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by Mosi Reeves

January 22, 2013

Next Wave of British R&B

by Mosi Reeves  |  January 22, 2013

This primer on current R&B and soul from the U.K. (at least the stuff available in the States) casts a wide net. The British version differs from its U.S. counterpart, and not just because of the accents. R&B seems less of a particular genre than a sensibility there, a tone inflecting a sound that may or may not be the type of traditional urban pop we'd hear from, say, Trey Songz or Brandy. As a result, Adele is considered a soul artist even though her 21 clearly sounds like the kind of brassy, '60s-inspired pop made by supper club/cabaret performers like Shirley Bassey and Dusty Springfield. It's heard in the way she delivers her lyrics, and her use of vocal runs and melisma.

That may read like parsing -- after all, we don't consider Britney Spears an R&B artist, even though she has worked with the Neptunes and Timbaland, right? However, R&B is heard as a broader phenomenon in the U.K. than determining whether someone is a person of color. It links electronic vocalists like Jamie Woon, dance pop sensations like Rita Ora, acoustic folk troubadours like Michael Kiwanuka, adult contemporary singer-songwriters like Emeli Sandé and, yes, artists like Estelle and The Floacist (formerly of much-loved neo-soul duo Floetry) who make the kind of urban R&B we're used to here at home. The sounds they all make are disparate yet thematically linked.

As a result, this playlist includes buzzy prospects that emerged from the underground dance-music scene like Jessie Ware and Syron (via house music producers Rudimental), arena-popper Taio Cruz (the "Dynamite" guy), and gritty retro-soul veteran Alice Russell. Most of the names are familiar to knowledgeable music fans here, while a few, like Josh Osho and Laura Mvula, may not be. It doesn't hurt that the U.K. pop scene is on an incredibly hot winning streak, as evinced by the global success of Adele. From our American vantage point, she's just a standard-bearer for all sorts of intriguing music bubbling up across the pond.

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