Around these parts, we prefer R&B in its purest form—meaning we value themes, begging, vocals, storytelling, musicality, vocals, emotion, quotables, production, replay value, vocals, impact, and did we mention vocals? After combing through copious amounts of new music throughout this past year and enjoying a healthy amount of it, VIBE—comprised of alt&B and soulful aficionados alike—chose the top 25 R&B Songs of 2022. Some were sleepers. A few were no-brainers—i.e. Jazmine Sullivan and FLO—while other selections required a lengthier thought process like why we chose Mary J. Blige’s collaboration with Anderson .Paak over the title track from Good Morning Gorgeous or which songs from RENAISSANCE were making the cut.
To say R&B dominated this year musically would be an understatement. Despite some prominent industry waymakers declaring the genre dead (again), those who actually ignore active clickbait know otherwise.
Whether you gravitate towards the seduction Chris Brown speaks of, the never-ending groove from Charlie Wilson, or opt for a vulnerable soundtrack pouring out from an array of artists, we can attest there’s something here for R&B students, veterans, and overall lovers. Now, we know how y’all like to tussle, so this list may vary from your personal preference and that’s okay. Music is a universal conduit, so we ask that you keep an open mind as you may discover something new and most of all, divulge our reasoning behind these choices.
With that being said, allow VIBE to present our Best R&B Songs of 2022 list, ranked, below.
"Hate Our Love" - Queen Naija And Big Sean
Queen Naija’s “Hate Our Love” featuring Big Sean is a vulnerable song for the hopeless romantics. Evoking feelings of resilience in an overly-criticized relationship, Queen and Sean wear their hearts on their sleeves in real-life and on wax— making the raw lyrics of “Hate Our Love” even more relatable to fans.
With a sampling of Bobby Glenn’s popular 1976 jam “Sounds Like A Love Song,” the single gives a perfect blend of modern-day R&B and Hip-Hop — reminiscent of an old-school Mary J Blige and Method Man collaboration. “Hate Our Love” is for the girls who aren’t afraid to fight for their man and the guys who don’t shy away from loving their lady out loud.
The Michigan crooner vulnerably sings, “Even though there’s times that we ain’t seeing eye to eye/ Can’t imagine spending holidays or birthdays without you/ And the moment I leave, I miss being around you/ And you know you mean well, I never ever doubt you/ We’ve been through some hell, but I still care about you/ Still crazy ’bout you.”
The track, which hails from the 27-year-old’s forthcoming sophomore album, peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s Adult R&B Airplay chart. It follows her and Kiana Ledé’s self-assuring single “I’m Her” from Queen’s debut album Misunderstood. — Amber Corrine
“I’m Baby” - Ambré Feat. Jvck James
On “I’m Baby,” Ambré and Jvck James explore a new sense of sensuality and vulnerability in a steamy romance. Featured on her 2022 offering, 3000 is one of the EP’s eight songs the New Orleans musician released in June. The mid-tempo bedroom-ready groove finds both musicians offering their softest, most submissive side. Both artists sing of finding themselves comfortable enough to open up like never before.
Ambré begins the seductive song signaling her openness to switch things up without complaint.
Jvck James uses his verse to assert “No need to take it off if it ain’t me in your bed.” A standout moment on the just over 3-minute track comes in the bridge where both musicians sing together about an inescapable, warming experience.
“Jvck, I had been following him for a while on social media, and when he finally came to the States, we linked up and we did some sessions,” Ambré shared with Billboard of the feature with her British collaborator.
“Funny enough, none of those songs ever came to be anything. But after one of the sessions, I sent him ‘Baby,’ and he was just like, ‘I like this,’ so he just hopped on it. I feel like all the features I do are usually super easy like that, but it’s organic, and I prefer that rather than the label situation.” — DeMicia Inman
“Surprise” - Chlöe
Incessant policing of the Black female form has attempted to derail Chloe Bailey for nearly two years. Still, she continues to defy the limitations of that prejudice—gloriously wielding her body-ody-ody and its desires.
On “Surprise,” Bailey further stamps her brand of sultriness with an anthem for an infamous move: sliding panties to the side. Dangling her “freaky side” as the ultimate prize to a loyal man, the 24-year-old siren makes a grown-woman request: “Build me up baby, give me that wood.” Employing the idea that women multiply what you give to them, Bailey ensures “If you be good to me, then I’ma be great to you/ If you stay down for me, then I’ll stay awake for you.”
