Despite reports of the genre being “dead,” R&B songs have thrived in 2020, serving as a home for new stars and experimental artists, each helping to push the conventions of the sound forward. Mainstays like Ty Dolla $ign, Kehlani, dvsn and Jhené Aiko all released quality R&B music. Veterans such as Alicia Keys, The-Dream and Brandy returned to the limelight with solid offerings, while budding stars such as Chloe x Halle, Snoh Aalegra and Pink Sweat$ flashed their potential to dictate the future of R&B music all the same.

Every year, HipHopDX staff joins in discussions, debates and sometimes heated arguments to come up with a list for our Year End Awards. Review all of our award categories and nominees before the winners are announced beginning December 28, 2020.

In the spirit of highlighting the best of the best, HipHopDX has narrowed it down and produced the definitive list of the best R&B songs that soundtracked 2020.

Editor’s Note: This list includes songs from December 1, 2019 through December 1, 2020. The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” would’ve been a song of the year nomination if it was released within this time period.

2020 Best R&B Song Nominees

The 2020 R&B Song of the year goes to…

“Do It” – Chloe x Halle

While the world went through crazy times, Chloe x Halle’s “Do It” provided the feel-good summer vibes R&B fans needed in 2020. Off their breakout LP, Ungodly Hour, the Scott Storch-produced track focuses on doing you and keeping good people in your circle. And with a hook as melodic as this, it’s primed for shower singing and the pick me up playlist after a long day.

Some of Our Favorite R&B Songs This Year

Contributing writers: Trent Clark, Kyle Eustice, Justin Ivey, Josh Svetz, Dana Scott, Brandon Caldwell, David Brake, Kenan Draughorne, Devon Jefferson & Jeremy Hecht. Forward by Josh Svetz.

“B.S.” – Jhené Aiko f. H.E.R.

Sometimes the best thing to ease the pain of a tumultuous breakup is to flex on the ex who hurt you. On Jhené Aiko’s and H.E.R.’s collaborative single “B.S.,” the two R&B songstresses sing about the self-esteem boosting effect of hopping back out on the scene, turning hurt feelings into a rallying cry of knowing your self-worth.

“Dragonball Durag” – Thundercat

Creating a beautiful melody while singing about a durag is a talent many singers don’t have, but Thundercat is an exception. The bass prodigy’s latest single stays true to form with a funk-inspired instrumental and stellar vocal performance (the comedic video is also required watching).

“Go Crazy” – Young Thug & Chris Brown

Young Thug & Chris Brown’s “Go Crazy” is a 2010s kid’s dream song. From Breezy’s signature sweet falsetto coupled with Thugger’s squeaking slime language, to the sample of The Show Boys’ Drag Rap (also found in T.I. and Lil Wayne’s “Ball”), “Go Crazy” is a time capsule track catering to the strengths of two of the most renowned hitmakers of the last decade.

“Hit Different” – SZA f. Ty Dolla $ign

Whenever SZA drops, the world takes a moment to listen. The TDE Queen of R&B delivers again with her newest song “Hit Different” featuring stunning vocals from Ty Dolla $ign and grandiose, luxurious production from The Neptunes. If SZA’s voice isn’t enough to keep the listener hooked, one of the best Pharrell and Chad Hugo-produced tracks in years should do the trick.

“After Hours” – The Weeknd

Note: This would have made the top five list, but it was released after our cut off date of December 1, 2019

The Weeknd’s ability to create hits is uncanny but on “After Hours,” Abel delivered an unmatched experience unlike anything else from his latest project of the same name. The beat switch at around the two-minute mark transitions the song from a moody ballad to an uptempo jam. The Canadian crooner changes the mood once again and closes off the song with another beat switch.

“Bussit” – Dreamville F. Ari Lennox

Ari Lennox shined bright on Dreamville’s Revenge Of The Dreamers III: Director’s Cut, delivering the beautiful single “BUSSIT.” Ari sounds so in command with her art right now and this song displays her ability to ride the beat effortlessly.

