Though Alicia Keys and Def Jam artists Coco Jones and Mikhala Jené are getting a head start on the holiday season, others are basking in their return to the spotlight. After a six-year hiatus, Rihanna finally dropped new music, and it’s an endearing ballad with a purpose. Meanwhile, SZA teased more new music from her long-awaited sophomore album.
Underrated singer-songwriter Leven Kali shared his first new project since 2020’s HIGHTIDE and DRAM premiered another record from his forthcoming album, What Had Happened Was. Whether you’re in the mood to deck the halls, work on your karma, get out of the friend zone “for the night” or chuck the deuces at someone you’re no longer feeling, check out this week’s top new R&B releases.
Rihanna — “Lift Me Up”
Rih’s newest work of art is a tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman for the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever original soundtrack. Written by Tems, Ludwig Göransson, Rihanna, and the film’s director, Ryan Coogler, the ballad serves as a testament to the Fenty mogul’s vocal growth.
Tems spoke on the heart-wrenching record on Instagram upon its release. “Blessed to have written this song in honour of Chadwick Boseman and even more blessed to hear the baddest @badgalriri voice it to perfection [dove emoji],” wrote the 27-year-old Nigerian phenom. To which the mother of one replied, “It’s the pen for me [sic] love to you sistren.”
The Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack will be available on Nov. 4 while the score premieres in tandem with the sequel on Nov. 11.
SZA — “Shirt”
After a year-long wait, SZA has officially released her newest single, “Shirt.” The Darkchild production is one of anxiety-fueled feelings as the 32-year-old navigates a taxing relationship. “In the dark right now/ Feelin’ lost, but I like it/ Comfort in my sins and all about me/ All I got right now/ Feel the taste of resentment,” she sings.
The single also hints that her highly-anticipated album may now be called No Ctrl. Similar to other recent videos, she also teased another new single called “Blind.” The Dave Meyers-directed, Quentin Tarantino-inspired visual is nods at her acting chops with her feature film debut coming in the near future.
dvsn — Working On My Karma
After flipping R&B on its head with their controversial single, “If I Get Caught,” dvsn has released their new album, Working On My Karma.
When speaking on the brutally honest LP, Daniel Daley told VIBE exclusively, “We are a group that tries to make sure we’re making moments, but also just tries to keep progressing the conversation of R&B. It’s the ideology of dvsn that’s still here, which is always being cool with being separate from the pack, being unapologetically on your own wave, in your own vibe. This is us trying to help reset the systems, refresh the palette, bring some more traditional R&B to the forefront as far as the sound, but then also still progress it with the writing and the topics and being very real about where we are today in the relationship in society and the human experience.”
Trust us, it’s not all toxic as some may assume. It’s a raw stance on how men rise, fall, and get real about relationships. Because we already know: what goes around, always comes back around.
Leven Kali — Let It Rain
The RENAISSANCE songwriter returns with new music of his own, following the 2020 release of his album, HIGHTIDE. The abstract, fluid crooner’s soft EP feeds fans’ craving for new music while simultaneously being a tease. However, Kali can do no wrong, so we’ll take this offering and sit patiently as he cooks up more.
Various — Def The Halls
Def Jam has issued its newest holiday compilation album, full of classics and originals from some of the label’s veterans and rising stars. Jhené Aiko’s illustrious remake of her 2013 ballad, “Wrap Me Up” is featured while her artist, August 08, sings “Silent Night.” Coco Jones beautifully tackles “Silver Bells” and Mikhala Jené, who dropped her own new music in recent weeks, has two tracks on the project. But our standout is Jai’Len Josey’s “A H*e’s Christmas.” If you’re in the mood to get into the holiday spirit, dive into this LP immediately.
Chlöe Feat. Latto — “For The Night”
“For the Night”—the fourth single from her long-awaited solo debut album—is an anthem for singles navigating the blurred line between being committed lovers and strictly platonic friends. Similar to the theme of “Treat Me,” where she demands her partner to love her how she loves herself, Chlöe still wants that. But now she’s asking in a softer way. Reflecting on the little moments, she questions why that isn’t enough to make him commit.
The visual for Chlöe’s latest offering is a familiar mix of Cassie’s “Me & U” and Jhené Aiko’s “P*$$Y Fairy.” Co-directed by the songbird herself, the video follows her at the 2022 iHeartRadio Music Festival, as she tries to figure out if her love interest is purposely keeping his distance.
This prompts her to issue a simple request, “Leave your guard at the door and let me love you for the night.” Written for Gunna, a previously rumored beau, the video is a nod to how she balances her demanding career and her dating life.
Eli Derby — More Than Friends
Despite Eli Derby getting comparisons to early Chris Brown, the budding star is in a lane of his own. His debut EP reeks of good intentions and tender musings as he chooses to be the nice guy a lady needs, rather than an R&B bad boy—even if the lady in pursuit is stringing him along.
With “good time,” its slight innocence is similar to Musiq Soulchild’s “Just Friends,” opting for a no-pressure situation with his crush. “up” is more sultry, but he’s boldly smitten on “recognize.” By the time listeners get to “3am” and “wicked,” he has realized he’s the catch in a humble way and is now requesting the girl to stop playing games.
“I wanted you/ I needed you/ So let me know/ What you tryna do,” he sings. As we near the end, we have torn emotions, but he makes it clear it’s too late for his old fling to spin the block. Overall, Derby is the sweetheart we’ve been craving, and if this project serves as a foundation for his career, he’s on the right track to longevity. He may be more romantic and chivalrous than toxic, but this is a great thing.
DRAM Feat. BJ The Chicago Kid — “PPL”
We’re weeks away from being blessed with DRAM’s new album, What Had Happened Was. Yet, this duet with BJ The Chicago Kid is right on time. “PPL” is a blues-ridden ode calling out the projections and insecurities that can lead to a relationship’s downward spiral.
“So misleading/ You can call it what you want, but I’m callin it how I see it/ And I seen enough to know I’m done/ Being your personal punching bag […] People just hurt people ’cause they were hurt by someone else,” sings DRAM. Essentially, before being old baggage into a new situation, consult your therapist and heal those wounds. No new lover deserves to pay for an ex’s mistakes.
Alicia Keys — “December Back 2 June”
Alicia Keys is gearing up to release her first Christmas album, Santa Baby. The lead single, “December Back 2 June,” co-written by Tayla Parx, is a made-for-lovers jam about having an abundance of love and cheer that lasts year-round. Though it feels like there’s an uncredited Jackson 5 sample present with the repetitive line, “it’s just Christmas time,” the inviting, original tune unlocks the world of “Keys-mas.”
The LP will include Keys reimagining timeless holiday tunes including “Ave Maria,” “The Christmas Song,” “Please Come Home” and of course, the titular track. Santa Baby arrives on Nov. 4.
Ashanti — “Falling For You”
Ashanti is ready to move past a toxic relationship, full of lies, scandal, and hurt. Instead of succumbing to the damsel in distress mentality, she rises like a phoenix from the ashes—reclaiming her time and power, which is a nod to her real-life decisions. “I ain’t gon’ fall for you no more/ And I ain’t gon’ cry for you no more/ And I ain’t gon’ lie to myself,” she sings. The record was co-written and produced by Bleu.
Released on the heels of her unfiltered conversation with Angie Martinez, the video ultimately shows Ashanti departing like Mary J. Blige in “Not Gon’ Cry,” choosing the high road instead of revenge. With Martinez, she also hinted at more music in the vault, so stay tuned for more including the announcement of her next album.