No Beginning, No End by José James and Gregory Porter‘s Liquid Spirit, which produced the Best Traditional R&B Performance GRAMMY nominated song “Hey Laura.” Chris Brown ended the year behind bars, but, months before, he released one of the hottest singles of 2013 with the Michael Jackson-channeling “Fine China.”

R&B groups may be few and far between these days, but the supergroup TGT, made up of well-established solo acts Tyrese, Ginuwine and Tank, made some waves this year with the release of their Three Kings, which received a GRAMMY nomination for Best R&B Album. Australian sensations Hiatus Kaiyote captured a worldwide audience with their debut album re-release and garnered a Best R&B Performance nod for the remix of “Nakamarra” featuring Q-Tip.

Frequent collaborators Toni Braxton and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds rekindled their working relationship to release “Hurt You,” the first single from their upcoming duets album due in 2014, that found both artists in fine form. Projects were released this year from duos and groups as varied as sibling act and multiple GRAMMY nominees K-Ci & JoJo, UK acid jazz/funk outfit Brand New Heavies, Danish duo Quadron with their major label debut Avalanche and GRAMMY nominees The Foreign Exchange, who released two albums, a remix compilation and the original work Love In Flying Colors, in 2013.

The Robert Glasper Experiment led by musician/producer Robert Glasper started the year with a triumphant GRAMMY win for Best R&B Album for Black Radio and by year’s end had another collection on shelves with the follow up, Black Radio 2. The album once again featured Robert Glasper Experiment and various artists including Brandy, Emeli Sandé, Marsha Ambrosius and Jill Scott, who lent her velvety vocals to the lead single “Calls.” More musician/producers released soulful multi-artist projects this year. Two of the more noteworthy projects came from Zo! with ManMade, which featured independent soul favorites such as Eric Roberson, Anthony David and Sy Smith, and Salaam Remi, whose debut album ONE: In The Chamber stunned many with its GRAMMY nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album.

The biggest stunner of 2013 was the surprise release of BEYONCÉ, which served as the cherry on top of an already epic year, Beyoncé capped 2013 with her most personal, passionate and powerful project to date. The chart-topping, record-breaking visual album was the talk of December, and King B will undoubtedly be queen of the R&B and pop charts well into the new year.

With 2013 ended, as we reflect on the year that was we are happy that R&B has gotten its groove back. Established artists and newer acts alike produced some fine work that they can be very proud of that will live on in our music collections. We’ll see some of the best in R&B recognized at the 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards, and SoulBounce will continue to celebrate those R&B artists who keep the soul going in 2014.

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