As critics debate her appropriateness, Bailey also tunes out the noise with knowledge of her history. In the song’s visuals, she pays homage to Janet Jackson—a predecessor who also claimed her sexuality to misogyny’s chagrin. In more ways than one, Bailey’s fearlessness is a potent contribution to modern-day feminism. — Iyana Robertson
"ALL MINE" - Brent Faiyaz
Brent Faiyaz is known for his nostalgic tone that reminds us of the ’90s R&B soul from Jon B or Donell Jones. Although his vocal ability is less of a spectacle than most of today’s crooners, it was practically made for a slow jam. The single, “All Mine,” from his sophomore album Wasteland is generally soothing and sensual, with a sprinkle of soul at the right moments.
The seductive tune’s beat builds offering slight anticipation as to how Faiyaz may attack the track. The 27-year-old has a way of delivering a spacey kind of R&B song with unpredictable lyrics that a rapper might spit.
He sings, “That be the reason that you always hit me up (I swear)/ You like the way I f**k ’cause I get rough/ You told me your new man don’t make you n*t, that’s a damn shame/ You come here, I’ll knock your pu**y out the damn frame.”
“All Mine” has a kind of ear-worm effect present on many of Faiyaz’s other notable vocal efforts, including “Wasting Time” with Drake, “Jackie Brown” and “Price of Fame” to say the least — making it worthy of being listed. Peaking at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart, Faiyaz dethroned Drake’s Honestly, Nevermind, with the biggest opening week of his career. Wasteland impressively sold over 88,000 units in its first week — a big win for the Maryland native. — A.C.
“Whatever Simon Says” - Mahalia
Mahalia uses “Whatever Simon Says” to question whether a budding relationship has the potential for longevity. Although she might want it to work out, the UK-born vocalist refuses to compromise her integrity. Through her acute lyricism, the confident song empowers listeners to stand in their individuality, and remember that becoming someone else on behalf of someone else is never worth it.
Simon exists as not one individual, but the entire culture that encourages partnership as the ultimate goal, pushing women to conform to whatever a male-dominant society demands. With “Whatever Simon Says,” Mahalia discards the notion that women must sacrifice elements of their own wants, needs, likes, and desires for the love and attention of men.
The 24-year-old’s soulful delivery—amid the rim shot ticks and deep bass punches that envelop a lofty lullaby melody—paints a realistic portrait of a person who deeply yearns for a relationship to work out, but comes to the realization of knowing it was doomed from the start. In the song’s first verse, Mahalia sets the tone, affirming that she’s “Never done what Simon says.” By the second verse, she reflects on a moment when she gave in, and “it left me in pieces.” As “Whatever Simon Says” comes to a close, Mahalia is fully aware that she is “never gonna act a certain way,” and refuses to stay and pretend. — D.I.
“Please Do Not Lean” - Daniel Caesar Feat. BADBADNOTGOOD
Daniel Caesar repurposed the quintessential “it’s not you, it’s me” cop-out into a soulful jam entitled “Please Do Not Lean.” The vulnerable track finds Caesar teaming up with Canadian jazz quartet BADBADNOTGOOD for the R&B crooner’s first single since 2019. Throughout the track, Daniel acknowledges that he can’t fulfill his responsibilities and duties to his lover, honor his roles, and know when it’s time to do more if he doesn’t take the proper juncture to discover devotion to himself. “Sweet Emily, my bride to be/Just how long will you stand next to me?/For we both know, it’s more than a load/For you to bear.” With his gooey vocal textures, the Toronto native delivers a sentimental plea to his lover, admitting it may be time for her to leave him. One of the year’s best in inner turmoil. — Marc Antonio Griffin
“Black Folk” – Tank And The Bangas Feat. Alex Isley And Masego
Tank and The Bangas is vastly underrated. Composed of lead singer, Tarriona “Tank” Ball, and bandmates Albert Allenback (alto saxophone, flute), Joshua Johnson (drums), and Norman Spence (keys), the two-time Grammy-nominated quartet first gained notoriety back in 2017 after winning NPR’s Tiny Desk contest. Since then, their subsequent live performance has amassed over 13 million views, leading to their critically-acclaimed albums, Green Balloon (2019) and Red Balloon (2022)—the latter made VIBE’s 2022 Best R&B Albums list.
