It has been an undeniably massive year in music. There are more artists at our fingertips than ever before in history, and across the board, every genre saw new additions that were hits for both veterans and newcomers. In R&B, we were blessed with several takeaway releases that not only topped the charts, but they impacted the industry in a way that stood out from the crowd. As 2022 comes to a close, we’ve revisited some of our favorite R&B records from the year, and trust us, it wasn’t easy compiling this list.
Before anyone gets their feathers ruffled, our pick for the Top R&B Albums of the Year isn’t in any particular order. It should be noted that in this generation, R&B is evolving into spaces that artists of yesteryear have dabbled in, but without as much visibility or success. Alternative R&B enters mainstream spaces, Rock fusions are widely accepted, Neo-Soul is evolving, and producers are tapping into vintage Funk sounds with a new twist. Some listeners debate what is and isn’t considered R&B because the landscape has expanded.
While our picks for the Top R&B Albums of the Year most likely won’t match all of yours, we know that each of these artists placed here is well-deserved recognition. Some mainstream artists missed the list this year, and not because they, too, didn’t deliver stellar records; however, others shined in unique ways with distinctive sounds that demanded attention.
Check out our Top R&B Albums of the Year, and make sure to let us know your choices.
20. Kehlani – Blue Water Road
The Bay Area hitmaker delivered their third studio album in April. Known for their vulnerability, Kehlani once again took listeners into the deep recesses of their soul. Features included looks from Blxst, Justin Bieber, Jessie Reyez, Thundercat, and more, making for a well-rounded album.
19. Ari Lennox – Age/Sex/Location
This album was a long time coming for the Shea Butter Baby singer. As the first lady of Dreamville, Ari Lennox has enhanced a male-dominated space that hosts some of the industry’s favorite emcees. Her single “Pressure” was one but several standouts on this album, including “Boy Bye” with Lucky Daye and “Leak It” featuring Chlöe.
18. Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights
Prepare to feel seen while listening to this one. Lacy’s knack for storytelling shines on this project. Also, there are often mirror-confronting emotions that only arise when listening to an artist like Lacy.
17. Ella Mai – Heart On My Sleeve
Her self-titled debut arrived in 2018 and took R&B by storm. Singles “Trip” and “Boo’d Up” previously dominated the charts, and fans were begging Ella Mai for more. Heart On My Sleeve didn’t disappoint as the singer avoided the dreaded “Sophomore Slump” and glided through the album.
16. Lucky Daye – Candydrip
It is definitely Lucky Daye’s time to shine. Now that he has a Grammy under his belt, eyes have been keenly watching his next moves. Candydrip is in the running for the Grammys Best R&B Album category next year, and is well-deserved; whether uptempo grooves or mellow vibes, Daye takes you on a journey that will keep you on your toes.
15. Mary J. Blige – Good Morning Gorgeous
When Mary J. steps to the mic, prepare to be impressed. The Queen of Hip Hop-Soul has captivated audiences for decades, and with each step, her evolution as a woman and artist is center stage. As she goes through her latest healing journey, Blige puts it all on the table—including her contentious divorce—and once again lets fans into her intimate spaces.
14. Brent Faiyaz – Wasteland
He has long stated that commercial success isn’t his goal, which sets Brent Faiyaz apart from many of his peers. Because he’s not the type of artist to feel tethered to a particular genre—despite being overwhelmingly R&B—we often hear Faiyaz experiment in subtle ways that make albums like Wasteland an enjoyable sonic experience.
13. Syd – Broken Hearts Club
She won our hearts over as the frontwoman of the stellar group The Internet, and this year, Syd delivered her first solo project in five years. Her mesmerizing voice penetrates the soul, making Broken Hearts Club a must on Top R&B lists of the year.
12. Phony Ppl – Euphonyus
For fans of R&B-Funk fusions, Phony Ppl is a must. The Brooklyn-based collective has infiltrated mainstream culture with a sound all its own. The use of melody, rhythm, and synesthesia make Euphonyus a project that no other artists could tackle with such precision.
11. The Weeknd – Dawn FM
It was expected for Dawn FM to dominate throughout the year since each of The Weeknd’s projects is more of an experience than just an album. The Canadian superstar, once again, took fans through several visual and sonic adventures while promoting this one. The pairing of R&B synth and ’80s production are nods to music history that fans are eating up.
10. Ravyn Lenae – Hypnos
Be prepared to take an ethereal trip with Lenae as her buttery vocals drift listeners from the first track to the last. From classical to gospel, expect Lena to take you on a wild sonic ride influenced by an array of genres.
9. dvsn – Working On My Karma
This singer-producer duo has often been labeled as “Toxic R&B,” but that is primarily because of their honest approach to songwriting. As others tackle more romantic vibes in R&B, dvsn isn’t afraid to show their authenticity. dvsn frontman Daniel Daley is unafraid of being the “bad guy” and pens songs that speak to relationships that should end, not come together. It’s a level of truth that not all artists face, but Working on My Karma does just that.
8. Moonchild – Starfruit
It is easy to feel as if you’re floating while listening to Moonchild. The jazzy Soul group tapped peers like Alex Isley, Rapsody, and Lalah Hathaway for Starfruit. The trio has been together for a decade, and sonically, their connection as collaborators is almost palpable on Starfruit.
7. Giveon – Give or Take
One of the most recognizable voices in R&B-Pop today is Giveon. His deep, haunting-yet-bewitching vocals have helped catapult him to international stardom. As his official debut, Give or Take is almost theatrical, in both its rollout and essence.
6. Alex Isley, Jack Dine – Marigold
Marigold is certainly a 2022 standout that most Top R&B AOTY lists have included. The collaborative effort is a “no skips” project that can ease any troubled mind, often described as being able to ground listeners.
5. SZA – S.O.S
She’s lamented about being boxed in as only an R&B artist, but SZA is very much a pillar in the genre. S.O.S has become her most experimental effort to date, as she fuses Rock and Alternative sounds with R&B stylings. The project has been praised near and far, and there are even whispers of a full Rock album to follow.
4. Beyoncé – Renaissance
One of the most talked about releases of the year, unsurprisingly, arrived this summer, courtesy of Beyoncé. This nod to R&B, Dance, Electronic, and House music from the 1980s was fueled by samples of Black artists who helped shape an era of music. Although it doesn’t adhere to a purist’s ideal of R&B, Bey & Co. didn’t miss and her vocal stylings were still very much centered in the genre.
3. FKA Twigs – Caprisongs
The British songbird may take over headlines due to controversy, but FKA Twigs’s ability to create movements musically aids her attractability. She has said that Caprisongs was a record that, for the first time in her career, she created for others as a collective. Her vulnerability is shared with listeners who, Twigs stated, needed support during this time.
2. Lady Wray – Pieces of Me
The soulful sounds of Lady Wray spun listeners in circles. Reminiscent of Golden Era R&B fused with Jazz influences, Wray is unlike any other on the scene. Some have compared her stylings to Amy Winehouse’s, and Pieces of Me touches on Wray’s gospel influences that some say are missing from today’s culture of R&B.
1. Muni Long – Public Displays of Affection
After spending years penning songs for some of our favorite hitmakers, Muni Long has stepped into the spotlight with full force. Public Displays of Affection hosted a few of her viral hits, but the remainder proved that she is a singer-songwriter who is only improving as she evolves into her new era.