R&B in the U.K. is having a moment. A bunch of artists have broken through on an international level in the last year or so — like NAO, Jorja Smith, and RAY BLK — but that’s only scratching the surface. 2017 has been especially rich with new releases, from a mixture of fresh talents, as well as more established artists who deserve a wider audience. Here’s a roundup of the projects and tracks you need to hear now.
1. Mabel, Bedroom EP
While Mabel’s earlier tracks had a low-slung ’90s feel, her debut EP adds a spiky attitude to her typical loungey soundbed. Mellow synths and confident vocals combine in after-dark psychodrama “Bedroom,” while dancehall-inspired handclaps flutter through NSA hookup invitation “Finders Keepers” — her catchiest track to date.
2. Chanal Benji, “I Swear”
Last fall, 17-year-old Chanal Benjilali wowed the U.K. X Factor judges with a cover of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor,” but her sole SoundCloud upload is way more interesting than anything to spring from reality TV in recent memory. “I Swear” is a bassy R&B tune with a ticking beat and lines about judgemental “bitches,” Benjilali’s voice cocooned by swaths of echo.
3. Cosima, “Un-Named”
4. Rainy Milo, I Knew I Had A Heart (Because I Felt It Breaking) EP
Rainy Milo has long deserved more love for her hypnotizing, jazzy soul music, which she’s been releasing on her own label since 2012. On new EP I Knew I Had A Heart (Because I Felt It Breaking) she gets more introspective than ever (“Swimming On Me”) — but she lets loose on “Speed Limit,” cautioning a lover over an ’80s-channeling beat that sounds straight off The-Dream’s Love King.
5. Tayla, “Coming Back Around”
This attitude-packed dancehall/R&B/pop hybrid begs for repeat listens. The Birmingham native’s raspy, rapid delivery commands airy synths and waist-winding handclaps. Put it on at your summer BBQ when everyone’s maxed out on booze and sun, and watch the mood flip.
6. Purple Ferdinand, Rain or Shine EP
Ferdinand used to be inseparable from her ukulele, but her latest music strips away those folksy touches in favor of a neo-soul strut and baroque flourishes. Her laid-back vocals are softly layered on the Minnie Riperton-ish “Stay,” and pay sweet tribute to “that ‘2 become 1 thing,” on “Intertwined.”
7. Nilüfer Yanya, Plant Feed EP
Nilüfer Yanya sings like she speaks, and her breezy jazz-influenced songs are scattered with the blunted consonants of west London. Her grainy “Golden Cage” video feels just as unfiltered; Yanya sings into a retro pink telephone on a windswept tower block roof, making London look appealing even on the greyest day.
8. Shaé, “Big Mistake” f. Ms. Banks
“New generation/ No limitations,” Shaé insists over a minimal hip-hop beat on squad anthem “Big Mistake,” which features a bossed-up verse from London MC Ms. Banks. Shaé vocals have a clipped sharpness here, but make sure to check out her velvety SoundCloud flips of “Controlla” and “Don’t” for a softer vibe. She’s an artist who can do both.
9. Sinead Harnett, Chapter One
Why isn’t Sinead Harnett huge yet? Following last year’s silky self-titled EP on Rinse, her recently released June mixtape is the Londoner’s most solid release yet. “Don’t Waste My Time” gives a dancefloor focus to Y2K R&B, and on “Heal You” (prod. Kaytranada), her purposeful vocals are the glue that connects a shuffling beat, a Jeff Buckley sample, and a guest turn from Wretch 32.
Listen to The Best New British R&B on Apple Music:
12. Gotts Street Park, “Love In Bad Company” f. DiElle
Emerging production collective Gotts Street Park produced for Kali Uchis and Rejjie Snow before putting out their own EP this month, Volume 1. Standout “Love in Bad Company” has an inviting ease to its jazzy soul, with smoky, stop-you-in-your-tracks vocals from newcomer DiElle. It was worth the wait.
15. Ella Mai, READY EP
“I don’t wanna get too attached/ But I feel like I already am,” Ella Mai reflects on one of five spoken-word interludes on her third EP, an accomplished six-song set. Flipping from smooth boo’d up midtempos to DJ Mustard-produced bangers (she’s signed to his 10 Summers label), the project makes it clear that the newly crowned queen of the breakup anthem isn’t going anywhere.
16. IDEH, “Light It” f. Fløwzart
East London singer IDEH has the turquoise hair color of rising U.K. MCs Stefflon Don and Ms. Banks, and shares their take-no-prisoners attitude too. ”Light It” is a chilled, smoky tune about sparking one up, but the standout asset here is her multi-tracked vocal ad libs, which have a similar tone to D∆WN, or maybe even the almighty Brandy.
17. Vanessa White, Chapter Two EP
In the sequel to last year’s supple Chapter One EP, the ex-Saturdays artist turns up the heat. On “Good Good,” breathy ad libs wind through an aerated beat, while on freaky sex jam “Running Wild” she unleashes her full-throttle vocals, sounding more confident than ever over a teasing xylophone and trap snares.