As these words are being written, 2012 is almost over, so it's time to take a look back at the best R&B/Soul albums of the year. The usual superstars like Usher, Alicia Keys and R. Kelly made the list, but some names on the list represent the forefront of the alternative R&B movement, like Frank Ocean, Cody ChesnuTT and Miguel. There's a number of less-familiar artists too, like African singer-activist Nneka, Detroit crooner K'Jon and British songstress Alice Russell. For the full details on the about.com picks for the 20 best R&B/Soul albums of 2012, have a look below.
1. 'Looking 4 Myself,' Usher
Even after an almost 20-year career as a recording artist, Usher Raymond IV continues to push musical boundaries with his songs, and his seventh studio album, Looking 4 Myself might be his best attempt yet at pushing R&B/pop forward into new territory. Looking 4 Myself, which was released in the U.S. June 12, 2012, is an audio feast for the ears, featuring a main course of coldly sensual electro-pop songs, complimented by other dishes that include neo-retro Soul, romantic ballads and high energy dance anthems, plus a little hip-hop garnish on the side.
2. 'Channel Orange,' Frank Ocean
Alt-R&B crooner Frank Ocean's Channel Orange, which was released digitally July 10, 2012 and in physical stores July 17, is a very solid album. It's strongest attribute is Ocean's knack for uniquely creative lyrical narratives. He brings a fresh perspective to the music world that's much needed these days, particularly within the R&B genre, which is currently overloaded with cliched, cookie cutter and copycat vocalists.
3. 'Kaleidoscope Dream,' Miguel
Miguel's second album, Kaleidoscope Dream, is a highly original collection of songs that sounds nothing like anything that any other urban music artist out there is doing today. Miquel has found his own lane of eclectic, artsy R&B-pop music, and he clearly relishes the ability to create songs that sound completely different from the pack of trend-hopping contemporary artists out there trying to stay relevant.
4. 'Pour Une Âme Souveraine,' Meshell Ndegeocello
Pour une Ame Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone, is a brilliant labor of love that features not only Meshell Ndegeocello, but some of her kindred spirits in the alternative-urban music world, including Lizz Wright and Cody ChesnuTT. Pour une Ame Souveraine, which is French for For a Sovereign Soul and was released in the U.S. Oct. 9, 2012, is a fitting, loving tribute to one of the more substantive American performers of the 20th century.
5. 'Write Me Back (Deluxe Version),' R. Kelly
R. Kelly's Write Me Back, which was released in the U.S. June 26, 2012, is the second straight album where he's gone retro on us and made a number of songs that sound like they could have been recorded between the 1950s and '70s. But unlike his previous album, Love Letter, this one isn't all nostalgia, all the time. There's a few songs here that evoke the timeless spirit of classics, but with a modern twist. Although this album by itself isn't near the top of the list of R. Kelly's best releases, it manages to further cement his status as one of the music industry's more creative, versatile artists.
6. 'Girl on Fire,' Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys, who's been best known until now for power ballads like "Fallin'" and "You Don't Know My Name," comes out swinging on her fifth studio album, Girl on Fire, with high energy songs like "New Day" and the title track. She clearly has a bolder, more aggressive attitude on the first half of this album. Girl on Fire, which was released Nov. 27, 2012 in the U.S., is somewhat a departure from the smoldering vibe her fans had become accustomed to.
7. 'Landing on a Hundred,' Cody ChesnuTT
A full decade after eclectic artist-musician Cody ChesnuTT released his 2002 debut album, The Headphone Masterpiece, he returned with his second full album, Landing on a Hundred. The album, which will be released in the U.S. Oct. 30, 2012, not only fully realizes the potential that was apparent on Cody's debut, it's one of the better R&B/Soul albums of 2012.
8. 'Moving On,' K'Jon
On his latest album, Moving On, K'Jon -- his full name is Kelvin Johnson, FYI -- builds on the success of his hit single "On the Ocean" and debut album, I Get Around and makes an attempt to solidify his name in the music industry and marketplace. Moving On, released in the U.S. April 17, 2012 by Shanachie Entertainment, is easily one of the better R&B albums of the first half of the year.
9. 'Look Around the Corner,' Quantic & Alice Russell
Alice Russell may not be as well known in the U.S. and around the world as other members of the new school of British pop-Soul singers, such as Joss Stone, Adele and the late Amy Winehouse, but that doesn't mean she's not as talented. And on her latest album, where she teams up with British born, Columbia-based producer Quantic, she shows that she deserves her placement as one of the better modern Soul singers of our time. Throughout Look Around the Corner, which was released in the U.S. April 3 via the Tru Thoughts label, Alice and Quantic experiment with not just Soul, but bossa nova, salsa, Funk and jazz. The result is a musically adventurous and sonicly pleasing mix of sounds that seems familiar but at the same time is totally unique.
10. 'Vol. 1,' The Big Ol' Nasty Getdown
The Big Ol' Nasty Getdown is an unusual name for a band, but it's also pretty fitting for this vast collective of singers and musicians that includes the legendary George Clinton (of Parliament-Funkadelic fame). The band specializes primarily in Funk, but is also pretty proficient in about half a dozen other music genres, including Soul, hip-hop, rock and country (yes, country). Their debut release, Vol. 1, is a tasty musical gumbo made up of bits and pieces of the best of various musical styles. And as the group's name suggests, this album's a great big party that's open to anyone looking to have a good time.