Rhythm and Blues, more affectionately known as R&B, is the soulful backbone of modern music, weaving through the tapestry of sound with its rich harmonies, emotive lyrics, and deeply rooted cultural significance. This genre, born from the African American experience, has evolved over the decades, incorporating elements from gospel, jazz, and even hip-hop, to express the complexities of love, heartache, triumph, and struggle. It’s a genre that doesn’t just speak to the heart; it sings to the soul, with each note and lyric resonating on a profoundly personal level.
The best R&B artists of all time are not just musicians; they are storytellers, innovators, and cultural icons who have left an indelible mark on the music industry and the world at large. Their voices have become the soundtrack to our lives, echoing through the corridors of history and shaping the future of music with every beat. From the soul-stirring legends of the past to the genre-defining stars of today, these artists have transcended time and genre to create a legacy that is both timeless and transformative.
So let’s get into it. From Babyface to The Weeknd, here are the greatest R&B singers of all time.
35 Lionel Richie
Starting us off, a maestro whose silky voice and heartfelt ballads have become the soundtrack of love across generations. Richie’s transition from Commodores frontman to a solo powerhouse showcases a versatility and emotional depth that resonate deeply within R&B’s realm. His ability to craft songs that feel both personal and universal is a testament to his enduring appeal.
34 Luther Vandross
Starting off with Luther Vandross, the man whose voice could melt butter on a cold day. Vandross wasn’t just a singer; he was a vocal architect, crafting ballads that have become the soundtrack to countless love stories. His ability to infuse emotion into every note set a high bar for R&B, blending soulful melodies with impeccable production. Vandross’s influence is undeniable, paving the way for a generation of artists who strive to capture that same depth and feeling in their music.
33 Diana Ross
Next up, Diana Ross, a name synonymous with greatness. Ross wasn’t just part of music history; she wrote the script. Her voice, a blend of power and grace, broke barriers and set stages for the evolution of R&B into a global phenomenon. Her legacy is not just in the hits but in her role as a trailblazer for African American women in music.
32 Chaka Khan
Chaka Khan, the Queen of Funk-Soul, brought energy to R&B that was unprecedented. Her powerful vocals and dynamic stage presence catapulted her into the spotlight, making songs like “I’m Every Woman” anthems of empowerment and joy. Khan’s influence extends beyond her genre-blurring hits; she’s a symbol of artistic freedom and expression in the R&B world, inspiring artists to push the boundaries of their creative potential.
31 Bryson Tiller
Bryson Tiller brings us into the contemporary realm of R&B with a sound that’s both fresh and reminiscent of the genre’s golden days. Tiller, known for his introspective lyrics and smooth harmonies, has carved a niche for himself in the crowded landscape of modern music. His approach to R&B is a blend of traditional soul with hip-hop edges, showcasing the genre’s evolution while staying true to its emotional roots. Tiller represents the new wave of R&B, where vulnerability meets versatility.
30 Janet Jackson
Jackson’s career is a masterclass in innovation, blending genres and visuals to create music that’s ahead of its time. Her albums are more than just collections of songs; they’re experiences, pushing the boundaries of what R&B can be. Janet’s influence is seen in the waves of artists who cite her as an inspiration, aiming to replicate her blend of rhythm, soul, and groundbreaking performance art.
29 Marvin Gaye
Bringing with him the soulful cries and smooth tones that have made him a legend. Gaye’s music, deeply rooted in the social and personal strife, pushed the boundaries of R&B. His album “What’s Going On” remains a powerful commentary on social issues, blending lush compositions with poignant messages.
28 Toni Braxton
Bringing a unique blend of husky vocals and emotional depth to the table. Her ability to convey the complexities of love and heartbreak through her music has solidified her place in R&B history. Braxton’s chart-topping hits and multiple Grammy Awards speak to her impact on the genre.
27 Stevie Wonder
A prodigious talent whose contributions to music are nothing short of legendary, comes next. Wonder’s innovation in sound and profound lyrical depth have earned him a revered spot in music history. His mastery of melody and harmony, combined with an uncanny ability to connect with listeners on a profound level, has made his music timeless.
