Expanding your music: R&B edition


Throughout generations, music has served to unite the world through the comfort, inspiration and the community it provides. At Naperville North High School, music has easily become an essential part of the daily lives of its students and staff—permeating hallways, classrooms and earbuds. Everyone has their own unique taste. However, it’s important to diversify the consumption of music and introduce new genres and styles to daily listening habits. In this edition of Expanding Your Music, we discuss the genre of R&B and review our favorite albums.

Stemming from jazz, there is no singular sound that defines the Rhythms and Blues (R&B) genre. The authentic sound has changed throughout generations— beginning from Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye in the 60s and 70s, to Whitney Houston and Prince in the 80s and 90s and finally to today’s icons like Beyoncé and The Weeknd. R&B is an ever-growing genre rich in versatility and can be listened to by anyone in any mood. Inspired by R&B’s timeless excellence, here are a few album recommendations to help expand your music taste.

“Heaven or Hell” by Don Toliver (Sarah) 

When Travis Scott released his infamous album “Astroworld” in 2018, fans were drawn to the mystery man featured on the track “CAN’T SAY.” They later discovered it was upcoming Houston-based rapper, Don Toliver. At this point, he had only been making music for a year without any professional album releases; Scott’s album release is largely recognized as Toliver’s initial rise to fame. A year later, he released his single “No Idea,” which gained attention on TikTok and other social media platforms. Soon after, Tolivier released his debut album “Heaven or Hell.” Toliver has since released two more studio albums titled  “Life of a DON” and “Love Sick.” His work has earned him 27 million monthly Spotify listeners and a recognizable name within the R&B music scene.

Don Toliver’s success does not come unwarranted. He does an excellent job of creating music that is both exciting and relaxing. His albums consistently contain tracks with upbeat, smooth beats and catchy lyrics. He also has a lot of collaborations with well-known artists like Travis Scott, Quavo and Kali Uchis. 

Among my friends, I’m known as “the girl who likes Don Toliver,” – a title I wear proudly. I’ve been listening to him since his feature on Travis Scott’s “CAN’T SAY” and have been intrigued by his work ever since. He’s the perfect artist for any mood or occasion. Whether I’m getting ready for the day, gearing up for a swim meet or simply driving to school, his music is what I want to hear. Some of my favorite songs off of “Heaven Or Hell” include “Cardigan,” “After Party” and “Had Enough” which feature Quavo and Offset.

Some artists that have a similar style to Don Toliver include SZA, Baby Keem and Travis Scott. 

“Forest in the City” by UMI (Maxie)

After first listening to her single “Remember Me” in middle school, UMI has stuck with me ever since. I remember hearing her through my friend’s Airpod and being instantly captivated by her music and sound. If I had one word to describe her voice, I would simply say that it gives me butterflies. This is coincidental, considering that one of my favorite songs of hers is “Butterfly.” The soft, soothing and smooth tone of her voice had me instantly hooked. As a dedicated R&B listener, I would not be surprised to see UMI receiving more recognition in the near future. 

With over 3 million monthly listeners on Spotify, UMI is at the peak of her career thus far with her second album “Forest in the City” released in May 2022. After opening for Conan Gray in 2019 on his Comfort Crowd tour, her fanbase has continued to grow. Her style is comparable to bigger artists like SZA and Rihanna, but has a free-flowing feel to her music. “Forest in the City” is UMI making a place for herself in the R&B genre and the music industry as a whole. Her vocal versatility is displayed through beautiful runs, calming instrumentals and relatable lyricism. It feels like she used this album to bring a personal diary to life. 

My favorite song from this album is “lost and found” which is a ballad-like song with personal, emotional lyrics written by UMI herself. The idea of losing someone you love, whether emotionally or physically, is captured beautifully within this song. The lyrics “Return to outer space /  for you to find your place / in heaven” have truly stuck with me. It’s a perfect song to listen to whenever I’m ’in my feels.’ Her angelic voice compliments her rich lyricism and soft guitar, making it one of my favorite songs right now. 

If you enjoy listening to UMI, some other artists I recommend listening to are Evann McIntosh, Amaria and H.E.R.

“Absolutely” by Dijon (Bella)

Rhythm and Blues is the one genre I know next to nothing about. It wasn’t a genre I grew up listening to and have remained largely unfamiliar with. So, when I found out this edition of “Expanding Your Music” was going to be about R&B, I was a bit hesitant to give recommendations. Then, I remembered seeing a TikTok about “Dijon,” an R&B artist who had recently released a new song. Admittedly, out of desperation for an album to write about, I dove into Dijon’s debut album “Absolutely” released in late 2021. From the first full listen, the devotion and confrontational pull of this project were evident and made for a highly enjoyable listening experience. 

I’m somebody who enjoys spending hours reading an album’s lyrics and deciphering which song I relate to most, something I could really get into with Dijon’s album. On the first listen, I felt like I was eavesdropping on a conversation I definitely wasn’t supposed to hear, a concept that plays into the album’s overall sense of authenticity – the album feels raw and unadulterated. I believe Dijon’s vocals play a huge part in this feeling, the scratchiness and cracks of his voice effectively show the intensity of his emotions and his overall sense of purpose within the tracklist. 

Released in early November of 2021, “Absolutely” was listed as the third-best album of the year by “The Fader.” Dijon had worked solo on this project for four years and desired an independent sound before following in the footsteps of his biggest influence Frank Ocean. The song I keep replaying on this album is “Annie.” I have not listened to a song as loving and adoring as this one. Dijon’s vocals keep me engaged and wanting more, making this an album worth listening to again and again.

If you enjoy “Absolutely” by Dijon, I absolutely recommend checking out Frank Ocean, Orion Sun and Omar Apollo. 

Here is a link to playlists for our top 3 R&B songs from these albums and one for our favorite R&B songs.