MIQ’s Publishers Definitive List 2020 (by David A. Mitchell)

Here are my choices for 10 of the Best R&B-based projects released this calendar year. Let the Music Play!

Bettye LaVette // Blackbirds (Release Date August 28, 2020)

74 years-old and still going strong, Ms. LaVette brings her raspy and soulful vocals to yet another album of perfectly selected songs. Whether it be themes of love, pain and depression, no one interprets a song better. Cut the lights and pour the red wine, Blackbirds puts the listener in that emotive space. Album Highlights: “Hold No Grudge,” “One More Song,” “Drinking Again”

Brandy // b7 (Release Date July 31, 2020)

So many longtime fans had something to say about this album, to the point where I think people were overthinking whether they like it or not. Admittedly, it kicks off a bit more adventurous, and sonically spatial than her 90s works, but there are some really cool and intricate vibes on here to match those signature Brandy vocal runs, and harmonies. Album Highlights: “Lucid Dreams,” “Say Something,” “Love Again” (f/Daniel Caesar)

Chloe & Halle // Ungodly Hour (Release Date June 12, 2020)

Talk about exhibiting growth, these young ladies have blossomed right in front of our eyes. Displaying some delicious harmonies, confidant lyrics, and undeniable melodies, Halle & Chloe are co-producers on several songs and co-writers on every song. Grammy nominee for Best Progressive R&B album. Album Highlights: “Forgive Me,” “Catch Up,” “Do It,” “Tipsy”

Dinner Party (Release Date July 10, 2020)

Aptly titled, it really doesn’t get any better than this highly-gifted collective featuring Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, Kamasi Washington, and 9th Wonder, and recorded at Chalice Recording Studios in Los Angeles. The 7 song EP contains musically rich elements of R&B, Jazz, and Hip-Hop. Shout out to Phoelix, featured vocalist on four of the tracks.  Album Highlights: The whole Extended Play

Durand Bernarr // Dur& (Release Date Aug 28, 2020)

It’s refreshing to hear an artist willing to push boundaries, but yet create songs that have a sense of warmth and familiarity. The album features collaborations with Ari Lennox, Kaytranada, Anna Wise, and bassist, “Buddah” Foster Jr. Durand embodies his musical influences from those classic soul singers of the 70s to the neo-soul singers of the 90s/early 2000s. That cult following of Durand devotees is only gonna get larger. Album Highlights: “Melody,” “Stuck” f/Ari Lennox, [the hilarious] “Relocate” and “Prepared”

Jhene Aiko // Chilombo (Release Date March 6, 2020)

Jhene has always been uniquely adept at setting a chill and laidback vibe with her projects. Chilombo certainly personifies that assessment. But the meat and potatoes are in her lite soulful tones, a deliverable rap cadence partnered with an honest ability to story tell (check out “Speak”). A Grammy nominee for Album of the Year, this is the project worthy of all the accolades it receives. Album Highlights: “P*$$Y Fairy,” “Speak,” “B.S.” (f/H.E.R.) and “Happiness Over Everything” (f/Future & Miguel)

Luke James // To Feel Love/d (Release Date January 31, 2020)

Luke seems to be getting more attention as an actor of late. Quite often, he is criminally overlooked and often underrated as a vocalist. To Feel Love/d is a solid full-length album and is a Grammy nominee for Best R&B Album. It should assist in getting Luke the added recognition he so rightfully deserves. Album Highlights: “All of Your Love,” “Blow,”
“Go Girl” (f/ BJ The Chicago Kid & Ro James)

PJ Morton // Gospel According to PJ (Release Date August 28, 2020)

Since Morton decided to release music via his own indie label, he’s been delivering at least an album per year since 2016. This time, he delivers a beautifully written and produced Gospel album. It doesn’t lack for guest appearances either with help from a virtual all-star team of Gospel talent: Kim Burrell, J Moss, Kirk Franklin, Smokie Norful, Commissioned, Le’Andria, and Mary Mary. Grammy Nominated for Best Gospel Album. Album Highlights: “Repay You,” “Gotta Have You,” “Don’t Let Go”

Salaam Remi // Black on Purpose (Release Date November 11, 2020)

At first glance, some may mistake this as simply a protest album, especially with songs like “Say it Loud” f/CeeLo and the “Black on Purpose” Outro with a soliloquy from the late Sandra Bland, but it also features some fun and brilliantly produced songs that are diverse in genre with potential commercial appeal. Album Highlights: “Black Love” (f/Teedra Moses & D-Nice), “Home Vacation” (f/Mack Wilds)

Toni Braxton // Spell My Name (Release Date August 28, 2020)

Ms. Braxton is closing in on a 30-year career, and she still consistently manages to put out compelling music. Spell My Name has something for everybody, i.e. the club kids
(“Dance”), the grown and sexy folks (the title cut), and for those who love a good emotional ballad (“Happy Without Me”). Album Highlights: “Gotta Move On” (f/H.E.R.),
“Spell My Name,” “Fallin’”