6 Female Artists Who Prove Women Are Defining and Perfecting Alternative R&B

10/10 would recommend taking a listen.
July 30, 2018
6 mins read

Decades can be defined by music and the artists that create it. The deep, crooning voice of Frank Sinatra and the angelic, smooth songs of Ella Fitzgerald made the 1940s the jazz age. Moving on to the 1960s, the Beatles came over from across the pond to become the faces of rock ‘n’ roll.

Soul and R&B skyrocketed in popularity in the 1970s when the Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and many more joined Motown Records to craft hits that are still fondly remembered today.

2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G. brought in the heat when rap music took the industry by storm in the 1990s. Artists like Britney Spears and Beyoncé rose to fame in the early 2000s, bringing pop music into the new century.

Pop and dance music have continued thriving to this day, dominating the radio stations and blaring on the speakers at parties and get-togethers. But now it is time for a new musical era, one that I think is embodied by the collision of two genres: alternative and R&B.

These two musical styles have reached great heights of success in their respective categories. Now, the artists that have been experimenting with mixing and melding the genres together are on the rise, sliding their way into the mainstream.

Not only is alternative/R&B growing in the industry, but recently, this growth can be attributed largely to female artists. These women have produced brilliant tracks, helping define the depth that this genre has the potential to span. Here is a list I have compiled, with a mix of female alternative/R&B artists, some on the rise and some well-established already.

1. SZA

One of the most prominent artists on hip-hop/R&B radio today, the beautiful SZA received five Grammy nominations after the release of her debut album, “Ctrl,” including best new artist. SZA’s unique voice shines in all of her tracks, with some personal favorites being “The Weekend” and “Broken Clocks.”

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She’s even dropped some well-known collaborations with Travis Scott, Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar. Her songs are perfect for long summer car rides, complete with the windows down and the radio at full volume.

2. Zhavia

Zhavia Ward found her first major stage on the vocal competition “The Four,” where her raw, raspy tone on R&B hits instantly connected with the audience. Even though she did not win the show, she was clearly a fan favorite, and signed on to Columbia Records soon after the competition ended.

The talented teenager was featured on a song for “Deadpool 2,” alongside French Montana, Diplo and Lil Pump, and has recently announced the release of her EP. Zhavia has one of those extremely stylistic voices that adds a special flair to any song she sings, and I look forward to hearing where it takes her as a solo artist.

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3. H.E.R.

With a background she prefers to keep shrouded in mystery, artist H.E.R. (Having Everything Revealed) has shocked the world with her buttery, rich vocals. H.E.R. has been enveloped in music from a young age — she can play multiple instruments and has even been trained by recording artist Alicia Keys.

She’s released songs that make you want to cuddle up with a loved one, or sit enveloped in a blanket with a mug of hot tea on a rainy day. A personal favorite is her collaboration with Daniel Caesar on the song Best Part.

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4. Leah Jenea

Seventeen-year-old Leah Jenea is a current contestant on “The Four,” heading into the competition’s finale next week. She is extremely new to the industry, but her mesmerizing tone and way of performing capture the judges and audience in a way nobody else can, and that’s why she made the list.

With the rise of alternative/R&B in motion right as she begins her journey in the music world, I could see Jenea fitting in perfectly — she aligns with the cravings of listeners, making me excitedly anticipate her future work.

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5. Janelle Monae

This R&B queen has been around for quite a while, having released her debut album “The ArchAndroid” back in 2010. Her style and high energy are unparalleled, and she has collaborated with major artists, such as Big Boi, Prince and Erykah Badu. Monae even met with success in Hollywood, playing roles in the widely-acclaimed films “Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight.”

She recently dropped a new album, “Dirty Computer,” and it encapsulates a funk mixed with R&B vibe that is a pleasure to the ears and perfect for the dance floor. My Janelle Monae recommendations include “Tightrope,” from “The ArchAndroid,” and “Make Me Feel” and “PYNK” from “Dirty Computer.”

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6. Jorja Smith

Jorja Smith’s voice is magical. It reminds me of the kaleidoscopic patterns created by sunlight shimmering through a glass mosaic window, or twinkling shards of glass glimmering by the green-blue waves at a beach.

The UK-born singer has fans entranced with the release of her debut studio album, “Lost and Found,” initiating her rise into stardom. I foresee a future filled with more successes for this talented young woman. Check out her single “Blue Lights,” and prepare to be spellbound.

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Maya Ramani, University of Virginia

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Maya Ramani

University of Virginia

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