“Outta Time” – Bryson Tiller f. Drake

Early on in Bryson Tiller’s career, there were talks of him signing to OVO. This sparked rumors of a collab between Tiller and Drake, but nothing materialized. Five years later on Tiller’s latest LP, the two joined forces and proved it was worth the wait.

“Guilty Conscience” – 070 Shake

070 Shake delivers a unique blend of nostalgic synths and modern drums on “Guilty Conscience,” which comes from her Modus Vivendi project. Shake bends genre’s on this track, mixing R&B vocals with pop hooks and memorable melodies. There’s no denying the singer has found her sound and “Guilty Conscience” is the perfect sonic display.

“Dying 4 Your Love” – Snoh Aalegra

On “Dying 4 Your Love,” Snoh Aalegra believes she’s found that special someone despite the resistance of exclusivity from her object of desire. And while she was once OK with the lack of commitment, she’s grown tired of the games. The conflict in Aalegra’s voice sells the song, switching her tone from annoyance to longing to resignation seamlessly as she offers the final chance to reciprocate the feelings she has.

“Marmot” – Baby Rose

Baby Rose has already mastered the art of storytelling just by the inflections and tones she strikes in her music, flaunting a distinct voice that could make the alphabet sound profound. “Marmot” is another example of the power her warbling vocals possess to evoke everything she feels in the moment and has endured in 25 years of life.

“Black Parade” – Beyoncé

Beyoncé always seems to know the perfect time to emerge from her queendom to drop new music.”Black Parade” sees Bey continuing the rap-sung style she’s displayed throughout her last couple of projects. The Queen floats over the instrumental as she asks for reparations for her people and references police shooting rubber bullets at protesters.

“Fair Chance” – Thundercat f. Ty Dolla Sign & Lil B

Los Angeles bass impresario Thundercat poured his heart out on”Fair Chance,” while remembering his late friend and collaborator Mac Miller. With a little help from Ty Dolla $ign and Lil B, the talented trifecta promise to keep “holding it down” for Miller over the song’s ethereal, downtempo beat.

“Way Too Big” – Burna Boy

Burna Boy’s impassioned vocals go a long way on “Way Too Big,” one of the standout tracks from the Nigerian star’s latest project, Twice As Tall. Upheld by contagious drums and an EDM-inspired Afrobeat backing vocal, Burna Boy’s voice is carried to the stars. Sometimes tender, sometimes powerful, Burna Boy has proved he’s no longer on his way — he’s already there.

“A Muse” – dvsn

dvsn returned from their hiatus to deliver one of the best R&B albums of the year, A Muse In Her Feelings, which was anchored by the dreamy single “A Muse.” The Toronto duo sampled Lonnie Liston’s “A Garden of Peace,” which was famously sampled on JAY-Z’s “Dead Presidents,” making for a fresh twist on a classic sample.

Here is HipHopDX’s playlist of the best R&B songs of 2020. And don’t forget to follow us on Spotify for updates!

“Grammy Week” – Kaash Paige f. Don Toliver

“Ransom” – SAiNt JHN f. 6lack & Kehlani

SAiNt JHN has a unique ability to create catchy melodies without sacrificing his lyrical integrity. “Ransom” is a perfect display of this skillset. When two of R&B’s best emotional verse killers are added as features, there’s no chance of this song not hitting.

“Pick Up Your Feelings”Jazmine Sullivan

“Superpower” – KIRBY & D Smoke

Hawái Remix – Maluma & The Weeknd

Maluma taps The Weeknd for the remix to his massive hit “Hawái” as they both continue their 2020 dominance. The single already had all the ingredients of a smash but with the addition of an emotional Weeknd verse, it has the potential to continue producing streams deep into 2021. Plus, hearing Abel flex his Spanish on the track is a bonus.

“Hold On” – H.E.R.

“Lift Me Up” – Ty Dolla f. Future & Young Thug

Ty Dolla $ign delivers another bass-rattling beat and with the help of Thugger and Future, flips it into a smoky, Auto-Tuned love session. The Los Angeles-to-Atlanta combination gives a hint of romance and sings about the finer things in life. Songs like this provide a hint of light and help distract people from the darkness of 2020.

