R&B has experienced a renaissance in the past three or four years thanks to underground-turned-mainstream artists like The Weeknd, Frank Ocean and Miguel bending the genre to their will. The budding revolution stepped out of the shadows in 2011 once the shadowy Abel Tesfaye and his gloomy “PBR&B” emerged, and since then, this subset of the genre has been the locus of some of pop music’s boldest and most interesting experimentation.
But up until now, the alt-R&B narrative has primarily been driven by male acts. So we’re going to shine a light on the female singers who are currently kicking up dirt in the R&B sandbox. These are women who are surely inspired by Beyonce and Rihanna, but they find spirit guides in Solange, Jessie Ware and The Internet. These are women who aren’t afraid to choose a beat that’s as striking as their voices. These are women who are about to pop.
Get to know these eight alt-R&B singers below.
If you download SZA’s S EP and load it into iTunes, the genre field auto-populates as “Glitter Trap” and, to be honest, it’s hard to levy a more spot-on description than that. Sonically, SZA (rhymes with RZA) uses sparkly beats boasting a flurry of activity in the treble range, the type of stuff that populates the same corner of the Internet as the lo-fi pop of Charli XCX or the Tumblr rap of Kitty.
The New Jersey transplant only started singing about a year ago, but her breathy voice already showcases a breathless range. She has linked up with producers who’ve worked with the likes of Jay Z, Danny Brown and The Weeknd, and her hypnotic concoctions led her to become the first female signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, home to Kendrick Lamar and his Black Hippy crew. So, yeah, we’re eagerly awaiting her first K-Dot collab.