The 20 Best R&B Radio Hits of 2015
After rap, pop, country, and rock, here we conclude this year's overview of popular music with R&B. Barring the enormous success of The Weeknd, it was not easy to be an R&B act in 2015. A lot of albums dropped with a thud, and a lot more stayed in the label vault even when there was a hit single to capitalize on. And if you're a woman, forget about it, there were no new stars on the scale of Tinashe or Jhene in previous years, and it was hard to even score a major R&B hit unless you're a crossover superstar like Beyonce or Rihanna. Still, there were some damn good songs on the radio. Here's the previous lists for 2012, 2013, and 2014, and the Spotify playlist for this year's list.
1. Jeremih f/ J. Cole - "Planes"
#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #44 Hot 100
"Planes" seems to epitomize the way Jeremih's career has been stalled and sabotaged, either by Def Jam or himself or fate itself, every step of the way lately. He previewed the song live early in 2014 as a collaboration with Chance The Rapper, before Chance was replaced by one of the worst rap verses on an R&B song in recent memory by the more bankable J. Cole. The studio version was teased as a snippet in fall 2014, and then was finally released (and pulled from Spotify, and then put up again) in early 2015, months after his momentum from "Don't Tell 'Em" had dissipated. And even with all this, and no video or announced album release date, "Planes" managed to climb the airplay charts and become one of the biggest R&B songs of 2015. And then Def Jam changed the official title of the song to "Planez" for no apparent reason. At least we finally got the album.
2. Tory Lanez - "Say It"
#3 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #30 Hot 100
Tory Lanez, a Canadian singer who doesn't want to call Toronto "the 6," doesn't sound all that different from the various Bryson Tiller types flooding the R&B world these days. But his big single, produced by R&B nostalgists Pop & Oak, makes great use of a '90s sample, of "If You Love Me" by the girl group Brownstone, to fill the song's chorus with the kind of lush harmonies you rarely hear in modern R&B, and it makes all the difference, even if Tory Lanez did write a pretty great song over the sample as well.
3. Monica f/ Lil Wayne - "Just Right For Me"
#18 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
20 years out from "Don't Take It Personal," Monica is one of the more resilient female stars in R&B, still making impressive singles. "Just Right For Me" features one of the best beats from Polow Da Don and one of the best R&B guest verses from Lil Wayne that we've heard in ages, and it's a shame the song didn't blow up as big as it would've in 2008 when those guys were on top.
4. Usher f/ Juicy J - "I Don't Mind"
#2 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #11 Hot 100
Usher had one of the biggest R&B songs of 2014 with "Good Kisser," and that June he quietly released another song, "I Don't Mind," that slowly, slowly wound up one of the R&B songs of 2015, and we're still probably never going to get that album he was supposedly working on. And this is Usher, a superstar. The R&B business really is in the toilet. "I Don't Mind" is a an incredibly spare production, especially for pop mogul Dr. Luke, with two electric piano chords going back and forth for the entire song with a clap beat, and a very soft kick drum that comes in for a few bars here and there. But Usher just fills out the track so beautifully with his voice, making maybe too much of a show of not judging a stripper girlfriend but still a pretty charming effort in the "these hoes ain't loyal" era of R&B.
5. D'Angelo And The Vanguard - "Really Love"
#24 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
D'Angelo was probably never going to have another blockbuster single on the order of "Untitled (How Does It Feel)," especially when it took him 14 long years to deliver his third album, Black Messiah. But the album was worth the wait, and "Really Love" was a beautiful, surprisingly guitar-driven single that I wish R&B radio was more welcoming towards.
6. Miguel - "Coffee"
#27 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #78 Hot 100
Miguel was probably never going to have another blockbuster single on the order of "Adorn," especially when it took him 3 long years to deliver his third album, Wildheart. But the album was worth the wait, and "Coffee" was a beautiful, surprisingly guitar-driven single that I wish R&B radio was more welcoming towards.
7. Trey Songz - "Slow Motion"
#2 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #26 Hot 100
Charlie Puth was responsible for some of the worst popular music of 2015, from Wiz Khalifa's "See You Again" to Lil Wayne's "Nothing But Trouble" to his own "Marvin Gaye" with Meaghan Trainor, the guy was just a total shit factory. But amidst all that, he co-produced and co-wrote one of the best Trey Songz singles in recent memory, and I try not to imagine Puth singing it when I hear it.
8. Avery*Sunshine - "Call My Name"
#15 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
The closest thing to a breakout female star R&B radio had in 2015 was Pennsylvania singer/pianist Avery*Sunshine, who turned 40 this year. And she got this much airplay from an indie release, too. It's a great song that really takes its time growing on you, which makes its unlikely success all the more remarkable.
9. Janet Jackson - "No Sleeep"
#12 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #63 Hot 100
Janet Jackson's return this year was so refreshing, partly just to have her back after 7 years, but also because she returned to the open arms of R&B radio, after her 2000s albums strained harder and harder for pop crossover and 2008's Discipline even abandoned her reliable team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. "No Sleeep" was tainted with a J. Cole verse on the remix sent to radio a few weeks after the original song's release, but at least we got a version without him too, unlike "Planes."
