Since the Best R&B Performance category was restructured in 2012 to include submissions from both male and female artists, it has been a somewhat odd category to predict, with the biggest name on the ballot usually taking home the top prize. From 1969 to 2011, the category was split into two separate fields: one for men and another for women. This year we have three men and two women up for the honor, which I think has potential for an upset. Here is a closer look at this year’s nominees:
Solange, “Cranes in the Sky”
This is the first and only Grammy nomination for Solange, which was a bit of a shocker considering the strong critical reception of her album “A Seat at the Table.” While the young songstress may now seem like an underdog due to being majorly snubbed in other categories, I think she could still pull off an upset here. With “Cranes in the Sky,” Solange delivers the most complex vocal arrangement in this category, layering her own background vocals behind her soft, soothing performance. This song was ranked seventh on Rolling Stone’s “50 Best Songs of 2016” list, and her album was named the best of 2016 by Vibe Magazine.
She also has the perk of being Beyonce’s kid sister, because although some nominees lack name recognition in this category, most voters will be well aware of this family unit. Grammy voters could feel the need to reward Solange here for releasing one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year. Will they make up for mistakenly snubbing her in other categories? Or is this just wishful thinking?
Rihanna, “Needed Me”
There is no question the biggest star in this category is Rihanna, whose latest album “Anti” was both a critical and commercial success. Many fans were furious when she was snubbed for Album of the Year, but she did receive eight nominations this year (she’s had 32 total in her career). This is one category where voters may just want to make sure Rihanna goes home with something. The seven other categories she is competing in are stacked with A-list competition that will be more difficult to defeat. But as much as I loved Rihanna’s album, I just can’t imagine this being the song that wins her a Grammy for Best R&B Performance. It is not even the best vocal performance from her own album, let alone the entire music business in 2016. But due to name recognition and the fact that Grammy voters won’t want her to go home empty-handed, it is understandable why she viewed as the frontrunner.
BJ the Chicago Kid, “Turnin’ Me Up”
With a trio of nominations this year, BJ the Chicago Kid is hoping to be the breakout R&B star on Grammy night, competing for Best R&B Album (“In My Mind”) and Best Traditional R&B Performance (“Woman’s World”) as well. After releasing music independently for over a decade, BJ was finally signed to Motown Records, and Grammy voters seem to like his first major-label release. While his music isn’t exactly blowing up the charts, his retro-vibe and silky voice have gained attention from both critics and fans of soul music. With “Turnin’ Me Up,” BJ faces an uphill climb against the two ladies leading this category, but a win is not out of the question.
Musiq Soulchild, “I Do”
With his single nomination of the year — the 12th of his career — Musiq Soulchild is hoping to end the Grammy curse he has carried with him since 2002. Although he has been nominated in multiple R&B categories over the past 15 years, he has yet to ever win a Grammy. That could mean voters are looking to reward the veteran crooner who seems due for some gold. But it may just mean they like Musiq Soulchild, but they don’t love him. “I Do” is a nice song, but there isn’t really anything that differentiates this performance from others in his past. For that reason, Soulchild will probably go home empty-handed once again.
Ro James, “Permission”
Perhaps the least recognizable nominee in this category, James is a relative newcomer whose first single, “Permission,” earned him his first Grammy nomination in this category. Not a bad track record! That being said, neither this song nor this artist has enough buzz to actually win. In a category where name recognition seems to matter, James should simply celebrate being invited to the party this year.
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