2020 felt like a decade due to all of the chaos happening in the world, but the one consistency was the amount of good music that dropped. Artists have been relatively quiet to start off the new year, but there are still plenty of quality singles for fans to enjoy. February brought new music from H.E.R., Brent Faiyaz, Bryson Tiller and more.
Every month, HipHopDX puts a spotlight on the tracks that stand out from the overabundance of releases throughout the year, highlighting everything from Billboard chart-friendly singles to essential album cuts. Check back at the beginning of every month for updates and check out our other lists and our playlist below, which includes all of the songs mentioned in this article and more:
Editor’s note: songs from this list were released between Dec. 1, 2020 – Feb. 28, 2021.
The Top R&B Songs of 2021 (December – January)
Contributing writers: Trent Clark, Kyle Eustice, Josh Svetz, Dana Scott, Brandon Caldwell, David Brake, Kenan Draughorne, Devon Jefferson & Jeremy Hecht.
A beat from KAYTRANADA is not simply a platform for artists to rap over. Each track is an expansive world, built carefully and intentionally from smaller components. A snare hit here, a slightly distorted synth note there. The Canadian producer approaches his work like a painter with a fine brush, filling the canvas with blended notes. “Caution,” the latest single from the 28-year-old instrumentalist is lush and off-kilter. The influence of famed Detroit producer J Dilla is apparent throughout the song, though it’s also ripe with motifs from Afrobeats and even the digital sounds of House music. While KAYTRANADA has produced excellent tracks for rappers including Vic Mensa, Syd and GoldLink, “Caution” is a refreshing track that creates room for the producer to shine.
“Still Yours” – Bryson Tiller f. Big Sean
“Fight For You” – H.E.R.
In the opening moments of “Fight For You,” featured on Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album, H.E.R.’s voice breaks through the thick horns like direct sunlight shattering a ceiling of clouds. Her voice is rich and unwavering as she demands change. “Long as I’m standing, we can never lose / I’mma always, always fight for you,” she croons. At this point, H.E.R. is such a mainstay in contemporary R&B, a singer with such mature assuredness, that it’s striking to remember that she’s only 23-years-old. On “Fight For You,” which was self-produced alongside assistance from D’Mile, the Vallejo, the California singer evokes memories of legendary R&B acts like Billie Holiday. But H.E.R. is unapologetically herself, and that powerful independence, clear on “Fight For You,” is a crucial component to her astronomical rise.
“Eden” – Brent Faiyaz
“Jealous” – Mahalia f. Rico Nasty
The journey during the come up for an artist is littered with people who try to take credit for their success. Both Mahlia and Rico Nasty understand the frustration when former friends, collaborators and lovers try to downplay the success they’ve earned out of pure spiteful jealousy. That shared experience between two genre-hopping badasses acts as the secret sauce to Mahalia’s latest single, filled with enough punchline haymakers and unbothered attitude to silence any hater.
“So Frequently” – Marzz
“80/20” – Chloe x Halle
R&B could never be dead while Chloe x Halle are making music. The R&B duo, comprised of sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey, have overtaken the genre with a ferocity. First with Ungodly Hour, and now with Ungodly Hour (Chrome Edition), which includes two new tracks and a vinyl run. “80/20,” one of the two bonus songs, is a flirtatious exploit, with the girls singing about desiring more than what their monogamous partner can offer, while looking elsewhere for the 20% they need. They flip traditional stereotypes on their heads, running through boys with zeal. They shun conventional gender expectations through a tongue-in-cheek teasing and a bubbly, delivery.
“Intruded” – Justine Skye & Timbaland
“Missing Out” – Syd
“Gravity” — Brent Faiyaz & DJ Dahi f. Tyler, The Creator
DJ Dahi immediately sets the tone for “Gravity” with a soft, rolling surf guitar loop, driven by a spare, dragging kick drum. It’s a lilting, simple production that leaves plenty of space for Brent Faiyaz’s layered harmonies. The Columbia, Maryland born singer might only be 25-years-old, but he writes love songs like an old soul, detailing his romances with wit and a mature frankness. Faiyaz tapped Tyler, The Creator for his latest, a man who also knows his way around a good love song. Tyler’s more abrasive voice marries perfectly with the smooth production of DJ Dahi and Faiyaz’s soulful crooning.
“Good Days” — SZA
The Queen of R&B is back. All eyes turned to her with last year’s release of “Good Days,” which also featured Ty Dolla $ign. Now, “Good Days,” her latest track, has arrived, and the ball is in the TDE singer’s court. SZA’s run of exceptional production continues, with an all-star assembly of Los Hendrix, Nascent, Carter Lang and vocal magician Jacob Collier. “Good Days” also marks SZA’s first entry into the Billboard Hot 100 as a solo artist, peaking at the tenth spot weeks after its release. SZA seems to be leaning back into the sounds from her instant-classic Ctrl, and we couldn’t be more excited.
“At My Worst” – Pink Sweat$ f. Kehlani
Reaching back into The Prelude EP, Pink Sweat$ taps Kehlani to afford his angelic “At My Worst” love song a second wind. The easy-going ballad is the perfect balance of sauntering vocals and entrancing guitar riffs elevated by minimal drum patterns. Additionally, the conversational verses of both Kehlani and Pink Sweat$ provide make the song incredibly endearing and relatable. We’re here for more R&B duets like this one, this year.
“Girl Like Me” – Jazmine Sullivan
“Spicy” – Ty Dolla $ign f. YG, Post Malone, Tyga, J Balvin
At the height of Featuring Ty Dolla $ign, the Taylog Gang vocalist’s Post Malone-leaning “Spicy” collaboration dominated the airwaves and eventually peaked at No. 44 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Now, with the additions of YG, Tyga and J Balvin, the tangy audio has yet another peppery pocket for listeners to fall into. And the spanglish vibes Dolla’s twists into his flows coupled with J Balvin Spanish-speaking bars, “Spicy” has effectively become a bi-lingual hit.
“MLK Dr” – Smino
“Real Walker” – 24 Hrs
“On It” – Jazmine Sullivan f. Ari Lennox
Though the album bears the name Heaux Tales, Jazmine Sullivan’s new project listens more like a sultry collection of tracks inspired by pleasures of the flesh. The lust-filled dynamic of “On It” featuring Jazmine’s soul-sister Ari Lennox definitivelly highlights the delicate relationship between licentious vulgarity and relationship-based intimacy the entire album cleverly quantized. There is also an intense soulful element to the record that is reminiscent of the type of visceral R&B classics like D’angelo’s “How Does It Feel” from 2000.
“He Said” – dvsn f. Miguel
Alternative R&B doesn’t quite classify DVSN’s Amusing Her Feelings track “He Said” featuring Miguel because it truly exists in a space of its own. Ignited by what is arguably pop/punk-tinged production and a very moody, semi-somber feature from Miguel, “He Said” crosses-over multiple genre guidelines in the best possible ways. And with lead-singer Daniel Daley’s sexualized lyrics cascading over the top of the apocalyptic instrumentation, “He Said” is easily one of the most memorable tracks from the OVO duo’s recent deluxe offering.