The New Orleans-bred band, who exude a flair for storytelling, merged R&B with eccentric poetry on “Black Folk.” Joined by soulful phenoms, Masego and Alex Isley, the hymn is a love letter synonymous with Black people and culture. Tank narrates, “I love the hair grease and the rental fees/ The front row seats, the police, the projects, the mustard greens/Being late, social security checks, government assistance/ Bougie Black looking good…” She speaks to our history and struggle, but also our communal experiences and beauty. Isley’s airy vocals preceding Masego’s celebratory verse is a Black-a** tribute we needed in the midst of racial injustice running amok and our survival swivel just to exist wearing out. — Mya Abraham
“Here With Me” – Mary J. Blige Feat. Anderson .Paak
Mary J. Blige continued her reign as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul with February’s Good Morning Gorgeous, an album that spawned singles including the revelatory ballad of the same name, the celebratory “Amazing,” featuring the expected high-energy of DJ Khaled, and the reflective “Rent Money” that united the Yonkers rep with Harlem’s own Dave East.
While all three tunes – particularly “Good Morning Gorgeous” – showcased the evolution of Blige’s perspective as both a singer and woman, the Anderson .Paak-assisted “Here With Me” encapsulates all that the songstress has blossomed into – a soulfully layered artist, unafraid to take risks both inside and outside the booth.
Co-written by Blige, .Paak, and producer Bongo ByTheWay, the song feels like a relaxed day on the West Coast, as the Silk Sonic musician crafted a track made to groove to while “bumper to bumper” in “LA traffic.” Beautifully casual harmonies between the two Grammy winners enrich the two-step record with the sort of musical warmth both Blige and .Paak are known for, especially as a hopeful Mary shares her desire for meaningful, authentic love.
“Give me more than sex, I need to connect, don’t wanna wake up in the morning feeling sad and regretful,” she declares in a yearning alto while somehow maintaining the swag that the bite-sized-bop warrants.
The gem is a standout on one of Mary’s most transparent albums, where even while keeping it 100 about her doubts and insecurities, she chooses to embrace joy and self-love over all else, and ain’t that the way it’s supposed to be? — Jessica “Compton” Bennett
"No Stoppin' Us" - Charlie Wilson Feat. Babyface, K-Ci Hailey, And Johnny Gill
When you have four of the most distinctive male singers of the last 40-plus years on one song, it’s baffling to hear the instantly recognizable vocals of Charlie Wilson, Babyface, K-Ci Hailey, and Johnny Gill lightly tinkered with by studio gloss. But once you get past that quibble, the sheer bliss of the former Gap Band leader turned solo headliner’s celebratory no. 1 Billboard Adult R&B Airplay two-step “No Stoppin’ Us” is too infectious to deny.
Bolstered by an interpolation of McFadden & Whitehead’s unofficial 1979 Black National anthem “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” the festive single is equal parts nostalgia and Cat Daddy fun. Credit all-world stalwart producer Mr. Edmonds with laying down a feel-good summer jam designed to get ample play at family reunions, cookouts, birthday parties, wedding receptions, and the proverbial grown and sexy gathering.
“People all around the world let’s make a toast to the one you love the most!” Wilson commands listeners over a bridge that’s so damn smile-inducing that you won’t be able to get it out of your head for weeks. Yet the true magic of “No Stoppin’ Us” is in these refined gentlemen’s soulful brotherhood. You anticipate Uncle Charlie and Jodeci’s K-Ci trading their signature adlibs, hearing Babyface’s effortlessly smooth cadence, and Gills’ from-the-gut bombast. This is rhythm and blues nirvana. — Keith Murphy
“Up At Night” - Kehlani Feat. Justin Bieber
With Kehlani’s loop-worthy love note featuring Justin Bieber, insomnia never sounded so sweet. Produced by Grammy-nominated beatsmith Rogét Chahayed and Philadelphia-born producer Pop Wansel (of the hit-making songwriting and production duo Pop & Oak), the ethereal single off Kehlani’s third studio album blue water road proves the Bay Area songstress comes alive in the nighttime, especially when the category is R&B jams.
Spotlighting Kehlani’s chemistry with Bieber — the two previously worked together on the sultry collaboration “Get Me” for Bieber’s 2020 album Changes — this infectious duet evokes the tenderness of a fresh romance. “There’s just no one better/ You think it’s calculated/ Baby, I’m just not that clever,” sings Kehlani in her sweet serenade as she runs back thoughts of the object of her affection and late-night attention. The repetition in the sticky chorus (“Thoughts of you keep me up at night/ Up at night, up at night”) atop the snap-worthy beat feels like a subtle hypnosis, luring listeners into Kehlani’s state of infatuation.
