Of the more than 50 named artists who charted in the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in 2018, six were women. Of those women, two were primarily rappers (Cardi B and Nicki Minaj), while four were full-time singers (SZA, Ella Mai, Beyoncé as one of the Carters and, somewhat ridiculously, Halsey for her work with G-Eazy on “Him & I”). While there are issues to be raised with how the chart is tabulated now (it’s a broad survey of performance across radio formats and platforms, as opposed to its former assessment of the popularity of songs on R&B and hip-hop radio and sales within stores that carried predominantly black music and/or catered to black consumers), it’s clear that somehow there’s a dearth of popular women-driven R&B. (The runaway success of Ella Mai’s 808-iced “Boo’d Up” is more exception than rule, in terms of how classic-leaning R&B by women is embraced by radio and mainstream audiences today.)
This has been the woeful case in hip-hop for the majority of the genre’s existence (remember how Nicki Minaj was essentially the only woman rapper who could maintain footing in the mainstream for about 10 years?), but it’s a relatively new development in R&B. Blame the overall lack of representation of women in the industry. Blame the pigeonholing many of these artists say they’ve experienced. Blame misogyny.
But don’t blame the artists, who continue to churn out quality material. The playlist below of over 30 (predominantly) R&B tracks led by women is proof of it. It’s so good—and I’m not just saying that because we assembled it (selections were chosen by various Jezebel staffers who follow music, specifically R&B). “R&B” here is used liberally—this collection runs the gamut from the full-band jazziness of the Internet to the frenetic Jersey club of Ciara’s “Level Up”; from veterans like Mariah Carey and Toni Braxton to viral newcomers Queen Naija and Doja Cat. R&B remains an elastic genre, able to withstand the whims and eccentricities of its creators. Today, the boundaries are more nebulous than ever, as singsongy rappers have become virtually indistinguishable from restrained singers, and hip-hop and R&B have sunk into each other like someone on benzos into a couch. So often, what makes R&B comes down to the singer, the way she wraps herself around a song and squeezes out emotions that didn’t seem previously possible in such intensity.
That is to say that so often when R&B is good, it’s because the person singing it is good—all of the women in the playlist below are very good, and charts be damned, are doing their part to hold down the most reliably exciting genre of commercial music.