“Stuck On You” – Giveon

“Walking Dead Man” – Brent Faiyaz

“Daylight” – Joji – f. Diplo

“3 Hour Drive” – Alicia Keys f. Sampha

Alicia Keys returned with her first new album in nearly four years and called upon some of the game’s most prominent young voices for assistance. On “3 Hour Drive,” Keys and Sampha show off their vocal skills, going back and forth over the dreamy instrumental. The beat, which was produced by by the duo, takes the forefront for the last minute of the song as the mix of synths and light drums create a reflective mood, perfect for a drive.

“Elephant In The Room” – 6LACK

“Nipsey Blue” – Snoop Dogg

Uncle Snoop temporarily abandoned his lighthearted persona for a tribute song dedicated to the late Nipsey Hussle. The moody song pays homage to Snoop’s love of R&B with a sample of Dorothy Moore’s 1970s hit “Misty Blue” and paints a somber picture of the long lasting effect Nip’s death had on the West Coast legend. 

“Easy” – Amine f. Summer Walker

From Aminé’s wildly critically acclaimed Limbo comes “Easy” featuring R&B goddess Summer Walker. The “REEL IT IN” rapper wails beautifully about unrequited and difficult love, all backed by Walker’s smooth tones. With groovy and soulful ’70s-style production, the track is primed for the cool weather of autumn.

“Jaguar” – Victoria Monet

“Smile” – Juice Wrld f. The Weeknd

The rap world is still reeling from the loss of Chicago rapper Juice WRLD last winter. Luckily, fans were blessed with the posthumous Legends Never Die, a packed-to-the-brim tale of Juice WRLD’s life and the joy and tragedy he experienced during it. “Smile” featuring The Weeknd’s glittery assistance surmises the light and dark sides of Juice’s life, resulting in a heartbreaking and powerful song about love.

“Goldmine” – Savannah Cristina

In the music business pre-internet, being ahead of your time was never a good thing. This is the case of Adina Howard, flaunting so much sex appeal on her 1995 hit single “Freak Like Me,” she made TLC look like Jehovah’s Witnesses. And while Howard’s career never took off, her only hit’s bluntness has inspired many that came after her, as evidenced by South Florida’s Savannah Cristina interpolating the pioneering classic into the sultry love song “Gold Mine.” 

“Borderline” – Brandy

“Better Than I Imagined” – Robert Glasper f. H.E.R. & Meshell Ndegeocello

“My Affection” – Summer Walker f. PARTYNEXTDOOR

“Marmot” – Baby Rose

Baby Rose has already mastered the art of storytelling just by the inflections and tones she strikes in her music, flaunting a distinct voice that could make the alphabet sound profound. “Marmot” is another example of the power her warbling vocals possess to evoke everything she feels in the moment and has endured in 25 years of life.

“Do To Me” – H.E.R.

Check out the Top R&B Songs of Jan – June 2020

“ATL Freestyle” – 6LACK

With the country’s Black Mecca under national scrutiny in the aftermath of the Rayshard Brooks police shooting, 6LACK reminds listeners the city is multi-faceted from his POV on “ATL Freestyle.” The breezy single is packed with plenty of Eastside flavor and a melodic sonic lather of hot sauce to match.

“Ungodly Hour” – Chloe x Halle

“Too High” – Justine Skye

Justine Skye knows how difficult it is to cut someone off who you’re deeply infatuated with, as if their presence releases a hit of ecstasy to the neuroreceptors. On “Too High,” Skye tries her best to keep distance, sounding like she’s singing from under a waterfall as she fights the urge to give into her temptations to get back with a guy who she can’t quite get over.

“I Can’t Breathe” – H.E.R.

2020 Riots: How Many Times” – Trey Songz

There’s an intimacy unmatched when it sounds like an artist overcome with emotion sat down and just started recording their raw reactions onto a new track. It’s what’s felt when listening to Trey Songz lament on the loss of Black lives “2020 Riots: How Many Times.” Songz’s usually smooth voice cracks and strains as he struggles to vocalize his agony over the countless murders of Black people at the hands of police across the country, resulting in an emotional performance where he knows the question he’s crying out for an answer to is sadly rhetorical.

