Whether you engaged with, or didn’t give a fig about, the class- and race-twerked critical debate around R&B in 2012 — at issue was a certain ahistorical, trend-flogging “hipster” hivemind — the fact remains that last year provided a phenomenal array of soulfully challenging/pleasurable records from savvy industry vets reinventing themselves (Bobby Womack, R. Kelly, Usher), boundary-pushing, well-connected individualists (Frank Ocean, Miguel, the Weeknd, Cody ChesnuTT, Jessie Ware), insiders turned outsiders (Dawn Richard, Jeremih, Solange, SWV), and many more.
In Jason King’s provocative, tough-minded Slate essay, “Should We Be Suspicious of Hipsters’ Newfound Love of R&B?,” he pushes back against the indie implication that “contemporary R&B becomes worthy of attention only when it sounds self-consciously artsy, experimental, inwardly focused (“looking for myself”), psychedelic, or trippy, often drained of mirth.” SPIN’s Brandon Soderberg suggested in a much-discussed essay at the end of 2012 that such experimental, inward, auteur-ish moves simply shook up a genre that needed fresh approaches. White indie-friendly guys like Holy Other and How to Dress Well got far more ink than their intriguing, patchy music deserved, but the tide is already turning, perhaps signaled by Solange Knowles’ brief rant on Twitter scolding the primarily white, indie-kid demo (that, to be frank, helped revive her career) for basically being ignorant blowhards who should know about “Brandy deep album cuts” before opening their yaps. Immediately, frantic Brandy-Googling commenced in Williamsburg, or so one imagined.
Regardless, once again in 2013 the genre is flush with talent from all across the spectrum, and if the trendies stick around for another year, maybe they’ll at least continue to stoke the conversation. Though the below list leans toward newer artists (no Beyonce, Mariah, D’Angelo, or, um, Omarion) and is not definitive on those terms (no Wynter Gordon, Andreya Triana, Jesse Boykins III, etc.), it does consist of the acts that SPIN’s writers/editors are most genuinely geeked about. Don’t step to us, or we’ll have to throw down on #deepmonicaalbumcuts. CHARLES AARON