26 Whitney Houston
With a voice as powerful as it is emotive, Houston’s impact on R&B and music at large is unparalleled. Her ability to convey deep emotion, coupled with her impeccable vocal range, has left an indelible mark on the industry. Houston’s songs, filled with passion and power, have become anthems of love, loss, and triumph, securing her legacy as one of the greatest vocalists of all time.
25 Tory Lanez
Kicking off with Tory Lanez, a multifaceted artist whose versatility transcends the conventional boundaries of R&B, blending in elements of rap, trap, and soul to create a unique sound that resonates with today’s generation. Tory’s journey in the industry showcases a relentless pursuit of musical innovation, offering a mix of introspective lyrics, catchy hooks, and a distinct style that borrows from the past while looking firmly towards the future.
24 Frank Ocean
Moving on to Frank Ocean, an artist who redefines the power of storytelling through his deeply personal and sonically innovative tracks. Ocean’s albums, notably Channel Orange and Blonde, are masterclasses in songwriting and production, blending R&B with soul, hip hop, and avant-garde pop. His openness about his identity and experiences has paved the way for a more inclusive representation in R&B, making him a beacon for many.
23 Boyz II Men
Boyz II Men, the harmonious quartet that brought vocal prowess and emotive storytelling to the forefront of R&B, epitomizes the genre’s golden age. With timeless classics like “End of the Road” and “I’ll Make Love to You,” they have etched an indelible mark on the hearts of listeners worldwide. Their impeccable vocal harmonies, combined with heartfelt lyrics, have made their music a soundtrack for love and heartbreak alike.
22 Pink Sweat$
Pink Sweat$ is redefining R&B with his unique sound that strips back the production to highlight pure vocal talent and raw emotion. His minimalist approach and soul-stirring lyrics have earned him a spot among the genre’s most exciting newcomers.
21 Michael Jackson
At the pinnacle of our journey stands Michael Jackson, joining ranks with solo artists like Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston, whose influence on R&B and the wider music industry is unparalleled. Jackson’s contributions to the genre are foundational, infusing traditional R&B with pop, funk, and disco to create a sound that captivated the world.
Kicking off our list is Babyface, an extremely talented r&b singer who’s name is synonymous with R&B royalty. With his velvety voice and unmatched production prowess, Babyface has penned and produced hits that have become the soundtrack of our lives. His influence extends far beyond his own discography, shaping the sounds of countless other artists in the genre.
19 R. Kelly
Despite the controversies surrounding him, R. Kelly’s impact amongst the array of R&B songs is undeniable. With a career that spans decades, his contributions as a songwriter, producer, and performer have left an indelible mark on the genre. His ability to blend soul, gospel, and hip-hop elements, an innovative approach that’s drawn comparisons to Stevie Wonder, has redefined R&B for a generation.
18 Lucky Daye
Lucky Daye brings a fresh fusion of classic R&B with contemporary sounds, making him a standout in today’s music scene. His innovative approach to music, similar to the creativity of Stevie Wonder, characterized by lush melodies and heartfelt lyrics, showcases the evolving landscape of R&B and his potential to shape its future.
17 August Alsina
August Alsina’s raw emotional energy and honesty have made him a relatable figure in R&B. His music, often reflecting his personal struggles and triumphs, connects with listeners on a deeply personal level, proving the genre’s power to heal and inspire.
16 Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys, a prodigious talent whose piano-driven ballads and powerful vocals, alongside artists like Lionel Richie and Toni Braxton, have made her a defining figure in modern R&B. Alicia’s journey from a classically trained pianist to a global superstar is a narrative of passion, dedication, and raw talent. Albums like Songs in A Minor, an album that resonates like Toni Braxton’s works and The Diary of Alicia Keys showcase her ability to blend soul, R&B, and elements of jazz into a sound that is uniquely her own.
With his smooth vocals and captivating presence, Mario has been a staple in the R&B scene since the early 2000s. His ability to deliver both up-tempo bangers and soulful ballads with equal prowess showcases the versatility that has kept him relevant in the ever-evolving genre.