Be clear, though: The song is not a campaign for toxic obsessions à la Joe Goldberg in the Netflix series YOU. “It’s about having a healthily obsessed relationship,” the Grammy-nominated singer said of the song, which also dials up the feel-good nostalgia for the ’90s R&B junkies. Think Brandy’s “Sittin’ Up In My Room” and Selena’s “Dreaming of You” if they had a meet-cute. Even the music video, a lucid dream of sharp choreography and sensual mood boards, brings back fond and vivid memories of visuals from dancing queens like Janet Jackson, Ciara, and Aaliyah. She adds: “You’re telling someone, ‘I love you so much it keeps me awake at night.’ I love what Justin did, and it’s such a fun one to dance to.”
No matter what your relationship status is, “up at night” sets the mood for romance – on repeat. — Adelle Platon
“CUFF IT” - Beyoncé
“CUFF IT” is a beautiful, Black-a** dream:
You’ve arrived at Queen Beyonce’s magical court, and it’s been two years since she’s addressed her subjects.
Beyond the golden gates, you find magic pouring from the wells of three Black women—the Queen herself and Nova Wave—all joyously trading extrapolations with The-Dream. Further into the palace, the ambidextrous genius of Nile Rodgers and Raphael Saadiq thins the air; they both play poet with one hand and virtuoso with the other. Then a haze clears, and Sheila E.’s timeless beauty enters the frame, effortlessly adding a precious pulse with each drumstick fling.
As the Queen’s angelic voice glides over octaves and her ensemble’s brilliance emanates throughout the kingdom, citizens flood the streets to dance. With each synchronized two-step from folks on a mission to fall in love, the Queen and those who love her grow thoroughly pleased.
They all see far. They all see stars. They all levitate, and meet God.
The End. — Iyana Robertson
“Make Me Say It Again, Girl” – The Isley Brothers Feat. Beyoncé
This duet is traditional R&B at its finest. Bridging the generational gap, Ronald Isley and Beyoncé play off one another’s vocal strengths as Ernie Isley laces together the melodic trance. Despite their album, Make Me Say It Again, Girl—spoiler alert—not making our 2022 Best of R&B Albums list, this standout track oozes the Isley sound that topped Billboard’s Adult R&B Airplay for five weeks.
The string-laden ballad is romance and covert lust encapsulated. It makes you want to spend the full seven minutes in heaven enveloped in the arms of the one you love as Bey and Mr. Biggs coo as one, “How am I worthy of love from an angel?/ You’re king imperial of my soul/ Don’t really matter if you choose not to answer/ Hoping that what I reveal you already know.” This breathtaking song can easily stand up against its original two-part swoon-worthy version, designed for lovers of all ages and orientations. — M.A.
“Sunshine”- Steve Lacy Feat. Fousheé
Breakups are hard, especially when in the eclipse of what we were and what we can be. “Sunshine” provides a soundtrack to that space in the middle even if the love story comes to an end. Sharing their takes on a love gone south, Steve and Fousheé are a reliable duo (see their previous collaboration “candy grapes” for more heartbreak on the boulevard). The two can’t escape one another albeit titles such as an “ex” or the lessons and comfort they learned from each other along their journey.
Love isn’t as easy as we’d like it to be, with Steve toting his promise to give “d**k when you need” and Fousheé promising in a loving flow to “always be where you are.” The visuals do the same for “Sunshine” with Steve’s performance beginning on the ground and later meeting the singer in the skies. Falsettos aren’t the only blends permeating throughout “Sunshine.” Lacy taps into his funky soul and rock roots with an electrifying yet smooth solo while Fousheé’s chorus hits all the right talking points. “I took the high road, do it through every word/ Is it still that special if the whole world has owned?” she sings.
“Sunshine” gives good insight into the space of breakups. While Steve comes off as passive in the first verse and Fousheé empathetic, the two truly meet each other on higher ground by the time the bridge comes along with affirmations of love and affection. While the world continues to (rightfully) jam hard to “Bad Habits,” (fun fact: Fousheé sings background vocals for the track) “Sunshine” deserves more time in the sky as Steve continues to crossover to the pop stratosphere. The track seems to be getting a bit more time in the sun as former President Barack Obama featured the track as one of his favorite songs of the year. — Desire Thompson
"Exchange" - India Shawn
Making love can be seen as a transfer of energy, a sharing of souls; for R&B songstress India Shawn, it’s an idyllic “Exchange.” The sensual four-minute soundscape paints a sultry scene with every stroke of Shawn’s vocal brush — withvisions of love’s warmth, beads of sweat, and quivering legs. “Exchange” keeps its pace at a consistent 146 beats per minute — never losing sight of the goal — producing low, sparse energy for an excellent sonic interpretation of transmutation between lovers. The Los Angeles native’s song about making love so good that it could remedy woes is intoxicating — allow yourself to be inebriated. — M.A.G.
