While R&B is getting a refresh in recent years with new artists breaking out in the US, the UK has steadily been producing quality sound with British R&B artists taking center stage.
The way foreign music makes its way to the states can be up to chance. Songs like “Boo’d Up” by Ella Mai can find second wind years after they’re released. While artists with huge fan bases in the UK can be virtually unknown on our side of the globe.
While US songs still hold the highest rank in many UK charts, there are still UK songs with arguably R&B roots that break the top 10 across the pond. Today, s1mba’s Rover (featuring DTG) at number eight has familiar r&b melodies, with a hip hop beat, and is native to the UK.
But overall we know that the UK has an R&B scene, but why don’t we know about more artists?
The Rarity of Crossing Over
In the past, British R&B artists have popped up on Americans’ radar few and far between. While Sade Adu still remains a beloved legend, UK artists, especially those of color are still having a difficult time making it big in America.
In the early 2000s, Estelle made it in the U.S. and despite reiterating that she was not a new artist and had years of success across the Atlantic, the US press consistently gave her freshman titles.
During her speech for winning the MOBO Award for Best Newcomer in 2004, she emphasized “I’m not a newcomer.”
Amy Winehouse, Adele, and to a lesser degree Lily Allen were able to translate her British Fame into a huge success in the US. It’s not anything to point out that they were white women who got plenty of play in white America.
Some ascribe Winehouse and Adele’s success to the internet’s vast ability to help artists go viral. Even more recently, few artists have gained some notoriety via a song or two with the undeniable help of the internet. The latest perhaps being Ella Mai with Boo’d Up and Jorja Smith.
Stop Sleepin on R&B artists in the UK
That doesn’t mean that we can’t keep an eye out for R&B acts worth discovering from our fellow non-American artists.
Music preference algorithms work in such a way that once you’ve listened to one foreign R&B song it’s easier to get more recommendations from that country and genre. And while the U.S. is having a sort of reshaping and revival of the R&B genre, it seems like the UK has had hits for years that just didn’t make it stateside.
Artists like Ella Mai, Mahalia, Raveena, James Vickery, Kaiit, Kwaye have had success online through viral moments but deserve more time in the American consciousness. The variety can truly be beneficial.
Lately, we often have solid American R&B trends of R&B with traditional hip-hop blends. It’s refreshing to hear a different take on R&B with more chill-hop influence. There’s no language barrier so why not give the UK a chance?
Mahalia’s “What You Did” has amassed over 36 million streams on Spotify. For the sake of comparison, recent R&B newcomer Snoh Alegra’s “I Want You Around” has gained just under 32 million. Raveena’s “If Only” is at 21 million streams. Dani Leigh’s “Levi High” is at over 12 million streams.
So, there’s definitely an audience for UK sound. What will it take for us to peep and appreciate? Maybe an American co-sign like Kanye with Estelle would help. If that’s the case, Mahalia just hopped on a track with Jacob Collier and Ty Dolla $ign. Perhaps this will be the first of many.