If Frank Ocean is the most commercially successful R&B splinter of the now-defunct Odd Future collective, then The Internet is its best-kept secret. Featuring core offshoot members Syd Tha Kyd and Matt "Martians" Martin, the group became a critical favorite with its 2011 jazz-inflected debut, Purple Naked Ladies. But with 2015's Ego Death, the band reached new chart heights. The silky smooth project (with guest appearances from Janelle Monáe, Vic Mensa and Tyler, The Creator) may have charted at only No. 89 on the Billboard 200, but it zipped to No. 3 on the R&B Albums list and yielded thethe hit "Special Affair," which topped the Billboard + Twitter Emerging Artists tally in June.
You Should Be Here
Label Tsunami Mob/Atlantic
Kehlani had an explosive year. After independently releasing her debut mixtape, Cloud 19, in August 2014, the Bay Area singer quickly followed with April's You Should Be Here, a collection of lush, romantic ballads and bangers that racked up more than 1 million plays on SoundCloud within its first 24 hours. The set entered the R&B Albums chart at No. 2 and Digital Albums at No. 5, respectively, and sent three singles to the Billboard + Twitter Emerging Artists list. (The buttery "Down for You," featuring BJ the Chicago Kid, hit No. 1 in April.) Then in May, Kehlani announced she had inked a deal with Atlantic Records to distribute future releases through her Tsunami Mob imprint.
Lianne La Havas
Label Nonesuch Records
British singer-songwriter La Havas first gained attention with her acoustic R&B-inflected 2012 debut, Is Your Love Big Enough? But instead of leaning on guitar-plucked love songs for her sophomore album, Blood, the 26-year-old turned to global inspiration for tracks like "Tokyo" and "Green & Gold," Added the rest of the sentence to fill out the space.the latter of which references her father's Greek and mother's Jamaican heritages. Blood, which was released in August, reached No. 52 on the Billboard 200 and No. 4 on the R&B Albums chart; elsewhere, two songs from the project, single "Unstoppable" and the retro "What You Don't Do," appeared in the top 20 of the Billboard + Twitter Emerging Artists list. Added this last sentence to fill out column.In addition to her success as a solo artist, the London-born performer also contributed to two tracks on Rudimental's latest, We the Generation.
Label RCA Records/ByStorm Entertainment
Following the rich alt-R&B sound of 2012's Kaleidoscope Dream, Miguel opted for something more psychedelic with his third album, Wildheart. The warm synths of "Adorn," which earned him the Grammy for best R&B song in 2013, carried over to tracks like the even-paced "Coffee" (nominated this year for best R&B song). But the Los Angeles-based crooner leaned heavily on electric guitars, enlisting Lenny Kravitz to crank out some riffs on "Face the Sun." Released in June, Wildheart entered the R&B Albums tally at No. 1 and became his highest- peaking release on the Billboard 200, where it debuted at No. 2.
Beauty Behind The Madness
Label Republic Records
The Weeknd's transition from alternative R&B recluse to superstar was confirmed by his sophomore album, Beauty Behind the Madness. Abel Tesfaye approached pop with his major-label debut, 2013's Kiss Land (No. 2 on the Billboard 200), but went full steam on Beauty, tapping Max Martin, Ed Sheeran and Lana Del Rey to assist. The album spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, 2015's longest run atop the list by a male artist.
Best R&B Song
Songwriters Brook Davis, Miguel Pimentel
Publishers Art Dealer Chic, Pop Killer/DIeaurean
Label RCA Records/ByStorm Entertainment
There have been songs about coffee and songs about carnality, but leave it to Miguel, R&B's reigning master of seduction, to connect the two. Conceived with his songwriting partner Brook Davis and bolstered by a (literally) steamy softcore video, "Coffee" is a lush Netflix-and-chill jam that reached No. 26 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and No. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100, while parent album Wildheart (nominated in the best urban contemporary R&B category) peaked at No. 2 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. Overall, Miguel has eight previous Grammy nominations, dating back to 2011, and one win. Note: The extended version's title is "Coffee (F---ing)" in case there was any confusion.
"Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)"
Songwriters Ahmad Balshe, Stephan Moccio, Jason Quenneville, Abel Tesfaye
Publishers SONGS Music Publishing, LLC o/b/o Songs of SMP, Songs of Universal and Sing Little Penguin/Universal Music Corp./CP Music Group/Universal Pictures Music/UPG Music Publishing
From Fifty Shades of Grey (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Label Universal Studios/Republic Records
First appearing on the Billboard charts in November 2011, The Weeknd broke through big in 2015, dominating with three massive hit singles and historic control of the Hot R&B Songs tally. That ownership began with this soundtrack single from BDSM-lite blockbuster Fifty Shades of Grey. After leading the tally for 14 weeks, the song was down to No. 3 on the list dated July 25, while "Can't Feel My Face" occupied the No. 1 slot and "The Hills" was No. 2, making the Weeknd the first artist to hold down the top three on this chart. "Earned It" also fared well on the Hot 100, with a No. 3 peak, and then turned up on the tracklist of sophomore LP Beauty Behind the Madness. With one previous nomination in 2014, the Toronto-born 25-year-old earned seven Grammy nods this year, tying him with Taylor Swift for second place.
"Let It Burn"
Songwriters Kenny B. Edmonds, Jazmine Sullivan, Dwane M. Weir II
Publishers JazLady Publishing, Dwane M. Weir II/Sean Michael Anderson Music LLC/Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp., Sony/ATV Songs
From Reality Show
Label RCA Records
In January 2011, after accruing eight Grammy nominations, the R&B performer announced an indefinite recording hiatus on Twitter. "I'm taking a break from music," Sullivan wrote. "I'm trying to figure out who I am." Four years later, the Philadelphia-bred vocalist seemed to have it figured out, officially returning with her third studio album, Reality Show, which debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard 200 and also landed a 2016 nomination for best R&B album. Standout single "Let It Burn" samples After 7's 1990 Hot 100 top 10 "Ready or Not" and shares writing credits with Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds. The woozy slow jam peaked at No. 4 on the Adult R&B chart and hit No. 22 on Hot R&B songs.
D'Angelo & The Vanguard
Songwriters D'Angelo, Kendra Foster
Publishers Ah Choo Music Publishing/12:00 AM Music administered by Universal Polygram International Publishing/Ear Kandy Music/Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp.
From Black Messiah
Label RCA Records
An early version of "Really Love" first surfaced in 2007, when D'Angelo confidante Questlove sneaked the demo into a DJ set on Australian radio. But the song wasn't officially released until the December 2014 drop of Black Messiah -- the neo-soul singer's triumphant personal and professional return after a 14-year album hiatus. When it debuted on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart dated Jan. 3, it was D'Angelo's first studio set on the chart as a lead artist since 2000. "Really Love," which reached No. 43 on the R&B/Hip-Hop singles chart, is also nominated for record of the year.
Songwriters Waryn Campbell, Tyrese Gibson, DJ Rogers Jr.
Publishers Peer Music/Sounds From the Soul/Campbell Kids Music/Warner Chappell/@PenTorious D.J. Rogers Jr. Sounds From the Soul/Gibson & Gibson Music Publishing
Label Voltron Recordz
With a Billboard chart career that dates back to 1998, Tyrese collected four Grammy noms between 2000 and 2014. Now the singer-actor-author-model-former-VJ adds two more to his résumé with "Shame," the second single from sixth studio LP Black Rose. (The song is also in the running for best traditional R&B performance.) Peaking at No. 32 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, the ballad spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the Adult R&B tally. Meanwhile, the Fast and the Furious star also logged his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and Top R&B Albums charts with Black Rose, which debuted in pole position.
This story originally appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of Billboard.