20 Best R&B Albums of 2017 - Rolling Stone
Home Music Music Lists

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.

Miguel, 'War + Leisure'

4. Miguel, 'War + Leisure'

4

Miguel, ‘War & Leisure’

On his fourth studio album, Miguel unites his funk-explorer side and his pop-craftsman side (not to mention a handful of other sides too), balancing stretched-out grooves with sparkling hooks, and dystopian unease with unbridled carnality – a fitting soundtrack for 2017’s constantly whiplashing news cycle. But what makes War & Leisure even more of a pleasure lies in the utter joy that Miguel derives from singing – his vocals leap out of the mix when he’s really feeling a track, like on the opening of soaring, pop-soul tour de force “Pineapple Skies” (which basically serves as an ode to Prince); or on the chorus of rumbling Latin banger “Caramelo Duro”; or with his scats, raps, ad libs and upper-register whoops on the masterfully paced groove of “Banana Clip.” M.J.

3. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, 'Soul of a Woman'

3. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, 'Soul of a Woman'

3

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, ‘Soul of a Woman’

This is the final album Sharon Jones made before her death last fall, recorded with her longtime backing band, the Dap-Kings, in stolen moments between chemotherapy treatments. She was an irreplaceable talent, and her loss can’t help but change the way one hears the gospel show-stopper “Call on God,” the brass-driven workout “Sail On” and the tender farewell “Pass Me By.” At its heart, though, Soul of a Woman is a joyful album. It makes you feel lucky that we got to share a planet with her voice for as long as we did. S.V.L.

2. SZA, 'Cntrl'

2. SZA, 'Cntrl'

2

SZA, ‘Ctrl’

After a trio of promising EPs and a prominent feature on Rihanna’s Anti, the budding alt-R&B star showed what she could do on a full-length LP. SZA unravels through largely improvised meditations on love and sex and all the promise and abandonment that can result from both. From a side-chick manifesto (“The Weekend”) to the appreciation of a rom-com icon that mulls the singer’s own self-worth (“Drew Barrymore”), SZA flourishes in her own hazy spotlight. B.S.

1. Khalid, 'American Teen'

1. Khalid, 'American Teen'

1

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.

Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.