“LOVE” – John Legend Feat. Jazmine Sullivan
John Legend has cemented himself as a trusted architect of love songs. The indisputable success of songs like 2004’s “Ordinary People,” 2013’s “You & I (Nobody in the World),” and the 2013-and-beyond wedding staple “All of Me” makes this crystal clear. On his eighth studio album LEGEND—and with the help of vocal powerhouse Jazmine Sullivan to seal the deal—the EGOT crooner dials up the sensuality with a grown folks ballad that sticks to the bones.
“Love,” which appears in Act 1 of the 24-song double album, dips away from the blanket idea of sweet nothings in favor of a relationship nicked with imperfections that both parties openly embrace. There’s honesty in the turbulence of their on-wax emotional entanglement and how they maintain an element of sincere (albeit carnal) attraction. Sometimes the sex is just too good. “I know that it’s toxic love/ But I kinda like it, I do,” Legend sings of the love-making in question, to which Sullivan returns, “Every time I leave I know I’m coming right back.”
Sonically, the sultry number is as rich as it is sweet, thanks to production handiwork by OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, Pink Sweat$ and his brother Dante Bowden, Joseph Ruffin, and Gabriel Roth. “Love” invokes the smoky heat of a cigar bar, boasting a blend of slow-plucked bass strings, warm horns, and subtle cymbals that leave plenty of room for Sullivan and Legend’s swelling vocals—the shining instruments here—to take center stage and showcase their enviable theatrics. Their fluttering falsettos, breathy ad-libs, and honeyed harmonies wash over eardrums as they tell two sides of a long-awaited tussle between the sheets.
Although the album entered the scene to moderate metrics—LEGEND debuted at No. 10 on Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart—the sleeper song is still a worthwhile addition to mood-setting late-night playlists to come. — Stacy-Ann Ellis
"CYBAH" - Syd Feat. Lucky Daye
Syd kicked off the road to her April album Broken Hearts Club with “Fast Car,” “Missing Out,” and “Right Track,” but it’s the Lucky Daye-assisted “CYBAH” that was the real gift leading into the LP. The pure instrumentation, moody synths, and vocal filters felt as if the two vocalists were calling into the void. In reality, they were having open conversations with their lovers about whether their hearts were safe with them.
“If I ever make you mine, need to know if you’re the type/ Do me wrong or do me right/ Guess you never really know/ Gotta wait, see how it goes/ See about it, down the road/ That’s a blessing when you find/ Find a partner for the ride, don’t make me regret tonight/ Got a question ‘fore we go, one more thing I gotta know,” the former member of The Internet sings in the bridge before asking a simple yet difficult question.
How is one expected to answer “Could you break a heart?” Though it is unclear what type of response they desire, Syd and Lucky continue their inquiries. The Grammy winner lays it all out in his verse, requesting “Promise, it’s real, baby/ Promise me you’ll always keep my heart in a safe, please/ Promise me your everything, no matter what they say.” The promise ultimately means nothing without the subsequent actions, but the singing duo is trying to show the extent of their feelings through this line of conversation.
One of the most pleasing aspects of “CYBAH” is the harmonies on the bridge. “Look me, in my eyes (In my eyes)/ Let me down real nice/ If so, how long would it take?/ And if no, wait another day/ Big dreams, blow my mind/ Don’t leave and blow my high/ Let’s roll, nothing make or break ’cause baby/ You know, which way I’m tryna touch you, babe,” they sing together. — Armon Sadler
Queen Space” - Ari Lennox Feat. Summer Walker
Ari Lennox and Summer Walker are leading the way for modern R&B. Their similar yet distinctive styles echo the expansive genre’s past and promising future. Neo-soul-fused anthem “Queen Space” calls for listeners to bask in their regal nature and let their crowns shine.
And the chemistry between the singers cannot be denied. T teamed up for Walker’s “Unloyal” from her 2021 album Still Over It. Ari Lennox’s “Queen Space,” from her anticipated sophomore album Age/Sex/Location, highlights their sultry vocals and their ability to translate a woman’s complex wants, needs, and desires in their often introspective and detailed lyrics.
The single was previously teased by Dreamville co-founder Ib Hamad, who shared a video of J. Cole reacting to the track.
“I can’t wait till this sh*t come out,” says the rapper in a clip, rallying fans who had not been gifted a full-length project from the vocalist since 2019’s Shea Butter Baby.
