the best r&b you’ve never heard

August 10, 2017

words by: Ifeanyi Awachie

Last winter, a classic 90s R&B video dropped and quickly picked up speed on the internet. Chunky braids, bright sweatsuits, bopping shoulders, and graffiti all nodded to neighborhood jams from the golden years of Lauryn, Mary, and TLC. Just one thing was different: the lyrics weren't in English.

The video was Bist Du Down, whose lyrics are in German. Produced by Hamburg-based duo Ace Tee, the video has garnered over two million views on YouTube. I came across the song when a fellow US viewer shared it with a post along the lines of, “Don’t know what they’re saying, but this is hot!” Singing in a language other than R&B’s mother tongue hasn’t held Ace Tee back - the group has since landed a DJ gig in London, proving that good, old school R&B resonates across the black Atlantic, no matter the language.

Ace Tee’s banger brings to mind other major rappers who don’t vocalize in English: African MCs like Ghana’s Sarkodie and M.anifest have made names for themselves by wordsmithing in Twi. Stromae, the Rwandan-Belgian heavy-hitter and emerging fashion icon - whose Alors on Danse catapulted him to mainstream fame - is still going strong. He just released a tantalizing track through his creative label Mosaert, featuring no words at all.

Recently, another smooth tune caught my ear, but I didn’t quite catch the words. A few clicks later (shout out to Google Translate), I had deciphered the language - Swedish. Huh. I had never heard Swedish R&B before. I moved on, but later, another Swedish song popped into my musical rotation. The coincidence was too much not to explore. Digging deeper, I discovered that there is a whole scene of Swedish R&B artists, and we western monophones are missing out.

This roundup is just a first taste of all the good stuff out there. Decolonize your playlist and get into some of the hottest R&B not in English.

Ifeanyi's Top 5 Favorite Swedish R&B Tracks Right Now:

1. Vi Två | Amr feat. Cherrie & Keya
Yearning and soulful, upbeat and shimmering, “Vi Två” (“We Two”) is the perfect summer jam.

2. Håller Mig Vaken Remix | Cherrie feat. Leslie Tay & Kristian Florea
Originally by Parham, this live performance of wavy electronic joint “Håller Mig Vaken” (“Keep Me Awake”) is absolutely dreamy.

3. Titta Fram | Sammy & Johnny Bennett
This vibe serves you chill verse and extra bass. Go ahead and bop to it.

4. Scubadive | Leslie Tay
Fans of Lil Uzi Vert and Migos will especially dig the wavy rhymes and light Caribbean touch of Scubadive.

5. Vägen hem | STOR feat. Seinabo Sey
These slick sounds are dark, deep, and house-y. Seinabo Sey dropping a rare hook in Swedish doesn’t hurt.

Top image of Cherrie, from Vi Två | Amr feat. Cherrie & Keya, YouTube.