What a tough list to come up with. Some may argue that “hip-hop is dead,” but R&B is flourishing.
Just think about it: Usher and Mariah Carey didn’t drop albums as scheduled, and Mary J. Blige released her LP, Growing Pains, too late to be considered, as did Omarion, who just released the duet project Face Off with Bow Wow. But we still have a strong top 10 — too strong, in fact. You are guaranteed to be shocked by some of the names that were left off the list. Thankfully, all the publicists are on vacation now.
Top 10 R&B Acts of 2007
So ‘hood, so good, Teddy P. was to R&B what Lil Wayne was to rap: a track showstopper whose versatile talent made his guest vocals a must-have for a plethora of artists. His presence was persistent, and while he’ll never be heralded among the great voices of all time, you can’t forget that the hits came incessantly. Pain’s reign saw his computer-enhanced vocals pop up on records by top-of-the-food-chain acts like Kanye West and R. Kelly (twice) as well as street warriors DJ Khaled and Plies.
More importantly, Pain established his songwriting and producing acumen on Chris Brown’s “Kiss Kiss,” as well as on T-Pain’s entire LP, Epiphany, which spawned the smashes “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)” and “Bartender.”
B bodied everybody. Her competition had to throw in the towel this year when she established that no one is in her lane when it comes to this thing we call entertainment. B’Day (released in September 2006) continued to sell like Blue Magic on a Harlem, New York, street corner in the 1970s; her Beyoncé Experience tour was sold out across the country (hey, she still deserves a standing ovation for falling down all those stairs in Florida and hopping back up ); and those videos … have mercy! Fans couldn’t get enough of “Get Me Bodied,” “Irreplaceable” and “Upgrade U.”
3. Justin Timberlake
How can the Prince of Pop be on an R&B list? Did you listen to the album? Justin’s FutureSex/LoveSounds (released in September 2006) stormed into ’07 on the strength of Timbaland’s mud-sopped funk, brutal bass and clean synths and Timberlake’s suburban-rebel charm. “My Love,” “LoveStoned” and “Summer Love” rocked every iPod, stereo player and stadium on his tour. Meanwhile, JT and the SoundScan Killer himself, 50 Cent, hooked up for “Ayo Technology.”
He threw a kid offstage , got nasty with an underage girl in a club and probably cost Gwen Stefani a few million in sponsorship money, but alas, Akon remained a worldwide draw. “I Wanna Love You” and “Smack That” carried over from last year, while “Don’t Matter,” “Mama Africa” and guest spots on records such as DJ Khaled’s “We Takin’ Over,” Plies’ “Hypnotized” and Wyclef’s “Sweetest Girl” sustained his popularity this year. Plus — and it’s a very big plus — his scouting continued to pay off with the overwhelming success of the man he signed to a recording contract, T-Pain. We’ll see if new additions to his roster, such as Brooklyn MC Red Café and TLC’s Chili, pay off in ’08.
5. R. Kelly
“Did she say there was other guys there? Were there other guys therrrrre?” The outlandish writing stayed at a premium for the King of Rhythm and Blues throughout his Double Up LP (“Real Talk,” “Sex Planet,” “Sweet Tooth,” “Same Girl” and its remix) and the new chapters of “Trapped in the Closet.” When he stepped outside of his own projects, Kells levied an onslaught of memorable guest spots including Snoop Dogg’s “That’s That,” Young Jeezy’s “Go Getta,” Ciara’s “Promise” remix and Fat Joe’s “Make It Rain” remix. Even Michael Jordan didn’t win the MVP every year — but that doesn’t mean his game wasn’t lethal.
Rih Rih chopped her curls into a slick bob, ditched the cute singles in exchange for sexy anthems and in the process became a tabloid target and ubiquitous presence on magazine covers. It started with her sexy hit “Umbrella” and the even sexier accompanying visuals that netted her a VMA win for Video of the Year . The Barbadian beauty’s rumored romances with Shia LaBeouf and Josh Hartnett made headlines and helped her break away from the pack of teen starlets, putting her in the company of superstars like Beyoncé, Fergie and Gwen Stefani. Her third single, the Ne-Yo duet “Hate That I Love You,” helped to showcase Rihanna’s maturing vocal chops and proved she’s not a one-hit wonder-er-er-er.
7. Alicia Keys
Since her debut, we’ve watched Miss Keys evolve from Harlem’s ghetto songbird, cooing about the pains of love, into a global voice of indignation, raising the spirits of women and rallying against social injustices. She’s as likely to fight for the rights of AIDS patients as she is to fight against radio formats. “No One,” the lead single from her third album, As I Am, sounds nothing like a top 40 or R&B hit, yet the song has rested comfortably near the top of both charts. Add in the acting credits under her belt, including this year’s “The Nanny Diaries,” and there’s no question about Keys’ ability to push the R&B game to even further heights.
8. Chris Brown
One of these days C. Breezy is gonna become the first artist to literally dance his way into people’s living rooms. There’s no way cameras and TV sets are gonna be able to keep containing the Virginia native’s explosive star power at the rate it’s rising. Brown released his sophomore album, Exclusive, which features the MJ-esque “Wall to Wall” and the T-Pain-assisted smash “Kiss Kiss.” He stole the show at this year’s Video Music Awards with his rousing performance. And then he took his act to the big screen with a breakout role in the ensemble cast of “This Christmas.” It’s time to start watching ya back, Ursh.
