5 essential female R&B albums to listen to this summer


Meet the musical renaissance women destined to populate your summer playlist with the best R&B albums of 2018.

Science still hasn’t found a way to differentiate musical genres accurately, a task made all the more complicated by the fact that R&B is a moving target. Every female artist on this list of essential summer albums can, with the change of a song or listener, top an entirely different chart. Some bounce from electropop to rap with ease as another collaborates with artists as diverse as Kendrick Lamar and Maroon 5. One is hailed as the next big thing in pop while another was nominated for a country award. Meanwhile, Beyoncé has practically evolved past genres into an elite and lonely club of her and Michael Jackson.

And yet they call the Billboard R&B chart home as well. Before we get into great debates over whether Ariana Grande or Camila Cabello belong there too, here are the women destined to populate your summer playlist with rhythm & blues.

LOS ANGELES, CA – APRIL 26: Janelle Monáe celebrates the launch of her new album and emotion picture, Dirty Computer, with her Spotify Fans at the Mack Sennett Studios in Los Angeles on April 26, 2018. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Spotify)

Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

To summarize an album that is destined to be deconstructed in college classrooms ala Tupac, Dirty Computer is about “celebrating other Dirty Computers who have been pushed to the margins of society.” If political and social marginalization sound like subjects too heavy to the float to the top of the summer charts, you don’t know Monáe. The heir-apparent to Prince proves she’s ready to take the baton with a critically-acclaimed protest album set to pop. As one reviewer put it, it “demonstrates that artful resistance and pop music are not mutually exclusive.” For an album that discusses being imprisoned by close-mindedness (your own and others), it sounds beautifully bright, defiantly optimistic and most importantly, free.

INDIO, CA – APRIL 20: Kali Uchis performs onstage during the 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 20, 2018 in Indio, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for Coachella)

Kali Uchis – Isolation

Take a visual census of the crowd during Kali Uchi’s Coachella set and you will realize, as the critics have, she is not as new as her month-old debut album Isolation suggests. In a rare consensus, both mainstream music publications and the indie websites committed to contradicting them agree. Rolling Stone compared Uchis’s record to Outkast and Beck while Pitchfork predicts the American-Colombian singer will become “a new gravitational force in pop.” Stand-out song “Just a Stranger” is also hands-down the catchiest dissection of gold digging from the perspective of both the man with the gold and the woman allegedly doing the digging. 

LAS VEGAS, NV – APRIL 15: Bebe Rexha (C) performs with Brian Kelley (L) and Tyler Hubbard (R) of musical group Florida Georgia Line during the 53rd Academy of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 15, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Bebe Rexha – Expectations

It is a bold move for the first single off an R&B artist’s debut album to be a collaboration with a superstar country duo. Bebe Rexha risked being overshadowed by Florida Georgia Line in their wildly popular collaboration “Meant to Be.” But you know Rexha much more than you think.

The American-Albanian artist co-wrote Eminem and Rihanna’s Grammy-award winning track “The Monster,” sang in “Hey Mama” by David Guetta, as well as “Me, Myself, and I” with G-Easy. So far, Rexha has released only three tracks from her upcoming album Expectations (out June 22). But judging just by her first genre-crossing single (nominated for Top Country Song at the Billboard Awards), she’s the artist to bet on this summer.

INDIO, CA – APRIL 13: SZA performs onstage during the 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 13, 2018 in Indio, California. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Coachella)

SZA – Ctrl

SZA’s debut album Ctrl is a relic of last summer, yet her name is all over the charts thanks to her collaboration with Kendrick Lamar for “All the Stars” off the Black Panther soundtrack. Her heavenly vocals on the track must have peaked listeners curiosity because her record bounced back up half a dozen Billboard charts. Critics have called Ctrl “stripped down perfection,” receiving universal acclaim and earning her a Grammy nomination last year for Best New Artist. If that isn’t enough to get people to press play, just look at the company she keeps — SZA has been featured on songs with Maroon 5, Khalid, Rihanna, Cardi B and Drake.  

INDIO, CA – APRIL 14: Beyonce Knowles performs onstage during 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival Weekend 1 at the Empire Polo Field on April 14, 2018 in Indio, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)

Beyoncé – Lemonade

It is just plain rude to discuss women in R&B without paying deference to long-reigning Queen Bey and her magnum opus Lemonade. The fact that it was released in 2016 is but a footnote. Two years after it dropped, it’s still in Billboard’s top 20 R&B albums. Why? Well, how many critically-adored albums included a song about adultery that sounds like a stroll on a sunny day, albeit with a bat and desire for vengeance?

Lemonade was criminally, inexplicably snubbed at the Grammys. We may not be able to give her the golden gramophone, but the very least we can do is bow down to a timeless record and an artist who helped paved the way for every other female on this list.

Next: 5 essential female hip-hop albums to listen to this summer

Other established and up-and-coming queens of the genre are rumored to be releasing new music include Mariah Carey, Jennifer Hudson and Jorja Smith (Drake’s muse and two-time collaborator). And to top it off, the BeyHive is hyperventilating at the thought of a 2018 follow-up to Lemonade, in which case this list will require an urgent edit.

But for now, let these five albums own your summer.