Kiana Fitzgerald

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.

Within the first five seconds of "olive." — the new single by the R&B-adjacent Brooklyn duo denitia and sene. — you know it's about to go down. It's unclear which direction the song'll swim — but it doesn't take long to find out, because that precipitous moment quickly transitions into a stone-cold jam session, courtesy of producer and orchestrator Sly5thave of the band IGBO.

Representing Atlanta, Ga., Alexis Roberts is a 20-year-old singer, songwriter and guitarist so fresh out of the gate that "Play House," the song that serves as the soundtrack to this video, is the only one she's put out to date. Luckily, her music and vision speak for themselves.

At this point, it feels borderline-disrespectful to discuss the rocky road that Dawn Richard has journeyed to the present. But the hype around her isn't nearly lofty enough just yet, so it only makes sense to start at the beginning.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.

Chance the Rapper is determined.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

PJ just might be your favorite rapper's favorite songwriter. A quiet fixture of the R&B and hip-hop ecosystem, the Los Angeles singer has penned material for Lupe Fiasco, Wiz Khalifa, Meek Mill, Chris Brown, Ty Dolla $ign and countless others.

On Saturday night, Beyoncé shook the music world with an hourlong feature on HBO, and then a surprise album — Lemonade.

Beyoncé couldn't have produced a body of work this defiant, or blunt, two years ago. Lemonade has been made possible by the cultural, social and political upheaval we're in the midst of, triggered by the deaths of boys and fathers and women, who will never be forgotten.

If a street performer sings on the subway, will anyone stop to hear her song? Camille Safiya is hopeful that someone, somewhere, will.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a figure who has mapped out a more distinct blueprint for women in hip-hop and R&B than Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott.

Without a doubt, Anderson .Paak is the new "it" guy of that place where R&B and hip-hop overlap. It sort of happened overnight, and we can kind of credit Dr. Dre, who gave .Paak permission to leave his fingerprints all over Dre's long-awaited return to music, 2015's Compton.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

The past few years, it's been more and more common to hear R&B artists straddling the line between singing and rapping — Tink, Bryson Tiller, Tory Lanez, and Ty Dolla $ign, to name just a few. Atlanta's Miloh Smith is a welcome addition to that list.

Late Thursday evening, Kendrick Lamar crept back into our lives like a thief in the night. With his new album untitled unmastered., Lamar and his label Top Dawg Entertainment offer us a look at the steps it took to get to his fully formed magnum opus — 2015's To Pimp A Butterfly — and show us that they can stop the world when they feel like it.

Making year-end lists is hard. The process of tracking down all the music you heard over the prior 12 months, then whittling those songs down to the "best" material, is often a battle, both internally and externally. Once the selections are made, the blurbs written and the beloved jams placed into pretty packages for public consumption, comes the inevitable feeling of dread: "I forgot to include something that I really, really loved." Typically, there's nothing to be done after the fact, except personally vow to not make the same mistake next year.

Courtnie Henson wants us to vibrate higher. The 22-year-old singer-songwriter from Harlem (by way of Los Angeles, Chicago and St. Louis) is quietly making her stage entrance via an unassuming style of astral jazz-tinged rhythm & blues.

The video for Kadhja Bonet's "Honeycomb" feels a tad familiar — then again, it doesn't. Technically, the scenes of backlit silhouettes that flash throughout are nothing we haven't seen before. But when you add those visuals to Bonet's breathy vocals and the song's string-laden arrangement, "Honeycomb" becomes something all its own.

The French-Brazilian producer, singer and songwriter Yndi Ferreira, best known as Dream Koala, has been getting noticed for a minute now.

"You're only human, a human like me. You're not so special after all."

What you're about to hear is a testament to faith and perseverance. "Angel in the Dark," from soul singer-songwriter Judith Hill's solo debut, Back In Time, represents the struggle of aspiring to heights unknown, with nothing to break your fall but a steadfast trust in a higher power.

"Rewind," the latest track from new-wave R&B fave Kelela, hasn't become any less addictive since it debuted a week ago. The most recent offering from the D.C.-bred, LA-based singer, and the lead track from her newest EP Hallucinogen, would fit seamlessly on 1996's So So Def Bass All-Stars, an influential-after-the-fact collection that was the soundtrack of Freaknik, a Spring Break gathering of black Southern youth of the '90s.

The most exciting voice currently coming out of the Windy City might belong to BJ The Chicago Kid, one of R&B's most faithful contemporary singers. With "Church," the latest single from his forthcoming major label debut, In My Mind, BJ illustrates two sides of his faith: a devotion to the sanctity of church and religion, and a commitment to preserving the spirit of true rhythm & blues.

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