He was great on his tour with R. Kelly … all two dates of it . Oh well. Despite his differences with the Pied Piper (Ne-Yo alleges he got kicked off the tour because he was upstaging Kelly), everybody else loves the Las Vegas native. He has another platinum certification on his résumé thanks to Because of You, and his reputation as a writer was boosted with Beyoncé’s irrevocably dope “Irreplaceable” and his duet with Rihanna, “Hate That I Love You.” Still, the perennial overachiever hit us upside the head for good measure with Fabolous’ “Make Me Better,” a track he co-wrote and on which he sang.
10. Amy Winehouse
Amy, baby! Rich with throwback soul and lyrics so real that many of them have replayed themselves in tabloid headlines, Winehouse’s Back to Black may just be the R&B album of the year. The British songstress had everything in place: The artistically bountiful music (from a chick whose personality came across as real as any MC from the ‘hood) was rewarded with multiple Grammy nominations , critical coos and a platinum plaque.
Still, her music has been overshadowed by her troubled personal life. Problems with substance abuse , arrests , bloody brawls with her now-incarcerated husband , late-night staggering in public, and — most disappointing — all those canceled live performances also made her one of the year’s biggest letdowns.
CiCi’s The Evolution dropped at the tail end of ’06, but it didn’t stop the singer from carrying that momentum into the past year. The Prince-heavy “Promise” let the fellas know she wasn’t a little girl anymore (at all) and the female anthem “Like a Boy” had the ladies cheering big time. By the time she paired with 50 Cent (in more ways than one? ) on her third single “Can’t Leave Him Alone,” Ciara jumped on the Screamfest Tour as a co-headliner with T.I., inked a deal with Glamour mag to direct her protégé Tiffany Evans’ video and signed on to star alongside Patti LaBelle in “Mama, I Want to Sing!” We definitely witnessed the growth.
“When I See You” was a big favorite around the MTV News office, but unfortunately, ‘Tasia’s self-titled second album wasn’t nearly as big as her debut, Free Yourself. Still, Fantasia’s impact this year was insurmountable because she landed the lead role of Celie in the Broadway play “The Color Purple.” The play broke the bank at the box office, selling out just about every show this year.
“Let It Go” had us two-stepping all summer, and the swell of support for Keysh’s LP was evident by its strong SoundScan debut . The second season of her “The Way It Is” reality show brought in strong numbers for BET, she didn’t get kicked off the R. Kelly tour, and she headlined her own outing earlier this year. And let’s not forget her guest spot on Diddy’s “Last Night”: soulful elegance and powerful female pride.
The tattooed titan took his career in his own hands with the severely slept-on album Street Love by leaking his lead single “You,” the Lil Wayne collabo that moved Lloyd out of the large shadows of labelmates Ja Rule and Ashanti. His follow-up single, “Get It Shawty,” introduced the world to Usher’s bro, producer J. Lack, and established the singer as one of R&B’s burgeoning stars. He also landed a spot on the Screamfest marquee, opening for heavyweights T.I. and Ciara. Not bad, shawty.
She’s Jay-Z’s Jennifer Hudson. The big-voiced singer turned her song-stealing appearances alongside Hov and Nas into critical buzz and delivered on her potential with her underappreciated debut album, I Am. In addition, she’s earned a rep as a top-notch live performer, belting out tunes onstage with the likes of the Roots. And with a Grammy nod for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, you can bet Miss Michele isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
27 Essential R&B Songs of 2007
1. Chris Brown (featuring T-Pain) – “Kiss Kiss”
2. Ne-Yo (featuring Mary J. Blige) – “Do You” remix
3. Beyoncé – “Irreplaceable”
4. Timbaland (featuring Keri Hilson, D.O.E. and Sebastian) – “The Way I Are”
5. Beyoncé – “Get Me Bodied”
6. Lloyd (featuring Yung Joc) – “Get It Shawty”
7. Rihanna (featuring Jay-Z) – “Umbrella”
8. Ne-Yo – “Because of You”
9. R. Kelly and Usher – “Same Girl”
10. Tank (featuring Ginuwine and Tyrese) – “Please Don’t Go” remix
11. Beyoncé (featuring Jay-Z) – “Upgrade U”
12. Justin Timberlake – “Summer Love”
13. Fantasia – “When I See You”
14. R. Kelly (featuring T-Pain and T.I.) – “I’m a Flirt” remix
15. Amy Winehouse (featuring Jay-Z) – “Rehab” remix
16. T-Pain (featuring Yung Joc) – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)”
17. Omarion – “Ice Box”
18. The-Dream (featuring Fabolous) – “Shawty Is a 10″
19. Snoop Dogg – “Sensual Seduction”
20. Keyshia Cole (featuring Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliott) – “Let It Go”
21. Amy Winehouse – “Tears Dry on Their Own”
22. Alicia Keys – “No One”
23. Trey Songz – “Can’t Help but Wait”
24. J. Holiday – “Bed”
25. T-Pain (featuring Akon) – “Bartender”
26. Akon – “Don’t Matter”
27. Mary J. Blige – “Just Fine”