For years, we have celebrated, uplifted, and followed the journey of our favorite upcoming and underground artists in the hip-hop world. Now, it’s time to extend the same support and love to the ever-growing community of R&B artists on the rise.
I enlisted the help of Swidlife’s own Tyler Moore and Tenzin Dekyi, as well as Ella the Ear (The RNB Beacon), Ceddy P (Renaissance Music), and Victoria Jane (BBC Radio). We have meticulously crafted a list of our top 15 R&B artists who we believe are on the cusp of a breakthrough, poised to take center stage and earn the title of the official R&B Freshman Class of 2023.
“Honestly, the only thing I ever been good at was music. I played sports, I was pretty decent at school, but music has always been the one thing that I latch onto.”Dende via Kulture Vulturez
An artist that we can easily label as one-of-one, Houston native Dende is continuing to gain traction in the R&B space. Stylistically, he is incomparable to his peers as he occupies a remarkable limbo space between the 2000s and modern R&B. His moving lyricism and striking transparency as a writer flourish as he pours his emotions into each track, guiding listeners and fans through each song like a storybook.
“I wanted to show the world me, in my rawest form, and to show people that it isn’t wrong to own your feelings because it can be quite powerful.”Alex Vaughn via Essence
There must be something in the water in the DMV area that has been generating a wide array of musical excellence; cue in Alex Vaughn. This soulful beauty has become an absolute star. Listeners can empathize with the emotional experience of her performances due to her display of raw vulnerability. She recently enlisted the help of Ari Lennox, Muni Long, and Summer Walker to create remixed editions to some of her biggest 2022 singles and tour with fellow DMV songstress Ari Lennox. Vaughn is paving her way as one of the “R&B Girlies” you should know.
“I went through a big period of growth over the past two years of working on [No Longer in the Suburbs]. I want people to kind of experience their own [personal growth] from listening to the music.”Dylan Sinclair via Rated R&B
There is a long-standing love for Toronto artists that just can’t be argued. This generation continues to add to that list with the wildly talented Dylan Sinclair. He has a flawless way of writing his experiences into his music that remains honest and relatable with fans. He is a prime example of a contemporary artist that utilizes the traditional R&B sound, fusing them flawlessly. With a dedication to creating “classics, not just hits,” Sinclair is already on the clearest path to greatness.
“I always say before I release my music, it’s a personal experience for me. It’s my praise and worship. I decided to share it with other people but it’s for me first. I’m intimate with my music.”Zyah Belle via okayplayer.
Being a successful artist in a post-pandemic world is about much more than just music. Hailing from the Bay area, singer Zyah Belle is a beam of positive energy through her social media presence. She shares her uplifting spirit and deep-rooted influences that appear in her powerful and passionate vocals. Belle is the essence of women’s-empowerment. Through her lyrics and support of other female artists, she is confident and fierce in her womanhood and is here to take us along the ride to sharing her story.
“Every time I go into the studio, I’m full of ideas, I haven’t reached a point where I’m dried out yet, so there are so many things I want to try.”Elmiene via Complex
From singing in front of his garage to being played at Virgil Abloh’s final LV show, UK’s very own Elmiene has a voice that takes listeners on an inexplainable journey. With a sound evocative of what we would imagine the “father of blues” to sound like in the modern era, he possesses a vocal quality that leads some to think he has been here before. With a raw talent that expresses the pains of reality and love in the most beautiful way, we are happy to see Elmiene moving past the garage and into the spotlight.
Notable Releases: EL-MEAN
“I knew deep down that “yeah, I’m going to school right now,” but I always had this weird feeling I was going to be a singer. I always knew it. I didn’t know how I was going to get there, but I could always envision myself doing something like that.”Thuy via Flaunt
Another Bay area beauty. Thuy has always been an artist that celebrates and shares her Vietnamese heritage. Fusing pop and R&B music elements, she has created a sound reminiscent of the 2000s R&B that we all know and love. Watching her as a fan and witnessing her maturation and evolution as an artist has been thrilling.
“l experienced love in every capacity. I started to truly find myself as a person. And that person is not perfect…he is in fact a mess. But he is honest, and that is just what this music portrays.”Byron Juane via Rated R&B
A North Carolina native and a classic artist in the making, Byron Juane’s tone reminds us of the R&B men of the 90s. He possesses a voice that takes you to the “singing love songs in the rain” days of music. We can’t help but bring attention to multifaceted artists who can play multiple instruments, from drums to trumpets. Juane is a musician in every sense of the word.
“I want them to feel me, straight! Whether you feel me being sad or happy, I just want you to feel me and understand what I’m saying and what I represent.”Nippa via GRM Daily
Though he has been making waves in the UK since 2020, Nippa is making his way into the forefront of modern artists with his signature sound, dubbed “Hood R&B.” His effortless blending of soulful vocals and clever lyricism brings a new take on the idea of a “hybrid” artist that sets him apart from his musical counterparts. Between opening for BLXST and Jack Harlow and being featured on Craig David’s album, Nippa is progressing to the start of the line and getting the consideration he deserves.
