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20 Best R&B Albums of 2015

The Weeknd, Erykah Badu, Janet Jackson and more

R&B Albums

Clockwise from top left: John Medina/Getty; Ethan Miller/Getty; Christopher Polk/Getty; Roger Kisby/Getty; Christie Goodwin/Getty

In 2015, the Weeknd went pop, the Internet went big and Janet Jackson went back to the duo that helped her explode in the Eighties. Leon Bridges and Kali Uchis breathed new life into vintage sounds while the electronic fusions of Kelela and FKA Twigs made a contemporary genre nearly unrecognizable from the past. Here's the year's best in R&B.

The Weeknd, 'Beauty Behind the Madness'
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The Weeknd, ‘Beauty Behind the Madness’

Canada's Abel Tesfaye redefined what it means to be an R&B auteur with his breakthrough second LP. After a series of mysterious mixtape releases built around weeded-out goth moodiness (and one half-baked major-label debut, in 2013), he went for full-on Top 40 grandeur this time, without diluting any of his eerie allure. The sumptuous Max Martin joint "Can't Feel My Face" got America dancing to a sex-as-cocaine metaphor, thanks to a joyful hook Michael Jackson could have moonwalked to; "In the Night" amped up the violent undercurrents of MJ circa Bad while still feeling like a party; and bleary ballads like "Earned It" and "The Hills" spun gossamer sensuality into unlikely hit singles. Who else but the Weeknd could make a line like "Only my mother could love me for me" work as pillow talk? It's just that kind of raw honesty that makes him such a revolutionary player. J.D.

D'Angelo and the Vanguard, 'Black Messiah'
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D’Angelo and the Vanguard, ‘Black Messiah’

A year after Black Messiah appeared at the end of 2014, D'Angelo's third album remains as sublimely enigmatic as the man who spent over a decade creating it. The sound he makes with his band the Vanguard is muddy and blurred, partly as homage to greats such as Sly & the Family Stone. When he sings, "It Ain't That Easy," he's not only referring to love and commitment, but also the resilience of black life. The band churns through the funk-rock of "The Charade" like a Prince & the Revolution deep cut as D'Angelo sings, "All we wanted was a chance to talk/Instead we got our bodies lined in chalk." He's clear-eyed about the mortal threats facing him, but he never loses hope. Black Messiah is much more than a sum of influences: While looking to his elders for inspiration, he's scored a soundtrack for the national mood in 2015. M.R.

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