Although 2023 marked the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop, R&B quietly had one of its best years since the early 2000s. While the genre has received criticism as of late for its reputedly toxic nature and lack of vocal talent, music’s smoothest category dominated the charts, hearts and minds of fans worldwide.
Artists like SZA, Don Toliver, Summer Walker and Brent Faiyaz used their most recent projects to solidify themselves further as mainstays within the genre. Exciting newcomers like Maeta, Victoria Monét, Coco Jones and Jordan Ward have all received critical acclaim and exciting momentum to help push them toward stardom.
Creatives like Rory and Diddy took a more executive producer approach to the album creation process, which helped bring together a multitude of talented acts and blend their gifts for one cohesive project. In no particular order, we detailed the top R&B albums of 2023 and chatted with some artists to get insight into their album creation process and what their most recent release meant to them.
1. SZA — SOS
While SZA set the bar high with her magnificent 2017 release CTRL, she delivered again with her blockbuster 23-track project SOS. Though the album’s title signifies a call for help, it ironically served as a life raft for anyone who believed R&B was dead. With electric features from Travis Scott, Phoebe Bridgers, Don Toliver and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, SZA grabbed a comfortable seat on the Billboard charts and the LP remained there since its release. SOS perfectly blended non-genre conforming production with shockingly honest lyrics to create one of the best albums of the 21st century.
2. Leon Thomas III — Electric Dusk
Leon Thomas III is known to many for his songwriting ability and experience as an actor on the hit Nickelodeon television show Victorious. This year, his bold 12-song LP, Electric Dusk, helped him garner attention for his silky smooth singing voice and poetic-like pen. Boasting features from Ty Dolla $ign, Victoria Monét and Benny The Butcher, the “Crash & Burn” crooner created a 40-minute masterpiece perfect for any date night.
When asked about his album recording process, Thomas told REVOLT, “Some say it takes a lifetime to make a debut album, but Electric Dusk was made in a three-year process of working in isolation with my favorite producers in the heart of Los Angeles.”
3. Maeta — When I Hear Your Name
Maeta has captured the hearts and ears of many new supporters with her latest project titled When I Hear Your Name. The Roc Nation signee cooked up a baker’s dozen worth of tracks featuring assists from James Fauntleroy, Ty Dolla $ign, Ambré, Lucky Daye and more. Her angelic vocals lay softly above the cloud-like production, presenting a calming listening experience for fans of the fast-rising songstress.
While discussing her new album with REVOLT, she affirmed, “This project was very personal. It takes you through the journey of a relationship I was in. I named it When I Hear Your Name because these songs speak to the different emotions that one person in your life can bring you or cause you to feel. I believe that’s something we all can relate to because we all have that one person.”
4. Don Toliver — Love Sick
Love Sick was the final ingredient needed to create the superstar that is Texas-bred Don Toliver. His highly successful third full-length album hosts a wide range of sounds and experimental production that help create an internationally appealing project. While the Travis Scott protége serves as the conductor for the roller coaster that is Love Sick, he brings established A-list acts like Lil Durk, Wizkid, James Blake, Brent Faiyaz, Kali Uchis, Future, Justin Bieber and more along for the 20-track ride. Though Toliver leans on auto-tune for most of his songs, his raw vocal talent and unabashed creativity cannot be denied.
Fusing Jersey club music, Houston-inspired slowed-down music and futuristic production, there’s something for everyone on the youthful, yet sonically seasoned project. Singles like “Bus Stop,” featuring Faiyaz, and “Slow Motion,” featuring global superstar Wizkid, were fan favorites. Also, his Beiber and Future collaboration on “Private Landing” helped him round out his solid 20-track LP.
5. Kali Uchis — Red Moon in Venus
Kali Uchis has been in her own lane since her debut in the music industry. With her eye-capturing visuals and unique tone, the star has been able to collaborate with some of the industry’s most highly-touted acts. It’s no coincidence that her newest project, Red Moon In Venus, claims space within her own stratosphere. While “Moonlight” became a standout on the album, “Worth the Wait” with Omar Apollo and her Summer Walker-assisted bop “Deserve Me” are musical gems.
6. Coco Jones — What I Didn’t Tell You (Deluxe)
Coco Jones had a fantastic 2023. With her vintage yet fresh feeling four-minute smash “ICU,” she was able to burst into the mainstream as a talented songstress and actress within the same year. Her dynamic vocal performance on the lead track helped her dominate urban radio and secure a game-changing feature from Justin Timberlake. Jones also became a fan favorite on the critically acclaimed Bel-Air reboot airing on NBC’s Peacock for her role as Hilary Banks.
When asked about her mindset before releasing her new LP, Coco told REVOLT, “Making What I Didn’t Tell You feels like my freshman year. I wanted to introduce myself and find out where I fit in. I feel like I’ve grown so much through this project.”
