If you like Mary J. Blige, then you have good taste. From her debut album in 1992 to her latest in 2009, Mary's established herself as one of the most powerful, expressive vocalists in R&B and Soul music history. But even though she's the queen of the genre, there are still other singers in the same category who, while not as well known, share some of the same qualities, including: powerful vocals, straightforward, heartfelt lyrics and a flair for drama. So, if you like Mary J. Blige, then your Guide to R&B recommends that you check out some of the below singers.
Some have called Keyshia Cole the new Mary J. Blige, and although that description's somewhat ridiculous, Keyshia's a talented singer whose powerful voice is obviously somewhat influenced by Mary. The main problem with Keyshia is consistency - the quality and emotion in her songs varies from track to track. But when she's on point, she's definitely on. She's also among the few female R&B singers of this decade with multiple albums that sold over a million copies - her first two albums both went platinum.
Essential songs: "I Should Have Cheated" (2005); "Heaven Sent" (2007).
Essential album: 2007's Just Like You, which has generated four hit singles.
Out of all the younger singers out today, it's arguably Fantasia Barrino who most embodies Mary's personal strength and occasional grittiness. Before she went on to win Season 3 of the "American Idol" vocal competition, Fantasia struggled in life, just like Mary. And the result is evident in the realness of her music.
Essential songs: "I Believe" (2004); "Baby-Makin' Hips" (2007).
Essential album: Free Yourself, 2004.
She started out as a teenager who mimicked the Soul of music legends of the '60s and '70s, but she's grown into a young woman with a bucketful of Soul all her own. Joss Stone's first two albums, which consisted of covers versions of other peoples' songs, put her on the map, but it was her third and fourth releases, featuring all-new material, that established her as a true, genuine artist. Essential song
: "Fell In Love With a Boy," her 2003 cover of the White Stripes song "Fell In Love With a Girl." Essential album
: Colour Me Free
Joy Denalane is an excellent, excellent Soul singer, but is relatively unknown in English-speaking countries. The reason why is that she's a black German and has recorded mostly in her native language. Her English-language debut, Born & Raised
, however, is a masterpiece. Unfortunately, it's also hard to find outside of Europe.
Essential song: "Change," feat. Lupe Fiasco (2006).
Essential album: 2006's Born & Raised.
Syleena Johnson is a take-no-junk Soul sister straight out of Chicago. Blunt and straight-to-the-point, she's got a loud voice and an occasionally salty tongue. Her vocals aren't quite as stunning as Mary J.'s but Syleena's got just as much - if not more - attitude. Her latest album, Chapter 4: Labor Pains
, came out in January 2009.
Essential song: "All Falls Down," by Kanye West feat. Syleena Johnson (2004).
Essential album: Chapter 4: Labor Pains, 2009.
Lil' Mo's real name is Cynthia Loving, and come to think of it, Cynthia Loving sounds like a much better name for a female R&B singer than Lil' Mo. Lil' Mo sounds like a male rapper out of New York. But anyway, you might remember Mo from her hit song "Superwoman Pt. II," which features Fabolous (who happens to be a guy rapper from New York). "Superwoman Pt. II" remains her biggest hit to date, but she still releases well-sung, excellently-produced female-empowering music.
Essential song: "Superwoman Pt. II," feat. Fabolous (2006).
Essential album: 2001's Based on a True Story.
Sunshine is best known for her one big hit song, the anthem "Heard It All Before," which reached No. 3 on the Billboard R&B singles chart. Unfortunately, label drama has stalled her career somewhat: she's only released two albums in eight years. But her second album, Sunshine At Midnight
, is definitely worth hearing, especially if you like listening to ticked-off women give hell to sorry men.
Essential song: "Heard It All Before" (2001).
Essential album: Your Woman, 2001.
This one's a no-brainer. There are numerous similarities between Mary and Aretha, from their vocal styles to their personal lives, to even their nicknames: Aretha is the Queen of Soul, and Mary's known as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. Mary's one of the best singers ever, but Aretha is arguably the very best: she's been on the music charts since 1961, has won 20 Grammy Awards, plus holds the record for most Best Female R&B Vocal Performance Grammys, with 11.
Essential songs: "Respect," "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," "Chain of Fools" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," all released in 1967.
Essential albums: I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You (1967); Lady Soul, 1968.