Recently, I fell upon an article written in 2015 titled ‘The Tragic Downfall of ‘90s R&B Divas’. Although I think the title speaks for itself, scanning my eyes over claims that ‘the state of R&B…. hasn’t been looking too good’ stirred feelings of discomfort inside of me. My inner self-proclaimed role as protector and defender of any artists that have blessed this world with great music took over. Having spent time searching in the deepest realms of Spotify and Youtube, I would like to provide a counterargument to said article; there are some serious divas making their way through the ranks, paying heed to the sounds of TLC and Destiny’s Child as they do. And so, without further gilding the lily and with no more ado, I believe it is my duty to bring to your attention a small handful of supremely sassy ladies currently out there representing all the women through the medium of R&B. AND THEY’RE ALL BRITISH!! Salute, salute.
The true cowbellites amongst you may recognise this name from previous posts. After seeing her perform as a supporting act to Years & Years last year, she has gone on to prove that she is more than capable of taking the bull by the horns. Her sultry voice and hip-swaying beats make way for a mature and clean-cut sound, perfect for home-alone-feeling-sexy moments. So far she only has a handful of singles to her name, but they have been enough to get her nominated for the BBC Sound of 2016 Award and, more importantly, the Cowbell seal of approval. Personal favourites include Finders Keepers, and My Boy My Town for its soul-baring lyrics about the dangers of one-sided relationships.
Rumoured to be dating Drake, celebrated by Vogue and i-D, hangs out with all sorts of models and celebs, BBC Sound of 2017 nominee – it’s pretty hard to believe that few people have still not heard of Jorja Smith. I’ve also just discovered that she’s the same age as me; half of me is inspired, half of me thinks ‘Wow I need to get a hold of my life’. At just 20, Jorja’s rich, soulful voice is full of maturity, and her songs have a retro hip-hop vibe to them. Her lyrics are also an empowering tribute to both her heritage and women. Beautiful Little Fools was released on Internationals Women’s Day, and, inspired by the famous quote from The Great Gatsby, it’s a stunning sermon about the pressures of how to be a beautiful woman in our society:
‘They [girls] might not like art but their face is a canvas
Designing something that is not their reflection
Becoming a beautiful little Hollywood perception’.
An updated Amy Winehouse with an urban twist. Yeah we’ll take that to go please.
Moving slightly more towards the rap end of the R&B spectrum, if you’re a fan of Missy Elliot and Lauryn Hill then turn your attention to Britain’s very own version. RAY BLK’s self-assured yet soulful sound fused with elements of grime, has thrown her in to a shimmering pool of high praise, notably from grime king, Stormzy, and from winning the BBC Sound of 2017 (spy a trend here?). Similarly to Jorja Smith, despite her sound being undeniably cool, it’s her lyrics that stand her out from the crowd. My Hood (featuring Stormzy #namedrop) is an ode to her home in South London. It paints a picture of a place that, although rough, has its own beauty in its culture, with mentions of ‘Socks and sliders everywhere’ and ‘Morleys, best fried chicken’. Similarly, Doing Me, is a heart-warming and honest track that displays RAY’s confidence in being who she is and being proud of who she is. An inspiration to all of us ladies.
Although NAO does not necessarily comply with the typical 90s R&B sound that this post is promoting (because the whole world is going to read this), her unique take on R&B demands some admiration. Plus, I mean talk about coincidences; ANOTHER BBC Sound of 2016 nominee! What can we say, good taste is a gift. Known for her angelic baby voice, it’s similar in style to that of AlunaGeorge and FKA Twigs and yet remains totally unique. NAO’s debut album, For All We Know, is an experimental exploration and amalgamation of electronic, hip-hop, pop and soul which, as confusing as that may sound, results in an uncomplicated, ethereal sound. Irony can be so painful.
For the sake of variety, we end with a diva who has NOT been nominated for any BBC awards. I know, I know, total curveball. But it is no detriment to the glorious sound produced on her debut mixtape, Chapter One, released this year. Her versatile voice, full of sincerity, flows over a range of R&B beats, from true 90s grooves on Don’t Waste My Time and Want It With You, to more contemporary dance sounds such as on Unconditional and Ally. Her musical style is full of class, and she elevates R&B to a level of sweet sophistication without dulling it in any way. The perfect accompaniment to an 8pm glass of red vino and tapas to remind yourself that you are also a lady of class.
So yeah, so much for a ‘tragic downfall’? To all the sassy divas this summer, keep it real, but also keep it 90’s.