On “Queen Space,” both women are proudly selective with who gets their time and energy. While open to letting her suitors taste, the Maryland-bred singer does not allow anyone in. “There’s something I am sure of/ I deserve something purer,” she asserts in her opening verse. Her signature, soulful vocals make the self-affirming declarations powerful.
Confident in their abilities to upgrade whoever is chosen, the women boast “Let it rearrange the way you think/ True elevation when I let you taste,” on the concise, catchy hook. Summer Walker’s more delicate tone gives a different perspective, but does not diminish the dominance established on “Queen Space.” The Atlanta-bred musician floats in her abilities to entice suitors and keep them coming back. “Can’t seem to stay away from it,” she soothingly confesses. — D.I.
“Keeps On Fallin’” - Babyface Feat. Ella Mai
It’s simply unfair to call Babyface’s “Keeps On Fallin’” a comeback single; the master songwriter hasn’t necessarily left our ears. His timeless hits continue to populate every playlist and function, particularly 1993 penned “Can We Talk” sung by Tevin Campbell which has become the R&B aficionado’s “Dreams and Nightmares.” It’s also sampled in “Keeps On Fallin,’” a flex only Babyface can do. While Mai sings of perpetual loving bliss with Mr. Is-He-My-Person-or-Nah, Babyface gently reminds her and us all of our worth. “You gotta give yourself some credit,” he sings. “So baby, don’t forget/ girls like you make the world go round/ You make the world go round and round.”
Debuted at this year’s BET Awards, “Keeps On Fallin’” shows the seamless chemistry between a vet and an evolving songstress. It’s earned the duo a 2023 Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance, a No. 1 spot on R&B Radio in addition to No. 2 on Billboard’s Adult R&B Airplay chart. The response to “Keeps On Fallin’” highlights the delicate formula of sampling and simply letting an artist shine without leaning on anything else but their talent. With Mai among those leading the charge for today’s women of R&B, Girls Night Out demonstrates just that. — D.T.
"Cardboard Box" - FLO
If 3LW’s “No More (Baby I’ma Do Right)” and Blaque’s “As If” were fused with a dash of Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” and transported to the year 2022, you’d more than likely get “Cardboard Box” from FLO, the newest girl group. The UK-bred singers—Jorja, Renée, and Stella—teamed up with fellow Brit, singer-songwriter, and producer MNEK and created this bop inspired by R&B and pop music heard on the radiowaves in the late ‘90s/early 2000s. The ladies take turns singing verses and flow (pun intended) their bright harmonies over the dreamy bridge before taking it to the outro (remember when a song’s structure had those?)
The chorus’ chords and lyrics stand at the apex of their break-up song’s catchiness. Take heed because when the relationship is done, it’s d-o-n-e. “I’ma put your sh*t in a cardboard box/ Changing my number and I’m changing the locks,” they sing. “When you can’t get in, know your heart gon’ stop/ You may be crying, but, boy, I’m not.“ Welp, they said what they said.
But the nostalgic single’s LOOSE-directed music video was what added fuel to the song’s spark. In the trio’s fun, yet simple visual, the groupmates rock cargo pants, wear poppin’ lip gloss, talk on flip phones, and dance in unison. Naturally, clips of the song and video made rounds on social media with viral posts on Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram. Since their empowering debut single’s release, FLO has dropped The Lead, a 6-track EP, where they keep the retro vibe going on songs like “Immature” and “Not My Job.” The trio was also named Apple Music’s ‘Up Next’ artist.
To date, the refreshing song has garnered over 19.5 million streams on Spotify with its music video tallied at 5.9 million views. If FLO can keep up its newfound momentum, the ladies could one day make a mark in girl group history. — Christine Imarenezor
"ICU" - Coco Jones
Back in April, Coco Jones told VIBE, “I want people to know that I be singing!” She first returned to the music scene with her single, “Caliber,” but it was its silk serenade, “ICU,” that followed and secured her spot as one of the top R&B vocalists of this generation. Her rich tone and fluid range are more than enough for Jones to flaunt that IT factor.
The DJ Camper-produced ballad, though, emotes feelings of yearning and angst. The “guttural punch” can be considered to be that “beggin’ R&B” we love as the 24-year-old sings, “You’ve got a feeling, a soul, that I need in my life/ Oh, woah/ And though we may grow/ I don’t know why we don’t grow apart/ Maybe I-I-I-I-I, I need you/ I breathe you, turnin’ my heart blue…,” is a heartbreaking reality in a relationship where you and your partner have simultaneously thrived and grown apart, and are now at an impasse of deciding to fight for the union or let it wither away.