Notable Releases: Not a Statistic
“I think the struggles in the journey are what really makes the music stand the test of time, when I started doing music, I didn’t do it for money or clout, I did it because I love it.”Chase Shakur via voyageatl
Straight out of Atlanta, Chase Shakur is a rising alternative R&B artist building his sound and bringing us along for the reflective and harmonious ride. He utilizes haunting and dark melodies akin to The Weeknd’s Trilogy, occupying a space that bends genres and takes listeners through an out-of-body experience we can’t get enough of. Shakur has only touched the tip of the iceberg, and we are at the edge of our seats to see what he releases next.
Notable Releases: It’ll Be Fine
“I’m trying to sing from my heart. Yeah, you could listen to my words, you know what I’m saying? But you’re gonna feel my pain. You’re gonna feel the words that I’m singing, you know?”Rileyy Lanez via The Gumbo
A New York singer presenting a voice with depth far beyond her years, Rileyy Lanez, has often been labeled a heartbreak artist, but she truly offers so much more to listeners. She sings with a wide breadth of emotions and uses that to fuel her vocal and lyrical delivery to a place that brings listeners to their own emotional awakening. She faces many comparisons to more classic artists, but when you truly listen to her entire catalog, she is sincerely one-of-a-kind.
“At the end of the day, when it comes from a place of vulnerability, I can see I expressed myself in an honest way.”Mack Keane via Sheesh Magazine
Growing up in LA with a family filled with musicians, it is no surprise that Mack Keane is ridiculously talented. He exhibits a funky style and creates songs that you could have heard in the club in the 2000s or that you could cry to in your room after a breakup. His lyrics are packed with sincerity and vulnerability, with various beats to create songs unlike anything you would hear on the radio.
“I know myself a lot more. And I’m very, like, grateful and blessed for how far I’ve come. So it’s always important to remember that I’m more in touch with myself as an artist and even as a person.”Jaz Karis via 1883 Magazine
A South London beauty that grew up with music around her, Jaz Karis has taken her love of music and devoted it to perfecting her artistry. Integrating R&B, soul, and Afropop sounds, she has a genuine gift for flawlessly melting sounds into one another. A definitive example of an indie artist, she has the skill to write, record, produce, and engineer her own albums without a hitch. She has dominated the R&B space in the UK and is now finally making waves overseas in the States.
“To be able to kind of reach this kind of status, man… A lot of people who do their career switch […] don’t even receive a fraction of what I’ve been able to lock in on. I’m just eternally grateful. And I feel like everybody should, without being corny, genuinely follow that passion. Because it’s always going to feel better in the end.”Leon Thomas via SPIN
From New York to LA, from television to music, Leon Thomas has made moves across the board that reveal the magnitude of his immense talent. Having written and produced for some of the biggest names in the game, his name has been circulated for some time now, but he’s finally getting the acknowledgment he deserves as a singer. A true musical genius that has depicted impeccable talent from a young age, Thomas is long overdue for his breakthrough, which we believe he is on the verge of.
“I’m so happy that I’ve learned to trust my own timing. There’s no reason to compare. I’m just here to fulfill my dreams.”Joyce Wrice via Coveteur
This lovely LA artist exemplifies R&B women bringing back the lost art of combining singing and choreography. Steadily riding the wave of new age R&B, she has created a space for the elements of dance tracks back into the limelight. Against what many people believe about today’s live performances, she thrives on stage, going through various festivals and touring with some greats. After her viral Tiny Desk performance, Wrice has planted herself in the center of the industry and will only continue to grow.
“I’m not trying to do anything different. All I’m doing is putting out who I am in the forefront. That is inherently not going to be like anything or anyone else.”Ballad via Forbes
Modern neo-soul at its finest, Ballad was born in Luanda, Angola, and found his way to the R&B/soul space through social media. His 2022 singles made their way through people’s screens. They led to a viral moment as he became the catalyst for the newly-decided neo-soul genre, which has traveled further than anyone anticipated. His soulful and seductive voice carries immense weight in pulling in new listeners. We will be tuned in to watch as Ballad’s progression continues, as he is right on the cusp of his breakthrough.
There have been endless, baseless conversations about the climate of R&B over the last couple of years. True lovers of the genre know that so much talent has yet to be discovered, and this list is a compilation of only a few that have made their way into the public’s attention with their amazing work. While we uplift and appreciate these amazing artists and the gift they have decided to share with us, we continue to do the same for all who are on the rise.
Check out the official R&B Freshman Class 2023 playlist down below.