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20 Best R&B Albums of 2017

Sharon Jones, Khalid, SZA, Miguel and more

Emotions ran high in 2017 – and, as usual, R&B delivered like balm to a burn. The genre that birthed rock & roll came full circle in the sensuous psychedelia of Miguel’s War & Leisure and the avant-blues of Moses Sumney’s Aromanticism; Thundercat and Kelela let their freak flags fly; newcomers Khalid and SZA decorated the Billboard Hot 100 with their pop theses on growing up; and Sharon Jones posthumously crowned her career with an incredible farewell.

1. Khalid, 'American Teen'

1. Khalid, 'American Teen'

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Khalid, ‘American Teen’

The year’s most distinctive new voice was a teen star, not a trap star. His conversational vocals staked out a new kind of R&B: laid-back but charged with wide-open emotional struggle, as well as hooks that stuck. He sang about kids who didn’t have money or cars; who still lived with their parents (and worried about coming home smelling of weed); who longed for human contact to go along with a love stirred by subtweets and texts. Hits like “Location” and “Young, Dumb & Broke” were alive with fresh possibilities – including the possibility of combating outmoded stereotypes. “I’m an African-American man with an Afro, who isn’t your typical athlete – who wasn’t as masculine as other guys,” Khalid told Rolling Stone. “And now people are looking at me like, this is ‘The American Teen.'” J.L.

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