7. Rory — I Thought It’d Be Different
It takes exceptional talent to have a vision and draft the best artists and producers to help you express it through music. In his first full-length offering, popular podcast host and now executive producer Rory Farrell pulled together the Avengers of some of music’s best-kept secrets to spotlight talented creatives across various genres. Rory used artists like Emotional Oranges, THEY., dvsn, Goldlink, Jay Electronica, Alex Isley and more to serve as the voice box to translate his most vulnerable thoughts throughout the 40-minute LP.
While explaining the central theme for the album, Rory told REVOLT, “I grew up on [DJ] Clue tapes, Gangsta Grillz, etc. so the first idea going into the project was to create R&B’s version of a mixtape. Once that process started, it naturally coursed into an actual album. R&B is in a unique space, like Hip Hop; it has so many different categories sonically, and I wanted to highlight different sounds throughout the project but still keep it cohesive.”
8. Brent Faiyaz — Larger Than Life
Brent Faiyaz surprised his fans with his modern take on the late ’90s and early 2000s Hip Hop and R&B influences on his newest album. These influences were what helped mold the Maryland-bred recording artist into the multi-platinum superstar he is today. Starting with a bouncy intro from DMV legend Timbaland, Faiyaz stakes his claim as one of the most important acts of his generation with his opening line, “B**ch, I’m 99 overall.” Larger Than Life continues his trend of spotlighting upcoming talent from his hometown region while blending in household names like Missy Elliott, A$AP Rocky, Babyface Ray and Coco Jones on the new 36-minute mixtape. In comparison, his last release felt cinematic and more serious. Larger Than Life feels like one long afterparty that no one ever wants to end.
The enigmatic R&B crooner celebrated the release of his new project with an exciting Apple Music Live performance in London. This LP marks the “All Mine” creator’s first full-length release under his new imprint, ISO Supremacy, via his groundbreaking partnership with UnitedMasters.
9. Victoria Monét — JAGUAR II
2023 was Victoria Monét‘s breakout year as a solo artist. Many knew her as a songwriter, but now, the songstress’ promise as a lead act has become undeniable. Her choreography, personality and charisma have helped her become a must-see performer. Monét’s radio smash “On My Mama” was a dynamic interpolation of Charlie Boy’s most popular cult classic. Jaguar II includes guest appearances from Buju Banton, Lucky Daye, and Earth, Wind & Fire to help round out the 36-minute LP.
10. Jordan Ward — FORWARD
Jordan Ward burst onto the scene heavily with his exciting major label debut, FORWARD. The passionate project is an in-depth look into his family and journey to becoming a full-time musician. Tracks like “IDC” featuring Joony and his Ryan Trey-assisted song “White Crocs” became popular on social media and secured co-signs from top acts like Tyler, The Creator, and Blxst. Before heading out on his headlining tour, Ward served as a supporting act for JID and Smino.
Ward told REVOLT, “This album came together organically between my friends and I. I don’t have anything for people to take away; I just want them to be able to relate,” when asked what he wanted fans to take away from his latest project.
11. Summer Walker — CLEAR 2: SOFT LIFE
Summer Walker has earned the right to all of her releases being a big deal, especially with her string of successful releases in the past few years. Coming off the heels of her dynamic follow-up to Over It, Walker reached deep into her neo-soul bag to present a concise 10-song EP that features poignant features from J. Cole and Childish Gambino. CLEAR 2: SOFT LIFE is Walker’s first step toward embracing what she feels all Black women deserve: a soft life. The sonically stripped-back project also includes production from Steve Lacy and Solange.
12. Diddy — The Love Album: Off The Grid
Diddy’s goal to bring the love back to R&B was fulfilled on his latest project, The Love Album: Off The Grid. The celebrated producer and music mogul may be the only person who could tap Mary J. Blige, Teyana Taylor, Ty Dolla Sign, Summer Walker, 21 Savage, The Weeknd and so many more A-list acts to step into his world for a collaborative project.
The 21 Savage-assisted “Another One of Me” and “Moments” featuring Justin Beiber were fan favorites. His heartfelt ode to his late partner Kim Porter was a beautiful way to close out the impressive onslaught of soulful tunes.
13. Jorja Smith – Falling or Flying
Jorja Smith has been consistent since her introduction to the musical world on Drake’s More Life. Her impressive vocal range and signature tone led her to craft a fanbase that adores everything she releases. Her newest LP, F alling or Flying, is a daringly transparent collection of music that showcases the singer’s high self-assurance and strong roots within the UK music scene. The succinct album features J Hus and Lila Iké. The album’s title track, “Falling or flying,” serves as a reminder that the world Smith discovered five years ago has only improved with time.
Honorable Mentions: T-Pain’s On Top of The Covers, Mariah The Scientist’s To Be Eaten Alive, Tink’s Thanks 4 Nothing, Kiana Ledé’s Grudges and Ryan Trey’s STREETS SAY YOU MISS ME.