ASTR, a NYC-based duo composed of singer Zoe Silverman and producer Adam Pallin, has the most light-hearted sound out of all the artists on the list. But their futuristic twist on classic R&B is definitely worth a listen…or five. This duo stepped onto the scene with their killer take on Drake‘s “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” but is now showcasing a talent that is all their own. While they are not technically an individual artist, Silverman’s entrancing vocals paired with Pallin’s cinematic production is a total win. Songs like “Operate” off their debut Varsity EP have a R&B base, yet its undertones of house music and hip-hop are completely electric.
This California girl is the most ’90s inspired artist on the list, but she draws from more of the Pop end of the spectrum. LIZ, Mad Decent’s latest signee has a vibe that is reminiscent of a young Christina Aguilera mixed in with a little Jordan Knight. She may sounds super-girly at first, but then the singer hits you with an unexpected jolt of subtle trap, Baltimore club and UK garage influences. Yet her major inspiration is evident from the years she grew up in – smack dab in the middle of the millenial R&B heyday of Aaliyah, Timbaland and TLC. Her new Just Like You EP (released in February) includes songs “All Them Boys” like that combine all of these nostalgic elements into a dope package.
Tinashe may be known now for her club anthem “2 On,” but prior to redundant DJ Mustard production this chanteuse was killing the underground R&B game. Her Black Water mixtape (released November 2013) is heartbreakingly moody, with odes to fellow R&B artists like Aaliyah and Janet Jackson. The standout track goes to “Vulnerable,” which features Kanye West-approved rapper Travi$ Scott. This staggeringly dark tune is light years ahead from what the singer is releasing now, and hopefully her debut album (due sometime this year) will feature similar sounds that she first based her career on.
4. FKA Twigs
This London-bred singer is definitely not for the faint of heart. FKA Twigs (which stands for Formerly Known As) has made appearances on numerous artists-to-watch lists over the past year, and her 2013 mixtape EP 2 is the one to blame. Pushing her simplistic lyrics and saccharine vocals aside, the murky and incredibly deep production is the star of her show. Songs like “Papi Pacify” are examples of synth-based rhythms that push the listeners over the edge with its blatantly sexual undertones.
This next artist may be the only female from Kendrick Lamar‘s Top Dawg Entertainment label, she she is certainly not one to overlook. Born Solana Rowe, the New Jersey native cites artists like Bjork, Common and Lauryn Hill as inspirations. She made her debut with her two self-released EPs See.SZA.Run and S, but is now gaining even more attention with her latest official label effort – simply titled, Z. The EP features the standout track, “Babylon,” which includes fellow TDE member K. Dot. The tune highlights the singer’s breathy vocals which are laid against hypnotic drums, and provides a great insight to her sonic vibe.
Out of all the women on the list, BANKS has surely made the most impact. She seemed to appear out of thin air, smartly using her ever-popular Soundcloud account to promote her self-written songs. The Los Angeles native had prior experience with EPs, but it was her London EP that crashed the music radar last year – thanks to the majorly epic “Waiting Game” which almost drowns you with its weighty bass drops. She is often thought of as the female version of The Weeknd, but BANKS’ sound is much more personal, lyrically intense and vulnerable. Look out for her debut LP, titled Goddess, when it drops this September. With the new witchy-sounding single “Drowning” leading the way, the LP and the voice behind it are destined for greatness.
Honorable Mentions: Kelela, Naomi Pilgrim, Maxine Ashley
Are any of your favorite Alt-R&B female artists missing from the list? Tell us in the comments below!