Believe it or not, there’s more to R&B music than Justin Timberlake, Frank Ocean and Miguel. While those voices are at the forefront of everyone’s iTunes play count, there are scores of underground R&B artists making dynamic music you may not have heard yet. With spring just around the corner, you’ll need some cool sounds to accentuate those fresh evening breezes. Here’s five artists to check out.
1. Jhene Aiko
Jhene likes airy electro-soul. She never overpowers the melody and that works well for her ambient approach. There’s a clear sense of calm with Jhene’s music, whether she’s asking about weed or trotting along the beach. It sounds natural either way.
The pianist/singer opts for scant melodies and haunting tones, as evidenced by her recent single, “Made For You.” Unlike the aforementioned vocalists, Niia’s aesthetic is chillier and a bit darker. Still, her voice rises above the downtrodden fray and adds glowing wails to the layered soundtrack.
3. Alice Smith
The last we heard from Alice, it was on the standout For Lovers, Dreamers & Me, which combined soul and blues into one coherent set. A student of New York’s Afro-Punk scene, Alice’s new work is a little edgier, yet still rooted in R&B. Her new album, She, is out March 19.
4. Maimouna Youssef
Maimouna is a dual threat. As a singer, her falsetto tends to glide atop the instrumentals; as an MC, Maimouna spits bars that could topple her male counterparts. In 2006, she was the featured singer on the Roots’ “Don’t Feel Right,” the band’s lead single from Game Theory. Her album, The Blooming, was a multifaceted take on phony rappers, political corruption and romantic role-play.
5. Carolyn Malachi
Much like Maimouna, Carolyn is a formidable singer and MC. She tends to attach her music to charitable causes, whether it’s to raise funds for students or eradicate bullying. She’s just as comfortable with bouncy synths as she is with expansive jazz chords. Her new album, GOLD, is due out soon.