10 Best R&B Albums Of 2023
2023 was an amazing time for fans of R&B. Supporters of the genre were treated to work from established stars like SZA, Summer Walker and Brent Faiyaz while receiving new tunes from rising artists like Maeta, Coco Jones and Ward. At this point, anyone debating that the genre is “dead” isn’t looking in the right places.
Songs like SZA’s “Kill Bill” and Faiyaz’s “WY@” became radio mainstays, while Jones chalked her first radio smash with “ICU.” Although slower ballads had their time in the limelight, Victoria Monét’s “On My Mama” was an energetic, viral hit that gave supporters a nostalgic track to dance to.
This year, a healthy dose of music was offered within the soulful music category. Rap-Up compiled a list of 10 projects (in no particular order) that helped define the year. Check to see if your favorite made the cut below!
Editor’s note: Albums from this list were released between Dec. 1, 2022 and Dec. 1, 2023.
1. STREETS SAY YOU MISS ME by Ryan Trey
Ryan Trey‘s new album feels like a perfectly executed subtweet toward a former lover. The semi-toxic tracklist is filled with phrases that express a wide range of emotions felt during a breakup. It is no coincidence that the song titles are in all caps; the Interscope signee has a solid message to get across.
His intense level of relatability serves as a safe space for scorned lovers who secretly miss someone they shouldn’t. His flex-worthy bars pair perfectly with his strong production choices that help score the mini-movie that is his life. He tags artists like Mariah the Scientist, Vory and NoCap to help detail his experience navigating fame, love and everything else.
2. Jaguar II by Victoria Monét
“On My Mama” might very well be one of the year’s best songs. If not for everyone, it definitely is for the talented songwriter, who was contemplating giving up on her solo career if it wasn’t for her exciting smash record. After dropping off her breakout hit, Monét released her newest LP, Jaguar II.
The 11-song album hosted features from Lucky Daye, Buju Banton, and Earth, Wind, & Fire. After being so instrumental in creating some of the world’s biggest songs as a writer, Monét has been able to smell every flower she deserved following the release of her latest Grammy-nominated album.
3. Larger Than Life by Brent Faiyaz
In an age of countless samples and interpolations done with low effort, Brent Faiyaz delivered a masterclass utilizing nostalgic sounds without losing his freshness and creativity. His follow-up to WASTELAND surprised the industry with 14 songs, including features from Coco Jones, Missy Elliott, Timbaland, ASAP Rocky, Babyface Ray and more.
While the multiplatinum crooner delivered guest appearances from mainstream acts, he also used his album to highlight budding acts like Tommy Richman, FELIX!, N3WYRKLA, TTM Dawg, and others. The DMV-bred superstar paired the LP with a special chopped-not-slopped version for fans of the Houston-inspired sound. Following his major creative partnership announcement with UnitedMasters, this marked his first full-length project.
4. When I Hear Your Name by Maeta
Roc Nation’s Maeta made a huge splash this year with the release of her timeless album When I Hear Your Name. The soulful, sensual new project features 13 songs with guest appearances from Lucky Daye, Ambré, Ty Dolla Sign, James Fauntleroy and more. In just 40 minutes, Maeta proves her prowess as a vocalist and her creativity as a songwriter, which she has developed since her 2021 project, Habits. Tracks like “Sexual Love” and “Questions” serve as standouts on the new and mature offering. Her transparency has been heralded and helped her secure co-signs from major industry players like Chris Brown, Joe Budden and more.
5. I Thought It’d Be Different by Rory
The main critique of commentators in any industry is that they usually do not have experience participating in whatever they are forming opinions on. As a podcaster, Rory is used to commenting on new music, but this year, he decided to take a swing at creating the art himself. As a coordinator instead of an artist, Rory enlisted folks like Emotional Oranges, THEY., dvsn, GoldLink, Jay Electronica, Alex Isley and more to help bring his vision to life. His first album will be a challenging task to follow, as it has been widely regarded as one of the best executive-produced projects of the year.
6. What I Didn’t Tell You (Deluxe) by Coco Jones
Coco Jones earned her status as one of the most promising new R&B acts in the music industry. After securing her bonified hit “ICU,” she received countless support, including 20 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 list. What I Didn’t Tell You (Deluxe) helped Jones transition from a Disney Channel child star to a bona fide R&B star. Her 1990s-inspired project details her experiences with relationships, losing love and everything in between.
After building up a massive fan base on TikTok by recreating covers, Jones now has an album full of tracks that people sang at the top of their lungs during her sold-out tour. The Def Jam Records signee also plays Hilary Banks on “Bel-Air,” NBC’s reboot of “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
7. Fridayy by Fridayy
The Philly-bred crooner captured the hearts and ears of millions of new listeners after his dynamic hook was heard on DJ Khaled’s title track “GOD DID.” The culture-shifting cut featuring JAY-Z, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne became one of the most talked about moments of the year, and Fridayy’s timeless voice was a big part of the reason why.
Inspired by enigmatic crooners like The Weeknd, PARTYNEXTDOOR and more, Fridayy shared his 14-track album via Def Jam Records. The sonically daring LP features Maverick City Music, Adekunle Gold, Chris Brown, Fireboy DML and Byron Messia. His signature tone and heartfelt pen can be felt throughout the dynamic debut.
8. SOS by SZA
SZA‘s new album, SOS, is one of the greatest R&B offerings of the last five years. Although the project emerged in late 2022, it dominated the Billboard charts throughout 2023. With dynamic tracks like “Kill Bill,” “Snooze” and “Good Days,” SZA proved that she is one of the best songwriters of her generation. Since the release of her game-changing LP CTRL, the award-winning crooner delivered what is quickly becoming widely accepted as her magnum opus. With the running joke being that SZA sings in cursive, it became clear people understood the message she wanted to get across just fine after selling over 3 million albums in less than 12 months.
9. HEAVEN by Cleo Sol
Most people know Cleo Sol from the popular music collective Sault, but her solo release, Heaven, has helped her pave the road to stardom as a stand-alone act. After receiving poignant co-signs from industry legends like André 3000 and many more, her new nine-track project is a featureless master class in song creation that feels like a Sunday morning with your most beloved partner.
Her whisper-like voice and bare-bones instrumentation give the feeling of discovering your new favorite artist at an open-mic night in a small city. “Go Baby” and “Airplane” are cheap vacations that take you anywhere you want to go once you close your eyes. Fans of neo-soul superstars like Erykah Badu and Sade will enjoy the new release from Cleo Sol.
10. CLEAR 2: SOFT LIFE EP by Summer Walker
Summer Walker‘s dating life may seem like a roller coaster on social media, but the talented songstress always delivers when it is time to drop a project. After releasing Over It and Still Over It, she returned with a more stripped-back approach that showcased her powerful voice and poignant lyrics, detailing her lust for life without issues.
With “Soft Life” and “Black Girls In Luxury” becoming popular buzzwords in our culture, this album served as the soundtrack for people who no longer want to deal with the issues Walker believes only exist within our culture. The therapeutic EP featured J. Cole and fellow Atlanta recording artist and director Childish Gambino.