About 18 years ago, a young R&B artist who went by the name R. Kelly left his group, Public Announcement, to release his first solo album, 12 Play. The received mixed reviews at first, then received mostly positive ones later on. It is easily one of my favorite albums of all-time. He followed that up with a successful self-titled album released two years later and then a double-disc album named R. that found itself on top of the Billboard charts after its first week.
After his self-titled album, he was proclaimed the “King of R&B” by Ebony Man magazine. Still to this day, when someone discusses the R&B genre, R. Kelly’s name is almost immediately brought up. Just last year, he released another critically-acclaimed album in Love Letter, which gave a different vibe from his previous albums.
10 albums into his career and with more to come, it’s no wonder that upcoming R&B artists today aspire to be as successful as R. Kelly. There are three in particular that I want to touch on – three that might be the heir to R. Kelly’s crown sometime in the future. Two of them have been in the game since the middle-to-late 2000s with three or more albums under their belts already, while the other artist has worked more behind the scenes for a while before finally releasing his debut album this year.
There are three qualities I look at in an R&B artist; beautiful vocals, great lyrics and a very consistent record. R. Kelly has demonstrated all three of these throughout his career with some of the best vocals I’ve ever heard. He has demonstrated a knack for telling a story through a song, and the ability to release consistently good albums after one another.
Trey Songz has four albums under his belt and is probably the most popular R&B artist today. His vocal range has consistently improved throughout his career and it’s to the point where I would consider it one of the best voices in the genre. Songs like “Can’t Be Friends”, “Black Roses” and “On Top” shows that Trey can craft a song from a lyrical standpoint. The biggest flaw however with him is his consistency. His second album Trey Day was a flop and although his past two albums have been very good, there’s always one track in there that throws the entire album off. I don’t know if it’s label politics or if it’s Trey’s doing, but “LOL :-)” and “Bottoms Up” should not be on an R&B album.
The-Dream is the self-proclaimed “Radio Killa” but he speaks the truth; his hand in writing songs like J. Holiday’s “Bed” and Rihanna’s “Umbrella” have put those two artists in constant radio waves over the years. His lyrical skill is geared towards putting out music for the radio (like his nickname states) but it’s not completely mainstream. His consistency is unparalleled compared to other R&B artists today because he is one of the few that knows how to make a complete album. Every track transitions perfectly to the next song in his three albums, which is rare today. However, the biggest flaw that he has is his voice because it’s extremely weak. The-Dream uses a lot of computer generated programs to make his voice more appeasing and it said he can’t carry a stage to save his life because of that flaw.
If you follow the Def Jam record label, you might remember an up and coming artist that went by the name Lonny Breaux. Well today he’s known as Frank Ocean and he’s already one of the genre’s fastest rising stars. As Breaux, he was passed over and kept in the dark from the public, but he had his hand in writing songs for established artists like John Legend and Brandy. After releasing what has gotten mostly positive reviews in Nostalgia, ULTRA, the 23-year-old member from OFWGKTA could be the darkhorse to take R. Kelly’s crown someday. He has good vocals and a real knack for writing a song; it’s just up to him if he can stay consistent with his releases from now on.
There are other artists I could have mentioned like Legend, but I feel like he’s reached his potential and won’t get any bigger than he already is. That’s fine though because he’s an incredible artist on his own right, but the three artists I listed still haven’t reached the pinnacle of their success yet and it just takes one classic album to put their name in legitimate conversation. I would say that Trey Songz is the most likely choice to take the crown someday, with Frank Ocean and The-Dream slightly behind him.