5 UK R&B artists you need to hear

Marco Marcelline 27 July 2021

There have never been so many soulful talents blessing our eardrums and lifting our spirits as there are today. Check them out here

Raheaven

Raheaven

With her real name being Rahel (pronounced Rah-hell), the stage name Raheaven came to fruition when a school classmate asked her why she hadn’t been called Raheaven instead, prompting a lightbulb moment. Now that very name is being talked about as one of the most exciting R&B prospects in Britain today.

And with stand-out riffs, and a rasp that captivates, there is a lot to be excited about.

In March this year, the North-Londoner released the four-track 2Personal EP, which is her first major release. The EP was preceded by the hard-hitting single 7AM, with lyrics that detail a hookup overstaying his welcome and being asked, in no uncertain terms, to “pick up your shoes.”

The searingly direct lyrics are the cornerstone of an EP that is dripping with the raw frustrations and mixed emotions of casual dating. 

She says, “It [2Personal] was made with some level of chaos going on. Every song, every verse, and every line is about a different person.”

She adds that the record is there to validate the feelings that people have in scenarios that don’t meet the textbook definition of a relationship, ie when it’s not a breakup, but can feel like one.

She admits that as someone that is “fuelled by drama”, the pandemic has lulled some of the hectic aspects of her life that influenced her songwriting. As life begins to gather pace again, here’s hoping that Raheaven will be picking up her pen.

"The record is there to validate the feelings that people have in scenarios that don’t meet the textbook definition of a relationship"

Tora-i

Tora-i

Credit: Rashidi Noah

Tora-i is another talent whose bold lyrics and voice will simultaneously claim your attention and bless your earbuds.

Following the release of her debut EP Cavalier (produced by Raheaven collaborator Courage) in 2020, Tora-i has raked in millions of streams on Spotify.

Life and its randomness inspires Tora. The idea for the song "Pisonia Prologue" came to Tora when she was watching a segment in a David Attenborough documentary that covered pisonia trees (these are known to have sticky sap that can entrap birds), and the lyrics pointedly describe a relationship that's bad for you, but hard to leave. 

With a blazing saxophone instrumental accompanying her powerful voice, the single “Call Your Name, sees Tora unpacks the realities of racism and classism in the world, with lyrics that take aim at how society can have people get silenced and sidelined simply for who they are.

“We can look at people in a two-dimensional way, and not take in the complexities and nuances of peopleand in doing so you’re just flattening someone, you’re not seeing them for who they are; you’re just seeing them for who you want them to be,” she explains.

Go onto her Instagram page and you’ll be greeted with the words “empathy with a sharp tongue” in her bio description. It speaks to the life philosophy that guides Tora: navigating the world with kindness and understanding for other people’s pain, but also demanding better from yourself and others too.

Mychelle

Mychelle

Inspired heavily by the laidback soul of Corinne Bailey Rae, and Lianne La Havas, Mychelle and her guitar can be seen busking on the London Underground most weekends. Hailing from Hackney, in May she released her four-track debut EP Closure.

On her musical inspiration, she says: “I saw [Corinne] live a few years ago, and when I watched her, I just thought, that’s it, that’s literally how I want to be; I want to be on stage, sing these honest songs that I’ve written, play guitar and feel free on stage.

At the core of her lyricism lies a commitment to radical honesty and open communication; one song is simply titled “Honest”.

"At the core of her lyricism lies a commitment to radical honesty and open communication"

Stripped back and guitar-driven, another track on the EP, "The Way", is beautiful in its simplicity, with its lyrics revolving around an endearing love dilemma where she pines for a relationship with someone who she expects will reject her but reckons that she must be honest about her feelings, nonetheless.

She loves busking too. “It’s a mixture between performing and practising, so if I make mistakes, it’s like ‘oh well’, because no one was really listening that heavily anyway. My default [expectation] is that people are going to walk by, so when they stop, it feels a lot more special because you’ve stopped someone in their day to listen. Also, you never know who is walking through the station. I’ve made really good friends from it [busking] too.”

Bellah

Bellah

Bellah grew up listening to Lauryn Hill, Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross and Michael Jackson. Drawn to the specific tone of singers, rather than to powerhouse vocals, she has incorporated that same focus on tone in her own music.

Her first single “Never Loved” was released in 2019, and she has since released two EPs, Last Train Home, in 2019 and The Art of Conversation, last year. And since featuring on the hugely popular YouTube channel COLORS in April this year, where she sang, “Evil Eye,” the 24-year-old has become a serious artist to watch in the R&B space.

Across her music, but especially in the aforementioned "Evil Eye", there are clear references to Nigerian spirituality. “Nearly every producer I’ve worked with grew up in [African] churches”, she says.

She has big plans for her career: “I want to be a reliable representative of R&B from the UK… I want to be somebody who people can bring up in conversation [about prominent R&B artists].” She’s planning to consolidate her dance moves too in a mission to become an all-round entertainer.

Bellah wants her fans to connect deeply with her music. “I want [fans] to carry my music with them wherever they are and apply it to whatever they need to.” She adds: “I want them to feel like I’m their best friend in their living room having a conversation with them, and whatever [emotional] season you’re in right now, we can have a conversation about that.”

Monifé

Monife

A biomedical scientist by day, Monifé (real name Jasmine) has been hard at work on her first EP since the pandemic started. Having already released three tracks on Spotify, the seven-track EP, titled Love Language, out in September, will include music videos and visualisers for each track; a tough feat and strategy that her idol Beyoncé knows very well.

The EP took shape during the pandemic, with many songs written during long walks to work. “I would open up the notes app on my phone, listen to beats that got sent to me by producers, and start writing. I was literally walking down the road with my head in my phone, singing out loud,” she laughs.

Her stage name was conceived during a chat with friends years ago: “When I was in college, I was discussing Nigerian names with some friends, and one of my friends told me that I look like a ‘Monifé’ which means, ‘I have love’ in Yoruba”. Half-Nigerian herself, the name is both a reflection of her musical intentions, and a homage to her heritage.

Each song on the EP tackles different facets of love, such as self-love to giving love. She points out one song on the EP, called “Grow”, that she says holds a lot of relevance for people in her generation. “A lot of people get caught up on where they aren’t yet. But really and truly, if you look back two years ago, and [compare] to where you are now, be grateful even if you’re just one step closer to where you want to be. It’s about celebrating your achievements whether big or small.”

"It’s about celebrating your achievements whether big or small"

 

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