By the end of the record, questions are still lingering, but overall this turmoil is what R&B is made of. Jones sings from the depths of her soul as it permeates through to the listener. Despite the track having yet to garner mainstream acclaim, it did peak at No. 14 on the iTunes R&B/Soul Songs chart following her 2022 Soul Train Awards performance. Nonetheless, “ICU” should set Jones up for success amid her Babyface co-sign, and Bel-Air’s return, as fans await her debut album. — M.A.
"WE (Warm Embrace)" - Chris Brown
“WE (Warm Embrace),” the second single released from Chris Brown’s 10th studio album Breezy, feels like an inviting hug from the Virginia native himself. Released in June, the track harkens back to a ’90s R&B vibe with interpolations of Guy’s and Keith Sweat’s versions of “Let’s Chill” peppered throughout. On this song, Brown revisits his softer side, giving us a tune reminiscent of endearing songs like “Take You Down” and “I Wanna Be.”
On “WE,” Brown croons the sampled lyrics: “And I wanted to wrap you in, my warm embrace/ And make it last forever, Girl, I catch a glimpse of heaven/ When you let me wrap you in, My warm embrace (my warm embrace)/ Visions of my hands in places/ My warm embrace.”
The song’s Arrad-directed visual tapped Normani for an undeniable on-screen chemistry between her and Brown that gives Dirty Dancing another meaning. The visual starts with Chris Brown falling through a hazy purple and pink sky as a snippet of Breezy’s “Sleep at Night” plays in the background of his drop. Breezy soon finds himself in the same realm as the “Wild Side” singer, as the two give a steamy waltz across the floor before meeting each other again underwater where they share a kiss.
Many fans praised Brown for including a darker-skinned woman as his love interest in the video. Others criticized the former Fifth Harmony member for being the lead in the controversial singer’s music video.
The slow-tempo cadence to “WE” is just one of many seductive feels Breezy offers on his 33-track deluxe project. Peaking at No. 11 on Billboard’s Hot R&B Songs chart and No. 28 on the Adult R&B Airplay chart, “WE (Warm Embrace)” follows up from the LP’s singles “Iffy” featuring Young Thug and “Till The Wheels Fall Off,” which also entered respective Billboard charts. Even without an RIAA certification at the moment, “WE (Warm Embrace)” will go down in history as one of Chris Brown’s most timeless songs. — A.C.
"Real Thing" - Pink Sweat$ Feat. Tori Kelly
More often than not, a love song will emerge created for love purists and hopeful romantics to join the list of endearing classics for wedding and anniversary playlists. Pink Sweat$’s duet with Tori Kelly is one of those songs. While several of his R&B counterparts sing of heartbreak and blatant eroticism, this crooner is making sure the genre doesn’t forget the art of personifying affection.
His lower register paired with Kelly’s dreamy falsetto makes falling and being in love seem like life’s greatest achievement. “Sunday morning, sunrise/ Your eyes on me, collide/ Adore you, I do, no lie/ I’m yours and you’re mine for life,” they conjointly sing on the pre-chorus while whisking you away with how perfect it sounds. For singles, it serves as a soundtrack to idyllic musings and, for those boo’d up, can serve as a relationship’s musical accompaniment.
When Pink Sweat$ released the single from his Pink Moon EP in January, he stated, “I want couples around the world to champion marriage. At the same time, if you haven’t experienced love yet, stay hopeful for it.” In an age where instant gratification is a new norm and the courtship stage of dating is fading as horror stories are amplified on TikTok, those who still desire honest companionship and a healthy, long-term union need more records like “Real Thing” to remind them that these aforementioned longings are attainable.
Contrary to popular belief, chivalry is not a dead, far-fetched fallacy. It is very much alive, just like R&B and as an international success, Pink Sweat$ is intent on guaranteeing you don’t forget that. — M.A.
"Love Again" - Alex Isley And Jack Dine
Alex Isley is one of the best R&B acts of this time. Yes, she is the embodiment of the genre because she was raised to be that way, but her spot is encased in concrete because her pen game, exquisite range, and talent speak for themselves. Over the past decade, Isley has risen to be the type of artist who elevates a track or project simply for being on it. She lives in her own lane and yet again, has proven such with her Valentine’s Day single, “Love Again.”
