We have all heard of Beyonce, Chris Brown, Rihanna and Usher—but what about all the other artists that aren’t nearly as big as them? Believe it or not, these small musicians are just as talented, but haven’t quite reached their breakthrough yet. Personally, I love me some good rhythm and blues music, so, here are five artists that are totally worth checking out if you’re looking to discover a less-mainstream variety of R&B.
6LACK, pronounced “black,” is an R&B/hip-hop artist from Atlanta. 6LACK is one of my favorite artists because he sings about real-life situations that I can relate to, such as staying focused and self-motivation, while riding over groovy beats at the same time. On top of his thoughtful lyrics, he has an outstanding voice with a flow that has led him to collaborate with artists like Future, J. Cole and Khalid. His sophomore album “East Atlanta Love Letter” debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart, compared to his debut “FREE 6LACK,” which debuted at No. 34. If you value artists that use their platform to sing about the importance of hard work and dedication, 6LACK is for you.
R&B singer and songwriter Blackbear is one of the most overlooked artists of this decade. The 27-year-old has been through hell and back—this road includes necrotic pancreatitis and a battle with drugs and alcohol—but has somehow still managed to put out quality music. Blackbear sings about his personal struggles, from toxic relationships to living with severe anxiety, all while staying true to himself and expressing the importance of getting help when needed. Aside from singing, Blackbear has written songs for Machine Gun Kelly, Miley Cyrus and even co-wrote Justin Bieber’s smash hit “Boyfriend.” Looking for an artist who sings about the significance of mental health and getting out of toxic relationships? Give Blackbear a shot; he might just become your new favorite artist.
Are you missing that old school R&B these days? Luckily, Ella Mai has what you’re looking for. Mai just dropped her self-titled debut album, and it’s bringing back all the ‘90s and early 2000s R&B vibes with that classic jazzy/soul sound, while still including today’s style of funky beats. Mai is currently a “one-hit wonder” with her smash “Boo’d Up,” but there is much more to her than you think. Her music is smooth, relaxed, and makes you want to take the long way home just so you can keep singing at the top of your lungs. Mai has worked with major artists such as DJ Mustard, John Legend and Chris Brown all throughout her debut era. If you’re lacking vitamin R&B, Ella Mai can supply you with just what you need.
H.E.R., an acronym for “Having Everything Revealed,” is another singer who is heavily slept on these days. H.E.R., like Ella Mai, is all about that old school R&B, but takes her songwriting to a whole other level. The singer puts full emotion into every song she puts out, and lets her audience know exactly how she is feeling through her lyrics. Whether you’re missing someone, feeling super confident, or crushing hard, she has a song for everyone at any time. Not to mention quite a few of H.E.R.’s tracks contain demo vocals. This means her voice is so powerful on its own that her and her team don’t even need a recording studio half the time to edit/auto tune her voice. H.E.R. has been around since 2014, but is yet to reach her breakthrough stage in her career. If you admire raw vocals and emotional r&b, H.E.R. is the artist for you.
Rapper NF is best known for his hit “Let You Down,” but he has so many other good songs that deserve the same amount of recognition. All of his songs are completely clean, but he still manages to put the same amount of anger into his music without a single cuss word. NF had a very rough childhood: his parents went through a rough divorce, he was physically abused by his mom’s new boyfriend, and his mother overdosed in 2009—he later dedicated his song “How Could You Leave Us” to her. As a result, NF makes music for teens and young adults who have experienced similar situations. Even though I can’t necessarily relate to all of NF’s music, I enjoy hearing about his life struggles and how he was able to overcome these heartbreaking situations and end up on top. His music is raw, honest, and personal—something I wish more artists did these days. If you fell in love with “Let You Down,” you’re bound to enjoy his other music.
If you need a break from mainstream music, I highly encourage you to give these five R&B musicians a shot. They have just as much, if not more, talent than the same artists that are tearing up the charts these days. Stop sleeping on these phenomenal talents, and wake up and enjoy those smooth beats.
6Other underrated honorable mentions:
Go-to song: “Come Through and Chill”
Similar artist: Frank Ocean
Go-to song: “At The Club”
Similar artist: Chris Brown
Go-to song: “Stuck In My Ways”
Similar artist: gnash
Go-to song: “Dreams”
Similar artist: Camila Cabello
Go-to song: “Love Incredible”
Similar artist: Cheat Codes
Go-to song: “Steady”
Similar artist: Dua Lipa
Go-to song: “So Good”
Similar artist: Alessia Cara
I’m Dylan Jahnke, and this is my second year with 42Fifty, which I first joined as a staff member. I am a senior at Oswego High School, and I plan to study mass communications/music management in college. I hope to one day have my own radio talk show or get into artist management. If I’m not writing or editing for 42Fifty, I’m either working at Culver’s, hanging out with friends and family, or doing homework. I am humbled to say I began my 42Fifty career my junior year as a staff writer, then Arts & Entertainment editor first semester of my senior year and now Editor-in-Chief.