“Baby Mamma” – Brandy f. Chance The Rapper

“Water” – Kehlani

Kehlani’s “Water” lives on the Oakland singer’s sophomore effort It Was Good Until It Wasn’t and finds Lani taking the reigns on a sexual relationship she’s hella into. Fans are going to need exactly what the title suggests when they’re through with this piano-heavy sultry track. 

“No Options” – Justine Skye

“Not You Too” – Drake f. Chris Brown

When Drake is sitting in his plush Toronto enclave thinking of those brooding paragraph texts one would send recklessly, he’s arguably in his best element. That feeling of being too paranoid to love even when he wants to try that gave us “Marvin’s Room,” “Jaded” and other caption-worthy Drake records. “Not You Too” with Chris Brown is a highlight from Dark Lane Demo Tapes — from producer Noel Cadastre’s skittering drum patterns and swinging melody to Drake calling out for “trust” amidst a relationship where all the cards aren’t on the table. 

“All I Need” – Jacob Collier f. Mahalia & Ty Dolla $ign

“Grieving” – Kehlani f. James Blake

Par for the course, Kehlani lays all her emotions out on the table with “Grieving” featuring British singer-songwriter James Blake. Over a slow, brooding beat, the Oakland-born artist mourns the loss of a relationship in the most brutally honest way possible, while striving for peace and quiet in her life. 

“Back Home” – Trey Songz f. Summer Walker

“She Bumped Her Head” – Young Thug & Chris Brown f. Gunna

Although quarantine has severely limited most activity, Young Thug and Chris Brown’s “She Bumped Her Head” makes it virtually impossible to sit still. The slick trunk rattler finds both Slime & B co-stars catching a lob from the ever-drippy Gunna as the trio bounce nimble melodies at a rapid pace.

“Bare With Me” – Teyana Taylor

“Sky Mind” – Radiant Child

The London-based members of Radiant Children started off as session musicians but have evolved into a full-on band. On their latest single, naked guitar riffs lead into an uptempo, driving-with-the-top-down summer vibe with vocalist Fabienne Holloway confidently singing, “Sky mind/Watching the clouds come and go,” painting a vivid picture of a perfect day in the listener’s mind. 

“Flawless Do It Well Pt. 3” – DVSN f. Summer Walker

“Rapper Weed” – SiR f. Boogie

SiR Top R&B Songs of 2020

The opening lyrics of SiR’s “Rapper Weed” injects visions of “clear skies” into the listeners head but the sweltering vibe of the Cali-bred track adds a sprinkle of palm trees, endless sun and a warm wind to match. Naturally, quarantine life has prevented that from being a reality, but this smooth number on blast mixed with a cracked window, light breeze and even more lit blunt will make for proper compensation for the time being. 

“Snowchild” – The Weeknd

The Weeknd has become known for his moody anthems about complicated relationships and over-indulging in everything from women to drugs. “Snowchild” is a detour from Abel’s usual writing themes, finding the Canadian singer reflecting on how far he’s come in his journey. The song reveals The Weeknd’s more introspective side and provides listeners a look into his life.

“10k Hours “ – Jhené Aiko f. Nas

Jhené Aiko’s new album is filled with noteworthy songs, but “10k Hours” stands out with its smooth melody, heartfelt lyrics and a feature from Nasty Nas. The Queensbridge-bred legend gets vulnerable about a lost relationship on the track, providing the perfect accompaniment to Aiko’s verses.

“Comfortable” – H.E.R.

H.E.R. has started off the year by releasing a slew of singles, but “Comfortable” is the closest to the sound that made the world fall in love with her voice. The stripped-down guitar matches H.E.R.’s vocals perfectly as she displays just how comfortable she is with her artistic direction.

“Fkn Around” – Phony Ppl f. Megan Thee Stallion

Phony Ppl’s latest single delivers a blend of old-school funk with modern vocals and a stellar rap verse from Megan Thee Stallion. What more could you ask for from a single in 2020?

Playlist