Consider the debates and hot takes one might find in a group chat full of music nerds. That’s the sort of friendly chaos VIBE’s weekly updates meeting descended into when it came time to finalize our list of the 21 best R&B albums of 2021.
As R&B has evolved, it’s also become increasingly disaggregated. In separate cases, today’s R&B either feels indebted to the past, utterly dependent on trends of the present or committed to envisioning a future that’s altogether genre-agnostic. This means people’s personal taste is largely dependent on when and where the music hits them.
While VIBE Editor-in-Chief Datwon Thomas sung the praises of the grown man music heard on Anthony Hamilton’s Love Is The New Black, Senior Music Editor Austin Williams spent the updates meeting making the case for Tinashe’s underrated and experimental 333. Executive Editor Christine Imarenezor convinced the group to revisit JoJo’s slept-on trying not to think about it, and R&B Reporter Mya Abraham flexed her expertise to get Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales bumped up a spot.
Including curve balls from Hip-Hop Reporter Preezy Brown and Staff Writer DeMicia Inman in the form of the Hitmaka-produced Heat Of The Moment (Tink) and the Afrobeats-based If Orange Was A Place (Tems), the albums (and EPs) on the list below reflect an eclectic mix of personalities and sensibilities—just like the makeup of our staff. Ranked by our Senior Music Editor, here are our picks for the 21 best R&B projects of 2021.