SZA’s ethereal sound and unapologetic lyricism have carved her a unique niche in R&B. Her music, often exploring themes of love, self-discovery, and femininity, resonates with a generation seeking authenticity and depth in their musical experiences.
13 Mary J. Blige
The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, Mary J. Blige, has been an influential figure in R&B for decades. Her raw, soulful voice and ability to convey deep emotional truths through her music have made her a beacon of strength and resilience.
Rihanna’s impact on R&B goes beyond her genre-blurring hits; coupled with fearless experimentation, akin to Diana Ross, she has gained iconic status that has made her a global phenomenon. Her ventures into various musical landscapes have continually pushed the boundaries of what R&B can be, with album sales of over 60 million copies worldwide.
Usher Raymond IV, professionally known as simply “USHER“, is the epitome of cool with smooth dance moves and even smoother vocals have solidified his place as a king of R&B. His catalog of hits, beginning with his debut album, spans the late ’90s to today, has not only earned him numerous grammy awards but also influenced a new generation of artists.
PARTYNEXTDOOR has become a key player in the R&B world, thanks to his moody, atmospheric soundscapes and introspective lyrics. Like greats such as Lionel Richie, his contributions as a songwriter and producer have also helped shape the sound of contemporary R&B.
Just as Janet Jackson did, Beyoncé’s impact on R&B and music as a whole is monumental. From her early days with Destiny’s Child to her groundbreaking solo career, Beyoncé has consistently pushed the boundaries of the genre. Her powerful vocals, comparable to greats like Whitney Houston and Diana Ross, dynamic performances, and innovative music have made her a global icon, inspiring a generation of artists and fans alike.
Giveon’s baritone voice, reminiscent of soul legends like Luther Vandross and Marvin Gaye, is a throwback to the classic soul singers of the past, yet his music is anything but old-fashioned. His storytelling prowess and unique vocal tone have quickly made him a standout in the modern R&B landscape.
7 Brent Faiyaz
Brent Faiyaz combines lo-fi production with soulful lyrics to create a sound that’s both intimate and expansive. His music speaks to the complexities of love and life, making him a voice for the modern age.
6 Daniel Caesar
Daniel Caesar’s gospel-infused R&B has earned him critical acclaim and a devoted fanbase. His ability to blend spiritual and secular themes within his music has marked him as a profound storyteller in the genre.
Miguel has been a force in R&B with his eclectic sound that blends rock, funk, and soul. His fearless approach to music and performance has set him apart as an artist unafraid to take risks and explore new territories.
4 Ty Dolla $ign
Ty Dolla $ign’s versatility as a singer, songwriter, and producer has made him a sought-after collaborator in the music industry. His knack for catchy hooks and memorable melodies has left a significant mark on contemporary R&B.
Khalid’s youthful energy and relatable lyrics have made him a voice of his generation. His smooth blend of pop and R&B, reminiscent of Lionel Richie and Marvin Gaye, has captured the hearts of fans worldwide, proving that sincerity and simplicity can still top the charts.
2 Chris Brown
Chris Brown’s dynamic talent as a singer, dancer, and performer has kept him at the forefront of R&B for over a decade. Despite his controversies, his ability to churn out hits and put on electrifying performances is undeniable.
1 The Weeknd
Topping our list is The Weeknd, an artist who has single-handedly redefined the boundaries of R&B music. His dark, enigmatic sound, characterized by haunting melodies and introspective lyrics, has not only dominated the charts but also influenced the direction of the genre itself.
This journey through the echelons of the top R&B artists showcases the genre’s rich diversity and enduring appeal. From the soulful serenades of Babyface to the innovative soundscapes of The Weeknd, R&B continues to evolve, captivate, and inspire. These artists, with their unique talents and contributions, have not only defined the sound of a generation but also paved the way for the future of R&B. As we look ahead, it’s clear that the soul of R&B is alive and well, continuing to beat with the passion and creativity of its biggest stars.