In a strong year for R&B, seeing Jhené Aiko’s Chilombo among the eight album of the year nominees announced Tuesday (Nov. 24) for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards was indeed gratifying. Just as it was to also see Doja Cat earn marquee category nods for best new artist and record of the year (“Say So”) alongside Grammy veteran Beyoncé for “Black Parade” and her featured role on Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage.” And H.E.R. recognized under song of the year for the activist track “I Can’t Breathe” and Queen Bey once more for her celebratory “Black Parade.”
Segueing over to the R&B categories, however, reveals a mixed bag of nominations that encompasses major and indie label artists, unexpected pop-ups and enduring faves that will please R&B fans on the one hand. At the same time, it will no doubt leave them scratching their heads with the other as they ponder what’s going on.
Most striking are the artists who didn’t receive any nods in the field — and those who did. The first group features R&B’s other leading ladies of 2019-2020: Summer Walker (who also didn’t receive an expected best new artist nod), Kehlani, Teyana Taylor and Jessie Reyez, who gained her first Grammy nomination for best urban contemporary album last year for Being Human in Public. Other possible contenders not in the race this time include indie favorite Brent Faiyaz, PartyNextDoor with his “Believe It” featuring Rihanna and emerging artist Snoh Alegra. Still other genre fans may have expected nods for vets such as Kem, whose single “Lie to Me” and album Love Always Wins was heartily embraced by fans after his six-year hiatus. Or Toni Braxton, Alicia Keys and perhaps Usher, who stepped back to the forefront with “Don’t Waste My Time” featuring Ella Mai and his guest turn on Walker’s “Come Thru.”
Among the surprising names turning up in the five R&B categories is that of Quincy Jones protégé and Grammy-winning musician Jacob Collier. He’s nominated for best R&B performance for “All I Need” featuring Mahalia and Ty Dolla $ign from Collier’s Djesse Vol. 3; also an album of the year nominee, Collier’s set fuses elements of R&B, house, funk and pop. Also surfacing in that category are two more unexpected nominees: Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard (nominated in rock and American roots categories too) and singer-songwriter Emily King, nominated back in 2007 for best urban contemporary album.
There’s still also plenty to celebrate in the R&B field, however. Beyoncé’s empowering “Black Parade” earned nods for best R&B song and best R&B performance. Queen B is vying against her mentees Chloe x Halle (“Do It”) in best R&B song, while the sibling duo’s “Wonder What She Thinks of Me” is a best traditional R&B performance contender. As is Ledisi’s “Anything for You,” the singer’s first No. 1 R&B song and Yebba’s “Distance.” The latter artist won her first Grammy in this category in 2019 alongside PJ Morton for “How Deep Is Your Love.”
R&B star H.E.R. is competing against herself in the best R&B song category: for her guest turns on Robert Glasper’s “Better Than I Imagine” and Skip Marley’s “Slow Down,” the reggae star’s first No. 1 R&B song. U.K. artist Tiana Major9, another promising R&B singer, got her first Grammy nod with best R&B song nominee “Collide,” featuring EarthGang, from the Queen & Slim soundtrack. Fast-tracking newcomer Giveon picked up his first Grammy nomination as well for best R&B album with Take Time. That category includes veteran John Legend’s Bigger Love, singer/actor Luke James’ To Feel Love/d, Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Gregory Porter’s All Rise and indie artist Ant Clemons’ debut album Happy 2 Be Here. Clemons’ résumé includes songwriting credits and features with Beyoncé, SZA, Timbaland and Kanye West.
The 63rd annual Grammy Awards also marks the debut of the best progressive album category, formerly known as best urban contemporary album. The nominated albums christening the renamed category include Aiko’s Chilombo, Chloe x Halle’s Ungodly Hour, the self-titled album by Anderson .Paak’s band Free Nationals, Glasper’s F*ck Yo Feelings and Thunder Cat’s It Is What It Is. Announced by the Recording Academy in June, the redefined category “is intended to highlight albums that include the more progressive elements of R&B and may include samples and elements of hip-hop, rap, dance and electronic music. It may also incorporate production elements found in pop, euro-pop, country, rock, folk and alternative.”