For fans of Millennial & Traditional R&B/Soul, Pop and Adult Contemporary genres/formats, these are Music Industry Quarterly’s Definitive Ten Picks of 2017 in Alpha Order
Curtis Harding – Face Your Fear
A true embodiment of the vintage soul era (1960s/70s), Harding’s original songs are reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, Willie Hutch, and many others. Especially remarkable is the infectious title track with its ability to practically transport the listener into Mayfield’s Superfly studio session. Harding’s association with Cee-Lo Green (he sings back-up for him), along with production by Danger Mouse and Sam Cohen allows for added credibility. Check out his video, “Need Your Love,” and support Harding and his retro movement. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahyM6VAM5cI
Daniel Caesar – Freudian
One of the cool thing about today’s R&B landscape is the close-knit community that’s been formed amongst these breakthrough artists. Collaboration knows no boundaries. Caesar’s project showcases duets and features with the likes of singer-songwriter H.E.R. on the lovely “Best Part” ballad, and The Internet’s Syd featured on the winsome “Take Me Away.” Daniel, a multi-Grammy nominee, hails from Canada, and dons a raw yet airy vocal and vibe. Leading off with the sexy single, “Get You,” featuring Kali Uchis, Freudian is undoubtedly one of the year’s most eclectic projects.
DVSN – Morning After
The Canadian R&B duo of Daniel Daley and Nineteen85, signed through Drake’s OVO Sound, delivered one of the more compelling projects exclusively of ballads to drop in some time. Parts Jodeci, parts Sade and Maxwell, DVSN (pronounced Division), got quite a bit of attention earlier this year with the singles “Think About Me,” and the album’s musical centerpiece, titled “Mood”; idealistic for those late romantic and sexy nights.
H.E.R. – H.E.R.
We at MIQ got to check out this incredibly talented breakthrough singer-songwriter, and instrumentalist this past fall at the El Rey Theater, here in Los Angeles. Her natural command of the stage and ability to generate audience participation will ensure a long and sustaining career. H.E.R., who chooses to downplay her identity (of Gabi Wilson) by shadowing her face, plays multiple instruments: the guitar, piano, and percussion. As for this debut album, it is musically rich, sensual and lyrically vulnerable – with a sonically futuristic vibe at play. Start with track one, “Losing,” and play until the end.
Khalid – American Teen
Send me your location! That signature hook has become the backdrop of Khalid’s triple-platinum debut single, “Location,” and has propelled the 19-year-old singer/songwriter from El Paso, Texas to instant stardom. Armed with an interesting and timeless sound, American Teen is parts Americana, Pop and R&B, all genres that have influenced the multi-Grammy nominee. Khalid told MIQ earlier this year, his personal American Teen favorites are “‘Angels’, just because it’s a song that means so much to me; ‘Location,’ because it’s the song that changed my life; ‘Young Dumb & Broke’ because, I mean, that’s exactly what I was a year ago. And ‘8Teen’ because I mean that song is so much fun for me to perform.”
PJ Morton – Gumbo
Images of Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway may come to the mind’s eye when you listen to singer-songwriter, instrumentalist Morton’s Gumbo. He shoots for the stars to pay homage to a melodic and soulful sound that many music lovers wish to remain alive. Exhibit A is in the album openers, “First Begin,” and “Claustrophobic,” (featuring rapper Pell) along with no shortage of 70s-like funk highlighted in the songs “Sticking to My Guns” and “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” (the latter featuring B.J. the Chicago Kid). Along with a harmonically surprise version of the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” as the album’s closer, this Gumbo is purely delicious!
Sinead Harnett – Chapter One
If it’s not the Canadians, then it’s the British releasing some of today’s best R&B music. UK citizens have a long history of delivering R&B and Soul-inspired music, and singer-songwriter Harnett is right there with the best of them, dropping a mix tape/album that features the single “Unconditional,” and the opener, “Still Miss You.” Certainly among the album’s high points are the emotive “Heal You,” and the sassy and soulful “Don’t Waste My Time.” Also, while we’re having our Sinead moment, go back and check out 2016’s “If You Let Me.” Amazing artist!
Syd – Fin
We first fell in love with the voice of Syd, a couple of years back as the lead vocalist of the band The Internet, and the group’s much-celebrated debut album, Ego Death. It would have been easy for Syd to simply do a rerun of Ego Death, but her first solo project, Fin, displays musical exploration and growth, with more elements of Hip-Hop, Pop, and 90s Electronic Soul. Kicking-off with the percussive “Shake Em Off,” and the Aaliyah-esque, “Know,” the 12-song project is primarily produced by Syd, fellow (The) Internet collaborator Steve Lacy, HazeBanga, and multi-Platinum producer Hit Boy. Other standouts, include “Nothin’ To Somethin’,” “Over” featuring 6lack, and “All About Me.”
Stokely – Introducing Stokely
Talk about loyalty, as the longtime front man of the band Mint Condition, Stokely could’ve have gone solo quite some time ago. But with his soulfully gifted and golden voice, the wait has been well worth it. Introducing Stokely is a balance of up and mid-tempos (“Level,” and “U & I,” featuring Estelle), gorgeous ballads (“Organic,” and “Think About You”) to the Robert Glasper jazzy (“Why Do We Try”), and the poetic (“Art In Motion”). It’s an industry sin, that Stokely has long been this underrated. Check it out!
SZA – CTRL
After the release of two buzzworthy Eps, and a handful of co-writes for Beyoncé, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, 2017’s most talked about artist SZA finally dropped her full-length album, CTRL to much fanfare. The project debuted inside the Top 5 of the Billboard US 200, and has since been certified Platinum-plus, along with four Grammy nominations. CTRL certainly lived up to the hype, with songs like the splendidly composed “Love Galore” (featuring Travis Scott), “Supermodel” and the irresistible mood of “The Weekend” leading the way. There’s also the provocative “Doves in the Wind” (featuring Kendrick Lamar), and a lyrical display of SZA’s vulnerability in the songs “Normal Girl,” and “Broken Clocks.” Kudos to Top Dawg Entertainment and its penchant for spotting critically-acclaimed talent that also widely connects with the mainstream.