If you know Elle Varner's name at all, you only learned it recently. She released her debut single, "Only Wanna Give It to You," in August 2011, and her next offering, January 2012's "Refill," proved much more memorable, mostly thanks to the way she sings the chorus like she's tipsy: "Can I get a reeeefilll?" It's an amusingly jazzy vocal effect that, over the course of the past six months, has helped build the song into a sizable R&B hit.
Varner is a good example of how difficult it is for R&B singers to establish lasting careers, no matter their pedigree. Her parents are James Varner and Lynn Roderick, who became songwriters and producers when their own stab at stardom, the '80s quiet storm group By All Means, failed to make an impact. She studied at New York University (where fellow student J. Cole was a casual acquaintance) and the accompanying Tisch School of the Arts. After signing a major-label deal with Sony Music, she joined a new generation of talented R&B women like Melanie Fiona, Janelle MonÃ¡e and Chrisette Michelle, all of whom are immensely talented and beloved by both fans and critics, yet have found commercial success hard to come by unless they're singing backing vocals for rappers (see Michelle on Rick Ross' "Aston Martin Music") or a pop act (see MonÃ¡e's guest spot on fun.'s "We Are Young").
R&B diehards could care less if their stars go pop, though, and they should find much to like about Varner. Her early singles and her recent mixtape Conversational Lush reveal a young woman with a stylish yet unpretentious vibe, a uniquely gritty vocal tone and a clever way with lyrics: "You're so classic, I want you more than my Adidas/ All the bees are getting at you 'cause your honey is sweeter," she riffs on "Only Wanna Give It to You." What's not to love about that?