Rhythm and Blues, or simply referred to as R&B, first originated around World War I. The hey-day of the genre was in the 90's with heavy-hitters such as Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Boyz II Men, among many others dominating the scene.
Even though it's no longer as prominent on the charts, the spotlight on R&B isn't quite over yet. Many African American female artists are bringing the genre's smooth, warm vibes back with unexpected twists that will keep you coming back for more.
This month, The Folklore recommends giving these ladies' sultry sounds a chance. We promise they'll groove their way into your heart. Overall, these musicians are just a small taste of many up-and-coming female R&B stars on the scene.
If you like these musicians, let your curiosity go deeper and maybe even sample some of the older musicians that inspired this generation. Feel free to also check out our September playlist for more suggestions and be sure to come back next month to see what we're listening to in November.
Like many musicians these days, Nigerian American sister duo VanJess first got their start on YouTube. Ivana and Jessica Nwokike gained a huge following after they posted a cover of Drake's "Headlines" and it all went uphill from there.
They describe their sound as sultry, smooth, sensual — silky, a word that inspired the name of their first album Silk Canvas. The ladies focus on romantic experiences in their lyrics, infusing them with a confidence and sweetness that harmonizes well with their honeyed sound.
Though deeply inspired by 90's R&B artists including Aaliyah and Janet Jackson, their music is entirely their own, with the occasional pidgin lyrics and electronic flourishes. They've also collaboration with well-known artists such as Masego, GoldLink, and Kaytranada.
Brittany Bosco or BOSCO, doesn’t like to confine herself only to music as a form of art. The Atlanta-based artist recently released her album Some Day This Will All Make Sense, which she characterizes as a “seven-song visual project" with a one-minute video to accompany each track.
The story told through the album is itself about art — a journey through the process of combining music, design, and art, fighting the notion that you can only explore one. BOSCO’s sound has a certain funk to it, her light and breathy vocals are often layered over a jumping bass track, energetic drums, and warped guitar chords.
As one might expect, though, the artist doesn't just stop at one style, she embraces a more laid-back, groovy feel, while throwing herself full-force into another track.
BOSCO also thinks outside of the box when it comes to record labels. She started her own this year and named it Slug Records. While she went off on her own for many reasons, she intended to develop a creative collection with multimedia artists like herself without the conventional restrictions of a standard record deal.
Valerie Omari’s voice is impressive, rich, and multilayered, and she knows it. She leaves her backup minimal with only the occasional percussion, guitar, and perhaps a keyboard solo here and there.
The Congolese artist based out of Cape Town, South Africa, debuted in 2018 with a breakout single “Just Like The Rain” and came out with her first EP Therefore I Am last year. Omari’s music contains deep and raw emotion as she sings about heartbreak along with unrequited love.
Elaine, real name Ndivhuwo Elaine Mukheli, broke records with her first EP Elements. It was self-released and reached #1 on South African iTunes and Apple Music charts making her the first independent female artist to achieve this honor.
She's now the most-streamed Spotify artist in South Africa, but her popularity is well-deserved. Her music combines upbeat trap percussion with her husky and versatile voice to create songs with an undeniable momentum, while managing to not overwhelm the listener. Elaine’s music creates sweet ear candy you won't be able to get enough of.
Speaking of sweetness, LA artist Joyce Wrice has no shortage of sugary sounds with tracks that take full advantage of her pretty voice and wide range. Slow and simmering, Wrice’s music can only be described as sexy.
Her passion for vintage R&B — initially inspired by her father’s record collection – seeps into her music as she plays with many of the genre's conventions. Most recently, Wrice released a Japanese remix of her track “That’s On You” with fellow R&B artist UMI.
Both are daughters of Japanese and African American parents, and they decided to incorporate their cultural mix into the track to deliver a one-of-a-kind listening experience. Be on the lookout for the singers' fluid switch between different languages.
Rayana Jay’s music is painfully honest exploring all the contours and crevices of heartbreak. She doesn’t shy away from difficult topics including the toxicity of romanticizing the starving artist to other personal struggles she has faced as a plus-sized Black woman in America.
In 2018, she partnered with Disney and ESPN to create "Undefeated,” an uplifting single produced by an all-woman team to celebrate Black female athletes. Jay’s activism doesn’t just stop there, she's determined to speak up for Black women and advocate for more representation within the industry.
Algerian-born, UK-based artist Miraa May defies categorization with trappy, electronic-heavy singles like “Baby” standing alongside breezy songs such as “Woman Like Me.”
In short, May’s music is irresistibly danceable. Despite her light-hearted, summery sound, the artist is not afraid to use her sound to convey serious messages. “Make Room” covers the topics of consent and respect, while “Angles” tackles the problem of social media addiction.
Her career had quite a rocky start, as she found time to make music in between jobs cleaning and waitressing. Even after she was signed by Salaam Remy and produced her first EP N15, she had to return to work after losing her manager. However, she never stopped writing songs and even produced two more EPs with Island Records. She's now working on her first album.
Dami Oniru has been obsessed with music from the beginning. In primary school, she was the proud owner of a 300-CD collection and a member of the school’s choir. She launched her music career while in university with her first track “Iyawo,” and since then, has put out a steady stream of singles and EPs.
Though most of the Nigerian singer’s music draws primarily upon R&B for inspiration, some of her tracks — notably, her most recent single “Nowhere to Run” — also clearly draw upon her Nigerian roots. More conventional tracks, like “Alive” or “Ready,” are particularly thrilling listens with an intense sense of emotional turmoil.
Shaé Universe’s songs are bops. Period. With a bouncy energy alongside Shaé’s absolutely dreamy vocals, it’s hard to stop listening to songs like “No Stallin” and “Meant to Be.”
Once you enter Shaé’s universe, you’ll never want to leave. The Nigerian-British artist’s most recent project is the single “Levels,” a tribute to Black female musicians who shook up the music industry.
Throughout the music video, Shaé dresses as her idols while dancing to her lyrics about moving up and trusting in yourself. Even though the music video acts as an ode to those who became before her, Shaé’s lyrics are a message to all women trying to get ahead.
Words by Sarah Ann Stager