10. Sevyn Streeter f/ Chris Brown - "Don't Kill The Fun"
#19 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
Sevyn Streeter is one of my favorite singers to break out on R&B radio in the last few years, and the EP she released this year, Should've Been There, Pt. 1, was solid. It bums me out that she needs Chris Brown features to keep her career afloat, but at least he's a pretty minor presence on this song.
11. Jill Scott - "Fool's Gold"
#17 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
This year I got to interview Baltimore producer D.K. The Punisher just after he got a big break working on the lead single for Jill Scott's latest album with songwriter SiR (who released one of my favorite indie R&B projects of the year, Seven Sundays). Jill Scott has such an established sound and voice that "Fool's Gold" was a really interesting track, put her in a whole new light and made her sound more modern without trying too hard.
12. Tyrese - "Shame"
#13 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
Tyrese Gibson has had a weird career, hopping from introducing videos on MTV to co-starring in Transformers movies to being one of the most entertainingly inarticulate celebrities on Twitter to making intermittently quality R&B as well as way too many songs where he raps in his "Black Ty" persona. And this year he became an unlikely torchbearer for "traditional" R&B when he scored the first #1 album of his career driven by the great single "Shame." I don't understand why his label is called Voltron Recordz, though, this dude is set tripping with different giant robot crews instead of being loyal to Transformers.
13. Beyonce - "7/11"
#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #13 Hot 100
I've never heard people call in to the radio to jeer with disapproval for a new Beyonce song the way they did in late 2014 when "7/11" leaked. But the video, the ridiculous delightful video that somehow puts this odd song in a context that makes sense, was released soon after, and it seemed to change everyone's mind and make it even sound good on the radio.
14. The Weeknd - "The Hills"
#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #1 Hot 100
The slick, smooth songs that made The Weeknd into a pop radio darling were produced by Max Martin, and represented a pretty big aesthetic leap from the dark, brooding mixtapes that made The Weeknd into a cult R&B sensation in 2011. But his whole crossover narrative got turned on its ear a little when his longest-reigning #1 single of 2015 wound up being "The Hills," a throwback to his creepy House Of Balloons sound with longtime producer Illangelo, cementing the fact that The Weeknd changed the sound of pop as much as pop changed him.
15. Jazmine Sullivan - "Let It Burn"
#30 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
Jazmine Sullivan released her third album, Reality Show, in 2015, and it was as strong as her first two albums, cementing her as a great vocalist and a creative, offbeat songwriter. Unfortunately, it was her first album that didn't have a major radio hit. And it was bittersweet that she finally scored a sleeper hit with one of its best songs, many months after the album's release.
16. Rico Love - "Somebody Else"
#47 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
Rico Love's Turn The Lights On was another great album that failed to generate a hit on the scale of 2013's "They Don't Know." And that's really a shame, because "Somebody Else" is a beautifully sung track that I thought really brought some emotional dimension to Rico's sound that's sorely missing from some of his scumbag soul contemporaries like Ty Dolla $ign.
17. K. Michelle - "Love 'Em All"
#26 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
It says everything about R&B radio's harsh climate for women in 2015 that one of 2013's big breakout stars couldn't get much airplay, even with a smart, catchy response song to Chris Brown's douchebag double standards anthem "Loyal."
18. Ne-Yo f/ Juicy J - "She Knows"
#6 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #19 Hot 100
"She Knows" was kind of the flipside to Usher's "I Don't Mind," another Dr. Luke-produced ode to a stripper featuring Juicy J that ran radio in early 2015. And even if it's easily the lesser of the two songs, it's a pretty great club record. We really don't appreciate Ne-Yo enough.
19. Robin Thicke - "Morning Sun"
#23 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
After the rocket ride of "Blurred Lines" in 2013 and the crash of Paula in 2014, it's hard to know what the future holds for Robin Thicke. Based on the performance of this and "Back Together," the more pop-leaning other single he released in 2015, he's got more of a future back on his old R&B radio turf, but his image is still in the toilet and he's got a ways to go to mount a real comeback. "Morning Sun" was a good start, though.
20. Jodeci - "Every Moment"
#18 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
Jodeci made an enormous impact on R&B in the '90s, and then went their separate ways for almost two decades. And given the fact that the scale of their original success doesn't really exist for R&B groups anymore, any reunion was doomed to be anticlimactic. Still, they ended up with a pretty nice comeback hit.
The 10 Worst R&B Radio Hits of 2015:
1. Ciara - "I Bet"
2. Janelle Monae f/ Jidenna - "Yoga"
3. Jidenna f/ Roman GianArthur - "Classic Man"
4. Chris Brown - "Liquor"
5. Omarion f/ Chris Brown and Jhene Aiko - "Post To Be"
6. Jamie Foxx f/ Chris Brown - "You Changed Me"
7. Bryson Tiller - "Don't"
8. Rihanna - "Bitch Better Have My Money"
9. Vivian Green - "Get Right Back To My Baby"
10. The-Dream f/ T.I. - "That's My Shit"