The record speaks for those who heal after heartache as opposed to allowing that pain to transform them into a bitter, heartless monster. Similar to the rush of heat slowly returning to your body after enduring brisk, winter wind, Isley is soothing and familiar. When the record first surfaced, we reminisced on the magic she and her music partner, Jack Dine, have created from 2019’s Wilton to 2022’s Marigold. With “Love Again,” they’ve formulated a beautiful ode to hopeful romantics with Isley even telling VIBE, “‘Love Again’ is about how sweet it can be to have another shot at love […] and it’s that hope that makes it all worthwhile.”
The record may be under three minutes, but with an opening verse that says, “Been looking for answers, some kinda sign/A deeper meaning but not much to find/Except the sun in my face and it feels right,” the song is enough without going tiptoeing into fluff territory. Nesting in the home H.E.R.’s “Best Part,” Luther Vandross’ “Wait For Love,” and Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo’s “Nothing Even Matters” built, Isley and Dine’s song is a quintessential example of the beauty of remaining soft and embracing a secure attachment. — M.A.
"Hurt Me So Good" - Jazmine Sullivan
First things first, this is a gospel song just as much as it’s an R&B song, whether you want to admit it or not. “Hurt Me So Good” is an anointed hymn where Jazmine Sullivan broods over the pain many put themselves through by remaining in a partnership they know is past its prime.
When Sullivan released Heaux Tales, Mo’ Tales, this track was the complement to “Jazzy’s Tale.” Sullivan’s own reflection on how her past relationships were rooted in insecurity and overzealous expectations was raw and alarmingly relatable. “It was more so about an idea in my head than the actual relationship that I had. Also, I just didn’t wanna be alone […] It’s a sad, scary, and vulnerable place when you need to feel love so much that you’re willing to accept anything,” she narrated.
It is terrifying to be so in love with someone that you’re exerting massive amounts of energy into something while it’s simultaneously draining you. This song is full of quotables you love to hate. Ain’t no way someone is about to invite embarrassment into their home publicly by captioning a relationship photo, “I know you’re no good, but I just keep hanging on to toxicity/And you know you could do better, baby, but you won’t try for me, no.”
This record is a personal cry for help that’s become gravely monumental and feels like an outpouring of emotions that are too imposing to be reduced to a text or voice note. Not to mention the way Sullivan’s low vibrato belts out, “You break me down but you show no remorse/Mm, and I’m losin’ the war/’Cause you don’t know nothin’ ’bout love/And I’m just a shadow of all that I was” induces tears.
Not performing this live during the Heaux Tales Tour was a missed opportunity because vocally, Sullivan’s choices were superb. This is why it peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s Adult R&B Airplay chart and should take home the Grammy for Best R&B Performance in 2023. — M.A.
"PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA" - Beyoncé
From that very guitar strum, it is evident that “PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA,” is a standout record on RENAISSANCE. Coming down from that vibrant first-half high, Beyoncé gives listeners a chance to catch their breath, somewhat, with this sensual tune. Co-produced by Syd, Leven Kali, and Bey of course, Kali’s eclectic sound blends seamlessly with Syd’s sultry signature while Bey adds her own twang to make the perfect R&B record of 2022.
It’s sweet, playful, downright sexy, and even sparked a challenge among singers to test their range, control, and agility. As Beyoncé finds a way to make submission, acceptance, and vulnerability seem like foreplay, listeners get swept away as she sings, “Boy, I know you can’t help but to be yourself ’round me/ Yourself ’round me, no/ And I know nobody’s perfect, so I’ll let you be/ It’s the way you wear your emotions on both of your sleeves […]Boy, I love that you can’t help but be yourself around me/ Sugar, well, you trippin’, I know we’ll make up and make love/ So I’ll let you be/It’s the way you listen when I’m cryin’, you let me lean in/ It’s the way you want one more kiss after you said you were leaving…”
It’s love in the key of life. It’s poetic like “lyzel in E flat.” Her innocent albeit seductive giggle when she shares, “I think you’re so cool (Even though I’m cooler than you),” lets fans in on an inside joke. She reels us in while still keeping the inner workings of her relationship to herself. “Plastic Off The Sofa” breeds the joy and yearning of new love combined with the eternal flame and comfortability of something pre-established.
It also would be remiss if we failed to acknowledge the vocal Olympic trials she began on this record. Like any great love song, it wasn’t rushed—much like the rest of the album. Bey took her time, literally allowing for each lyric to rest and resonate as she continued to riff into the heavens—a feat that should earn the song the Best Traditional R&B Performance at the 2023 Grammys. The added bonus was the nearly undetectable transition into the flex of “VIRGO’S GROOVE,” which can lead to a separate breakdown of why RENAISSANCE is the album of the year overall. — M.A.