Justin Chandler · Editorial Staff · Posted: Feb 11, 2019 11:38 AM ET | Last Updated: February 11, 2019
While Canada already has a rich R&B history, the future may be even brighter.
Thanks to the Weeknd and Drake’s global success mixing his brand of hip-hop with R&B influences, many Canadian acts from Toronto and elsewhere around the country are now getting global attention for their well-honed talents. Indeed, at press time, six of the songs on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs top 10 are either performed by or feature co-production by Canadians.
This summer, CBC Radio 2’s show Marvin’s Room, hosted by Amanda Parris (airing tonight at 8 p.m. on CBC Radio 2), highlighted many of those Canadian R&B talents, and we’ve gathered many of those artists in the list below. Canadian R&B artists are on the cutting edge of the sonic evolution of R&B and here you’ll find artists who represent the spectrum of sound currently found within the genre.
Those sounds span the classic soul indebted approach of Tanika Charles to Majid Jordan’s sounds du jour emanating from Drake’s OVO Sound label. In between, we find the lo-fi approach of the much-buzzed about Daniel Caesar and the experimental groove of Zaki Ibrahim (pictured above). Whether the artists on this list have been working on their craft for many years, or have emerged very recently, they now represent part of Canada’s new R&B guard. But this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as talented and deserving Canadian R&B artists. There’s plenty more where they came from.
Slated to release her debut album in the near future, Allie is set to definitively stake her claim as a leader in Toronto’s futuristic R&B movement. Through songs with Canadian producers Elaquent and 2nd Son, Allie has proven to be an adaptable and versatile collaborator with an intuitive curiousity which leads her down adventorous and progressive musical routes on songs like “Cross Your Mind” and “Private Island.” With “Vertigo,” her brand new track with Last Gang beat merchant Harrison, now making the rounds, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on what Allie is up to. – Del F. Cowie
Daniel Caesar is making moves in his own lane. The talented singer-songwriter is all soul, stripped down to the core, while his lyrics are raw and genuinely moving. His remix of Kanye West’s “Streetlights” put him on the musical map, showing off his strong, yet velvety voice. His gospel background clashes with his moody ambience — making for an interesting sound. Through two years on the musical scene, with the release of his EPs Praise Breakand Pilgrim’s Paradise, he’s worked with some of the best producers in the business including Jordan Evans and Matthew Burnett. Caesar’s constant hustle shows he’s got tenacity and heart. We’re bound to hear more from the musician as he emerges on the scene. – Kiah Welsh
Tanika Charles is having a very good year. After five years of performing and building steady buzz, 2016 saw the release of Soul Run, the Edmonton-born, Toronto-based singer’s first full length LP. The release was featured in a CBC Music First Play Live session, and was also long listed for the Polaris Music Prize. Charles is a charming, confident and entertaining performer who has a vintage style, but a very modern sound. One of the standout tracks from her record is the title track, that describes her experience of literally fleeing a bad relationship by stealing her soon to be ex’s car, and driving off from the farm where they were living. – Jeanette Cabral
dvsn announced their presence last year in the most au courant of ways for Toronto R&B acts – simple, direct and, above all, mysterious, completely devoid of information. Two songs to soundcloud, accompanied by the division symbol, was all fans got, but it’s also all they needed. The music, a mix of aquatic, nocturnal production with a cutting, melismatic falsetto voice, spoke for itself. Weeks later we learned who was behind the sound, and it all made sense: Little-known singer Daniel Daley and in-demand producer Paul Jeffries, aka Nineteen85, aka the guy behind Drake’s biggest hits to date, such as “Hold On We’re Going Home,” Hotline Bling,” “One Dance” and “Too Good,” for starters. For those familiar with the Weeknd’s mysterious beginnings, dvsn’s schtick may feel tired and overplayed, but that shouldn’t matter when the music is this good.
