2020 has been an exciting year for women in R&B. DaniLeigh is the latest artist to release a stellar R&B album and bring the genre into the twenty-first century.
25-year-old Danielle Leigh Curiel started her career as a backup dancer. She started appearing in music videos for prominent artists like Pharell and Nelly Furtado, and transitioned to choreographing. She had always been interested in singing, but put it second to dancing at first. In 2013, Prince asked her to direct the music video for his new single, called “Breakfast Can Wait.” Dani was only 18 at the time, and Prince continued to mentor her until 2016 when he died. She signed with Def Jam in 2017, and her singing career took off with the single “Play.” Since then, she’s been gaining fans and notoriety, working with artists like Chris Brown, YG and DaBaby.
The New Album: MOVIE
DaniLeigh released her second studio album, MOVIE, on November 12 this year. The release of the album followed successful singles “Levi High,” “Dominican Mami,” and “Monique.” She reached a viral level of fame after the release of “Levi High,” which had a dance challenge named after it on Tik Tok. The single features her rumored ex boyfriend, rapper DaBaby. The album also has features from Gunna, Ty Dolla $ign, PARTYNEXTDOOR and Queen Naija.
While the album certainly stands on it’s own, Dani made the release extra special by creating her own “visual album” as well. A half-hour video of the same name was released on her YouTube channel that includes short videos for most of the songs on the album while telling the story of a passionate, failed relationship. The “movie” also includes spoken words from Dani, some of which aren’t included on the album. Rapper Mitch stars alongside Dani as her boyfriend. While unconfirmed, the visual album is speculated to be based on Dani’s turbulent relationship with DaBaby.
Although the singles from the album showed off Dani’s rap skills, the majority of the album is smooth and sexy R&B. Dani croons to her lover on “Superstar” and “Baby Say,” passionately addresses him over the sparkling beat of “Situations,” and dismisses him on “Bullshit” and “Famous.” Her silky smooth vocals glide over every creative beat and melody on the album, while she showcases her dancing and choreography in the visual album. She turns to more rap inspired songs like “Monique” and “Diamonds On Me” to let everyone know she’s not soft; she’s a boss with a sexy side. Even though she experiments with style and sound on the album, it flows together, just like a movie.
The Women of R&B
R&B’s comeback has largely been led by female artists like Dani, Kehlani and Jhene Aiko. All three incorporate rap and hip-hop into their music, but predominantly make R&B records. Kehlani’s 2020 release, It Was Good Until It Wasn’t, was the first R&B record to top the charts in years, and marked a milestone for the genre. While she’s had a few pop hits, Kehlani’s work usually floats just below the surface of popular music. Jhene Aiko is similar; people know her name, but her hits tend to be more on the hip-hop side of the genre. However, a strong current of R&B lovers is starting to emerge. SZA’s Ctrl, released in 2017, made many people new fans of R&B, and she continues to push boundaries in the genre as well. Ella Mai’s hit “Boo’d Up” in 2018 introduced pop fans to a more R&B sound as well. With more explicit lyrics and sexy vibes, these artists are pushing R&B into the modern era.
Plenty of pop artists have also started to lean into this trend. Ariana Grande has always taken heavy inspiration from R&B, which is even more evident on her latest release, Positions. She sings over 90’s samples and uses strings and piano to accent her smooth vocals. Justin Bieber’s latest album, Changes, is also heavily R&B inspired. Kehlani is featured on his song “Get Me,” and the two were supposed to tour together this year before the pandemic. He actually got heated with fans saying that Kehlani’s album was the biggest R&B release of the year, because he saw Changes as an R&B album.
Ty Dolla $ign has been on the scene for a while now, both as a rapper and singer. While he leans into the rap side of his style on features, his several tracks with Kehlani showcase his singing ability and R&B style. He’s also featured on “Safety Net” from Ariana Grande’s new album, where he sings to a slow beat with her. Jeremih, best known for rap hits like “Down On Me,” shines on songs like “Birthday Sex” and “Oui” where he uses his smooth voice and slower beats.
Female artists have been taking over the genre in 2020. Kehlani’s album release was major, but several other artists made an impact as well. Jhene Aiko, who has been releasing beautiful R&B for years, put out her latest album called Chilombo. The record has already yielded her two big hits, “B.S.” featuring another exceptional R&B artist, H.E.R., and “P*$Y Fairy (OTW).” Later in the summer, Victoria Monet released her album Jaguar. Monet was previously mostly famous for being friends with and writing for Ariana Grande, but put her own style and stamp on the R&B genre with the new album. Other artists like Queen Naija, Mahalia, Chloe x Halle and Jazmine Sullivan have all been bringing the heat in 2020, and opening the doors for more R&B fans.
DaniLeigh fits in with these women and gave her own unique spin on the new R&B sound on MOVIE. The best part about all of these female artists emerging is that they are all collaborating with each other. The YouTube comments on MOVIE are filled with suggestions for who should be on the remixes, and begging for collaborations with any and all of the artists previously mentioned. Needless to say, fans are excited to see where these women take the genre next.