– Jesse Kinos-Goodin
If you slept on Victoria, B.C-born Ibrahim’s Polaris Prize shortlisted album, Every Opposite, you missed out on one of the most interesting and innovative records of 2012. Her voice holds more secrets than the sky, but she’s in control of every shift, every emotion, and her influences are global in the best sense of the world, mixing trip-hop, soul and jazz and South African rhythms into music that’s intoxicating and chic but never lacking substance. — Andrea Warner
After moving to L.A. and landing a record deal, Toronto singer Jahkoy moved back home to Canada to plot his next artistic moves. While the singer’s collaborations with the likes of WondaGurl (“Odd Future”) and his past mixtape projects have garnered considerable interest in the 22-year-old singer’s work, all eyes are on Jahkoy’s upcoming Temptations album for Def Jam. If he can channel unremittingly catchy material like his latest single “Still In Love,” the project will be worth the wait. – Del F. Cowie
As another Toronto singer who has played her hand in Los Angeles, Jordan has had critical success with her album projects ROJO, Pressure and 1021. Her delicately balanced vocals have often been compared to ’90s R&B ingenue Aaliyah, but Jordan clearly has the star power and charisma to soar above her influences as the devastatingly assured “Follow Me” demonstrates. – Del F. Cowie
Press play on “Sunrise” and just sink into the warm glow of Adria Kain’s voice. The song is simple, restrained, but still filled with something akin to glory. Fitting since the song has a real gospel feel, and the gratitude, the peace Kain hints at in her lyrics will bring tears to your eyes if you just sit with it a moment. Kain has always been vulnerable in her songwriting, but this is something new. It’s accompanied by a stillness, the kind that accompanies a quiet bliss, confidence without having to prove anything. But just as quickly, she can turn her attention to hip-hop and alternate sexy beats and machine-gun verses without breaking a sweat. — Andrea Warner
Majid Al Maskati and Jordan Ullman are perhaps still best known for co-writing one of Drake’s biggest hits, “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” but they have worked really hard for the past two years to crawl out of that chart-topping shadow. While the track’s R&B-influenced dance-pop mood is an anomaly of sorts on Drake albums, Majid Jordan doubled down on that infectious sound on their self-titled debut last year. Focusing on those indelible pop hooks, Maskati and Ullman protect those carefully crafted melodies with layers of moody synths that sometimes veer closer to a group like Disclosure than their OVO head honcho. So if you like your R&B to swing at the hips a bit more, Majid Jordan are the ideal shift towards something more dance-oriented yet still soulful at the core. – Melody Lau
Not content with co-writing one of 2016’s biggest global singles in Rihanna’s “Work,” 23-year-old Mississauga, Ont. native and OVO Sound signee Jahron Anthony Brathwaite, better known as PartyNextDoor or PND to his fans, has just released his third project. P3, appropriately enough, debuted at number 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart last week, exhibiting his artistic growth and increased incorporation of diasporic rhythms. – Del F. Cowie
Signed to Dine Alone Records, Brendan Philip delivers an experimental brand of R&B, unafraid of dissonance, raw sonics and rough edges. Philip’s achingly emotive voice brings all of these eclectic elements together into a surprisingly seamless mix. The result, as demonstrated on Philip’s most recent Culture Power Vol 0 EP, is disarming, yet ultimately entrancing. – Del F. Cowie
Hailing proudly from Scarborough, Ont., Pluto first made his mark with emotionally wrenching EP Jessica, featuring the breakout single “Breathe” dedicated to an ex-girlfriend in 2014. Earlier this year, he released his follow-up EP Just 4 Now, collaborating with CBC Music Festival performer John River among others, serving notice of his expanding musical breadth. – Del F. Cowie
Having penned songs for Justin Bieber, One Direction and Chris Brown in the past, Rigo’s focus on his own career with his debut album The Fall Outgarnered the Toronto, Ont. based artist a Juno nomination for best R&B recording earlier this year, exhibiting his penchant and deep affinity for 1990s R&B. – Del F. Cowie
It’s been a whirlwind year for River Tiber’s Tommy Paxton-Beesley who, to most, came out of nowhere when a sample of his song “No Talk” showed up on Drake’s 2015 mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. But since then, the producer and vocalist has teamed up with a number of other big-named artists such as Pusha T, Kaytranada, BadBadNotGood and Daniel Caesar. His moody atmospherics dips its toes into a number of sounds, from R&B to ambience – an apt amalgamation of Toronto’s varied R&B and hip hop scene. Earlier this summer, Paxton-Beesley released his debut album Indigo, a laidback collection of songs that shows off of the many skills of a rising musical force. – Melody Lau
Shay Lia’s arresting vocal contribution to Kaytranada’s “Leave Me Alone” was the first track from the Montreal producer’s now critically acclaimed and Polaris Music Prize-shortlisted 99.9% to see the light of day. Also hailing from Montreal, Shay Lia has remained busy, collaborating with a number of producers, most recently releasing “All Alone,” her collaboration with BadBadNotGood on Drake producer STWO’s recent EP D.T.S.N.T. – Del F. Cowie
Tika has been known over the past few years for all the venues and spaces that she has opened up for creative artists with her The Known Unknown showcases but with the release of her recent EP Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid, the singer deservedly puts herself front and centre to display her talent. While songs like “The Betrayer” are raw in their vulnerability, a steely resilience is also detected on tracks like “Tenfold,” readying us for the emotional range she could deliver on her upcoming album Anywhere But Here. – Del F. Cowie
There’s an undeniable authenticity to Shi Wisdom’s music which has ranged from the head-over-heels romanticism of 2011’s “Lovespeak” to the moody atmospherics of her 2014 Stranger Things Have Happened EP. “Young Gunner,” a track from that EP release perhaps distills the power of Wisdom’s artistry, potently mixing her jazz and blues-infused voice with a thought-provoking dose of social conscience. – Del F. Cowie
Denzel Spencer, better known by his stage name Roy Woods, is the latest OVO signee from Brampton, Ont. As a musician, he’s a triple threat, honing talent as a singer, rapper and songwriter. His debut EP, Exis, released in the summer of last year, is a mix of moody R&B and rap — similar to the same rapping formula Drake took to new heights many years ago. But it’s his vocal range that sets him apart from the crowd. His latest single off his debut album, Waking at Dawn, “Gwan Big Up Yourself,” is a touch of R&B, mixed with Caribbean vibes. It’s a great start to see what else the artist has in store. – Kiah Welsh